refinishing original wood floors & historically correct behavior

bungalowbeesSeptember 29, 2005

How have you decided to refinish/maintain your original floors?

My 1914 Craftsman bungalow has original quartersawn white oak floors throughout the "public" rooms. I always assumed I would stain for my final sanding & acid cure finish to retain the dark look common during that time period. As I move on in years I'm surprised to find myself growing restless and craving light. Since a natural acid cure finish gives old growth quartsawn oak a deep honey color, shows off the grain and individual boards more so than stain, and reflects a bit of light, I find myself rebelling and choosing light. The amber honey tones pick up the golds and reds in the gumwood inglenook and other woodwork, yet the built-ins & baseboards are darker than a natural acid cure floor.


How do you deal with such issues? Do you follow your heart? Do you follow the historically correct path? What if these are two different paths and you're torn? If you have lived in your house for years, decades, does your thinking evolve -- and how?

I've been in my house for 18+ and thought I'd never veer from purist thinking!

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I've got a house built in the 1830's. It has dark floors thru out. I don't like the dark. I plan on refinishing the floors so they are all light.
Back then they didn't have many choices on alot of things. I do and I'm the one living and loving this house right now. I have to make it comfortable for me. I think floor color like wall color is a matter of personal choice and something that most homeowners of old homes can play with without damaging the historical value or feel of a home. Color preferences change with's not like your ripping away the gingerbread or removing all the glass doorknobs or changing out all the solid wood doors to cheap core doors your not really changing them. Your simply reflecting a part of yourself into your home. It doesn't lessen the value of the home or it's historic value. The boards are still there and if someone down the line wants to change them back they can. To me it's a very minor thing and I wouldn't loose any sleep over it.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 11:52AM
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Firstly, oak and varnishes do darken with age. The tudor-era darkened oaks that the artisans of the craftsman era harkened bck to were originally light in color when new.
Secondly, not all craftsman homes had stained woodwork. Many people opted to paint their interiors throughout.
So what I'm saying is it's all a matter of individual taste, both then and now. I think that amber honey colored floors would look lovely. Come to think of it, since you're seeing golds and reds in the iglenook, etc, that could have been the original intent of the builder.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 12:52PM
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Maybe you can help me....I have an 1893 dutch colonial revival cottage. As part of a renovation we used quartersawn white oak (not the original doug fir since it's too soft). We just finished the first two coast of waterlox tung oil and i'm not sure I like the look. it has a strong amber tone -almost like the color of teak. Does anyone have any experience with tung oil?

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 5:58PM
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All I can say is that we used tung oil on an oak cabinet years ago and we didn't like it, though we did not wind up with much of a color change. We finally decided to give it a good sanding and applied a couple of coats of varnish. I wish I could tell you more.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 7:05PM
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kennebunker, I'm glad you mentioned that many homes from this era had painted woodwork. I know from reading magazines and such from the time period that kitchens and bathrooms were commonly painted -- I especially enjoyed the ads for "Dutch Boy Lead Paint" and the fire-proof qualities of asbestolith (sp) in the bath. Still wondering if bathroom fires were a big problem in the early 1900s...

Carol, you're so right that we must be comfortable in our homes. I'm told this is the last sanding so the next owner (after my death) may well have to replace the floor, but who knows. I had a know in my chest seeing a dark sample on my floor. I need light in my dark home and I get a tight feeling wherever I am if I walk into a dark space. Just can't see as I get on in years. I want to feel at home tucked in on winter evenings, not locked up.

sberger, I don't know about tung oil but I was interested to see how differently my 100 year old growth quartersawn white oak boards look and behave next to the new boards we are using for a troublesome repair. I'm told I have a good match but I see differences, certainly the way they take a finish.

Today I'm looking at paint samples and considering treating these rooms as movements of honey and caramel. My husband wants to keep things light and I want the rooms to be warm and inviting. The more I look at paint samples and sit in the middle of my empty rooms, the more I like the honey/amber tones. Still, I know it is "proper" to keep a dark bottom and allow things to lighten up toward the surfaces of the room. But maybe it is more "proper" to let my heart sing in my forever-home.

