Monday, January 16, 2017

Spare Room Floors Reveal

If you'll remember, in my last post I shared a bunch of phone pictures of the process of tearing up the terrible stained carpet in our spare room, and the horrible vinyl tile underneath that, revealing the original wood floors! It was a long process, made longer by the discovery of asbestos in the tile, and the fact that we decided to repair and repaint the plaster walls at the same time. The picture below shows the plaster wall, looks like before paint. You can see how it is somewhat uneven, that is classic plaster. We ended up hiring a guy that painted our friends' house to fix the many cracks, mostly he just mudded over them but some of them he repaired with a mesh. He missed a crack or two in the kitchen but other than that did a great job. The cracks may come back over time but he sort of assured us they are not the sign of a major structural problem. In fact, I read that a lot of old houses get them because of repeated jostling due to big trucks and trains nearby, which of course didn't exist when they were built. They can also be caused by minor settling of the house in the foundation over time. None of the plaster was falling out or falling away from it's slats (inside the wall) so it was in pretty good shape. One thing I hate the most is on renovation TV shows when they knock down plaster walls and replace them with drywall. Plaster gives such a lovely character to your interiors, it is MUCH more substantial, and it can be repaired and patched in almost all cases!
Ok, back down to the floors! I thought about hiring an electric sander from Home Depot and doing this myself, but after reading some advice online and consulting with my most DIY-handy relatives over the phone, I decided to hire some floor pros. They were amazing! My husband and I both worked from home the morning they came over, and mostly tried to stay out of their way (on the back porch) but I snuck in and got these photos of the sanded-down floors. It was a magical moment to see them look so clean and perfect, after all the agony of the tile and all the researching and hoping they would look ok! As you can see, the planks are similar in width to the flooring in the rest of the house, which I was NOT expecting. Most of my reading suggested they may be a wide plank sub-floor, but we got lucky. The existing wood floors are probably 3/4" higher than these floors, making me think they are actually laid on top of similar floors. However they are in really good shape so, if it ain't broke...

The threshold between the kitchen and spare room is that weirdly wide and taupe-colored trim piece. I hate it, but I'll maybe just paint it. That used to be the color of all the trim in the kitchen, can you even?! I can't even.

In the photo with my foot you can see how the planks are a bit loose and less than perfect in that one corner but the flooring guy was totally blasé about it when I fretted about "will moisture drip through?" You can also see the radiator holes more clearly. Those were very interesting to note as I had thought the house was originally heated by wood-burning stove, according to my research of what was common in the era for a working-class home. However it's still possible that radiators were a later addition and then, sadly, taken out when the central heating and air was installed. I personally love radiators. They tend to be warmer, you can get near them if you are cold, they have a nice vintage look, and they don't blow on you or dry out the air as much. However, my husband has lived in a place with cold radiators, radiators that make a ton of noise, so he has the opposite opinion. My old apartment had radiators I couldn't control that made the apartment super outrageously hot, which I LOVED but also made me lethargic. It is a bit stupid to be opening the windows in the winter because your radiator is either cold or hell-fire.

One final observation is the closet floors which you can see in the bottom right picture below. As you can see the plank width changes at the front of the closet, and then at the very back it changes width and direction again. The front part is very likely wider-plank pine and then it turns to thinner pine (I think) with wide gaps. This is always going to be hidden behind piles of stuff, but I think it's interesting! When I was painting the closet and installing shelves, I noticed that the walls are also different from the rest of the room. For these reasons I think the closet was a later addition which explains why the trim around the door is awkwardly cut off. This room is at the very back-right corner of the apartment and behind it is an enclosed but unheated stairwell down the the basement and up to the upstairs neighbor's back door. The closet is squeezed in the narrow space at the end of the stair landing, which explains why it is always so cold.

When I first saw the tile, I had a theory that maybe this room had once been the kitchen. I mean, why else would you use kitchen-looking vinyl tile? Also, pre-open-concept-everything, a separate kitchen would make sense in a back room. However, the tile and floor underneath were totally unbroken, no holes for stove or other appliances, no indication there had been anything like cabinets sitting on top of it. It is a mystery, but so are many things in this house.

