Wood Floors: Find Your Forever Look
“As long as we’re …” I am talking to DC over dinner about work we’d like – or more accurately, I’d like -- done on our new house before we move in. He pauses, fork in midair. He knows that those words --- as long as we’re – are the four most expensive words in remodeling.
Take just for instance: As long as we’re updating the hardware, we should reface the cabinets. Or As long as we’re getting a new fence, we should put in a pool. He’s waiting. I continue, “… putting new wood floors in the master, we should refinish all the wood floors in a darker color.”
“The whole downstairs?”
“I’ve been trying to like the color, Darling, but I really don’t think I ever will.”
DC takes his fork and directs it straight into his chest. When he can find his voice, he says, “What’s wrong with the color?”
The 13-year-old floors are a light, straw color, great for a Scandinavian home. “Our furniture will look better on a darker floor,” I say. “I’m thinking a mid-tone brown.”
“But you said the floors were in excellent condition.”
“Except the color. They look like they are floating. A deeper color will ground the space.”
He makes a noise like a cat hacking up a hairball. “How much?”
We both know the answer: A lot.
We know because, unfortunately, we had just gotten estimates to refinish the floors in our current house, where Hurricane Irma had left a small amount of water damage in her wake. So small, that at first we didn’t notice the buckling of a few planks of wood by the eastern wall. The buyers and agents didn’t notice either. An inspector armed with a moisture meter, however, did.
What looked on the surface like no big deal, became more complicated. On the scale of expensive words, right after “as long as we’re” comes “no big deal.”
Three flooring companies looked at the job. All said the same thing. After replacing the water-damaged boards, we had to sand and refinish THE ENTIRE DOWNSTAIRS.
“But, but, the damage is only a few square feet?!” I said reaching for something to hold onto. I find a chair.
No matter, I was assured, the stain will never match unless we do the whole floor. Good thing I was sitting when I got the next bit of news. We can’t live in the house when the sanding and staining take place, which will take a week. And our furniture needs to be out, too, because the job makes a huge, smelly mess.
That would be fine if we could move into our new house, but we can’t until it’s sanded and refinished.
Thus, next week, after we close on the new house, DC and I might own two houses in the same neighborhood and have nowhere to live. Only one person is to blame for this pickle.
Before I sign up for this, I ask my friend, Beverly Hills designer Christopher Grubb, who has perfect-pitch taste, if I need to change the floor color in the new house. I send him pictures. “You absolutely want to darken those floors. It will enrich the whole space.”
Sometimes I wish my instincts weren’t right.
Because I really never want to go through this again, I gather some information and ask Grubb how to make a good forever floor choice:
Why refinish? Refinish wood floors to revitalize old floors, change their color, or repair physical damage from staining, water or fire.
When repairing, do you have to refinish the whole floor? Usually, or the patch won’t match. The exception is if the damage is in one room, and if that room is separated by a narrow doorway from the rest of the wood floor, and if at the threshold the planks run the same way as the opening, not across it. Such was not my luck.
What takes so long? Refinishing a floor is time consuming. First workers sand the entire surface past any old finish, or defects, then they stain it, and finally finish it with a protective coating. The project takes days to allow drying time.
Can you refinish every wood floor? No. It must be thick enough. Most hardwood floors can be refinished 10 or more times over their life. Engineered hardwood, however, is thinner, and may only be refinished once or twice.
Do you save that much by refinishing? Yes. Refinishing costs about one third what putting in a new wood floor does.
How can I pick a color that won’t go out of style? Refinishing floors is expensive, messy and guarantees your eviction, so you want to get it right. You can’t just change the color like paint. “We’ve all seen wood fads come and go,” said Grubb. “Bleached floors were big 20 years ago, a weathered shabby chic look was in. Next, espresso dark floors were popular, but we haven’t done one of those in 10 years. Today the trend is toward grayish brown floors.” But for a classic, timeless look, Grubb agrees with me, “The safest bet is mid-tone brown.” A medium brown can serve as a canvas for furniture of all styles.
What’s the best long-haul finish? Shiny gloss finishes are dated and look plastic. Matte finishes are hot now, but are neither timeless nor easy to maintain. For a timeless look, Grubb recommends a medium sheen. “You get a little bit of sheen, which adds interest, and it’s easier to care for.”
How can I be sure? “You cannot choose from a business-card-size swatch on your computer monitor,” said Grubb. Ask your flooring company to make a few samples – or strike offs -- of finishes you’re considering on the actual wood you’ll be using. Put the samples in the space and live with them.
CAPTION: Timeless appeal -- This mid-tone brown floor, made of Hawaiian Koa wood, is likely to be always be in style. Photo courtesy Christopher Grubb.