Still open to other thoughts, philosophies, practical experiences.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2005 at 9:06PM
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We had 2 fellows that have a restoration company for many many years help us with our home.Our floors were done almost black UGLY...They sanded we put 3 coats of water based poly.I love them.Theyre a honey color now.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2005 at 3:50PM
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Thanks! I'm feeling a lot better about going for all the honey/amber/carmel colors. Right now I'm looking at paint colors and thinking how it might be a warm honey-carmel bath in these rooms, maybe different shades as you move from one to the next. Or not. The right shade of paint may well pull things together -- the floor, the inglenook, the art glass doors with their carmel moments. It's making more sense to have my floors light and honey colored.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2005 at 7:39PM
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We own a 1917 Craftsman bungalow that we are currently restoring. We spent months (sporadically) stripping the fireplace mantle and built-in shelving on either side. There were at least 8 or 9 layers of paint, which seems to be typical. There was white, gray, brown, tan, mint green, peach, and another layer of white. Even the bricks of the fireplace were painted, often with the same shades. That paint was too tought to get off, and ended up tiling the fireplace. The result is gorgeous.
Right now we are working on the woodwork in dining room. It has a big built-in buffet, and wainscotting around the room which was painted over. Stripping the buffet has been difficult because there seems to have been a layer of wallpaper coating it that was also painted over with multiple layers of paint. There was mint green, PINK, and other colors.
At one point, the floors had been covered with wall to wall carpeting, but that was taken out before we moved in and the beautiful oak floors were refinished.
Now, how true to the original does the owner of an old house need to stay? Well, you're the owner, but I would say you owe it to the house to at least consider it carefully. Do some research, check out some books on bungalows that show other restorations. See what you can find out about your house from asking older neighbors who have lived there a long time, or doing research in the local library, or after you've gotten to know some neighbors, see what their house looks like on the inside. I would say the RIGHT thing to do is to take historical accuracy into consideration and try to make some effort in that direction, but make sure the result is something you can live with. We stripped away the peach, pink and mint green paints on the woodwork, but we used a medium colored stain rather than the darker stains that were used originally. Some people are purists and are so obssessed with historical accuracy that their homes probably conform more to the Craftsman motif than they may have when they were originally built. Good for them. That's fine for them, but it doesn't mean you have to take it to that level.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2007 at 11:53PM
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We are in the middle of refinishing the entry, living and dining room floors in our 1910 Craftsman. The wood on the walls and wainscoting is dark fir, the walls and ceiling are green. And I opted for adding no stain on the floors at all, just a sealer and 3 coats of water based polyurethane. It's really beautiful. They have a golden color all on their own.

We're in a historic district and the house is also a Historic Cultural Monument of the city, and is also part of the Mills Act. So we get a 50% reduction in the house tax as long as we use that money on the house (are they kidding?! what else have we been doing?) and keep all work historically accurate. We feel comfortable with that. The floors were worn so thin that our contractor said they couldn't be sanded, so they chemically stripped them instead, using a citrus nontoxic stripper. It worked well. There were a few places that were badly damaged, so the boards in a closet were removed and used to replace them. And we put prefinished bamboo in the closet where they won't be noticeable. Looks fine.

When we moved in 19 years ago the maple floors upstairs were refinished, again with no stain. But at that time the only polyurethane was oil based, which does darken more with age. The water based is so much easier to take! We could actually breathe...

    Bookmark   May 26, 2007 at 12:43AM
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If they followed Stickley's recipe in 1914 they would have finished by rubbing on boiled linseed oil and then waxing. Of course, stripping and waxing floors on a regular basis wasn't a happy prospect so many just used an oil base varnish. Both the waxed floors and the varnished floors darkened with time. An acid cure finish is going to look like a lot of those floors did when they were new.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2007 at 12:50AM
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