Anyway during all of this I was hemming and hawing, looking online, and calling my uncle and dad and grandpa to decide what kind of finish to use. Despite basically everyone's advice, I decided on a penetrating wood stain, which sounds dirty, but is more-or-less all natural, zero VOC chemical off-gassing odor, can come in a very low-sheen finish, doesn't change the color too much, and has easy maintenance. I didn't want to do a poly because I didn't want a layer of plastic on my beautiful old floors, and if you scratch the surface you have to sand it all off and redo it, but with this finish you can just re-oil that area! There's a very popular finish in Chicago area called the Swedish finish which is hard as a rock but also extremely toxic. This finish was particularly annoying because you need to do at least 3 coats 24 hours apart, and then let it all sit and dry and cure for 7 days before moving any furniture back on to it. Anyway, my floor guys hadn't used this finish before but they were game for it and LOOK HOW IT TURNED OUT!!


Although I didn't know what I was going to get under the carpet and tile, so I wasn't dead-set on a certain look, this was exactly what I wanted! It's very similar to the floors in the other rooms, in terms of plank width and the warmth and tone of the color. I love how it shows the natural variation in the planks and grain in the wood, and how it has such a nice, rustic, down-to-earth low sheen. I feel like the floors can breathe, and the wood is very close to its natural sanded texture so it feels great to the touch. I love the look of very pale, Scandinavian floors, and stains have their uses, but for this small apartment I felt it was best to try to keep things harmonious. I mean, they are just floors, but they give me such a good feeling when I see them and touch them, like they were meant to be here. I think this is probably because of all the work and decision-making that went into them, but also how their natural simplicity fits with this simple little apartment. 

Oh, and we also painted the walls very light pink and the trim glossy white! It had a bit of a baby girl's room vibe at first, but once all my wood furniture and mostly dark-colored stuff got in there, the pink kind of recedes. I chose pink because it's flattering and this is my dressing room. Also the room gets only late afternoon light, and in the winter it's dark all the time, so I wanted to warm it up a bit. Small all-white rooms can get kinda dim and depressing if they don't get a lot of light. Besides, I like pink so this kind of a room is a good excuse to use it. Actually, 3 of our 6 rooms are pink! There's only 6 if you count the tiny entry hall, but the bedroom and bathroom are different very light and subtle pinks. They do not read as pink and my husband likes them. I swear.

Finally, a picture of the IKEA Ivar bookcase I bought to replace the evil Billy that broke. However, had that bookshelf never broken and stained the carpet further, we probably never would have gotten it together to redo this room, and by extension our bedroom, so I should be grateful to Billy! I also spent a really long time trying to decide what bookshelf to get. Ivar is solid pine, very adjustable, and is the tallest and yet shallowest bookshelf I could find short of getting something custom. This is important so it doesn't stick out too far in the room, fits with space for the chest of drawers seen just at the edge of the photo on the right, and can hold my insane collection of books, magazines, printer, and boxes of photos and other nonsense. I like the unfinished wood and I like how it's skeletal nature allows it to almost disappear once it's fully loaded. It's also on the low end of any bookshelf budget!

On the back side of the room, next to the closet, is another dresser (I have a lot of clothes!) and the still-in-progress jewelry cabinet / wall mirror which I made! Shown in this picture is the wall mirror with frame, because I still haven't attached the frame to the cabinet with hinges or mounted it to the wall. But I will, and it will be amazing. I was also going to whitewash it but now I don't want to deal with that in the winter. After I finish it, I'll make this room look pretty, hang some art, and then take some pictures! Right now in addition to its purpose as my giant wardrobe/library, it holds random stuff like art project materials, out-of-season clothes waiting to be put away at the back of the closet, Christmas wrapping paper, and a poster that fell off the wall. If I can find homes for that stuff, I can make a space for my sewing machine and it can be my craft room too!
Anyway, stay tuned for the same process in the bedroom, and more finished pictures of the spare room!

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