I was initially excited about having a timber floor when we bought this house, the herringbone pattern was fabulous and it made the house feel old and grand. But once we moved in and I realised the terrible condition it was in and how much is was going to cost to restore and maintain it, the appeal wore thin.

As many of you would know, we installed vinyl floors in our previous house which were very realistic wide timber planks in a dark stain. I loved them and few could tell they weren’t real. They were hard wearing, easy to keep clean, would take anything the kids and pets could throw at them, relatively cheap to lay compared to timber and didn’t require any maintenance.

I deliberated for months about whether to replace these timber floors with vinyl flooring and I’m now sorry I didn’t. It was really only because some people suggested we wouldn’t be doing justice to the house if we used vinyl, but I now don’t agree. I wish we had ripped it up in many ways, and here’s why.

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The original floors hadn’t been looked after and were very badly worn, faded, scratched and split. The sun and wear had changed the original colour drastically as you can see below, where the kitchen island was removed. This shows the original colour and stain on the inside of the rectangle (with a few new pieces added to fill in the gaps left from old pipes), and the colour it had become on the rest. I loved the pattern but we wanted dark walnut with no red or orange tones.

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The previous owners had large sisal area rugs which had a badly perished rubber underlay stuck to the timber and the floor had faded badly around these too as you can see below, in the areas near the windows. So not only was my concern that we had to revive the floors, but my worry was also about the ongoing maintenance of them and having to repeatedly deal with this issue in the coming years. Not to mention the ongoing cost. Hence my preference for pay-once-for-it vinyl.

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We also knew we had to add a whole new section of flooring once we knocked down the kitchen wall, because the adjoining room had been carpeted and we had issues with levels, subfloor and other problems to consider and resolve. This made laying the vinyl floor a bit more challenging too.

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I could see that we would have problems getting the stain right, getting the gloss level right, and having a house full of kids and animals, muddy boots, chairs being pushed across the floor etc. I could see it was going to be a never-ending issue, but I was swayed by general opinion that it would be sacrilege to cover up a genuine timber parquetry floor with the fake kind. It seemed a reasonable argument. Mmmmm…

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So once we decided to keep the floor it took a lot of time and hassle to find someone who could do it and was prepared to take on the challenge. Plus we were nearing the critical Christmas deadline and few were able to fit us in. Again this pressure to be in for Christmas was a crucial factor and contributor to things ultimately going wrong.

I found a company based in Mosman  (no names), who came down and told me they could do the job, having done a similar floor in upmarket restaurants in Sydney and even James Packer’s house. I didn’t care whose floors they had done and wasn’t convinced or confident somehow, but I was stuck between a rock and a hard place with time and money running out. It was going to cost $18,000 (a bitter pill to swallow) to add the new section, then sand and stain the floor to our desired colour. Although no guarantees were made about the colour because of the underlying red in the brush box.

We also had issues with the flooring where it crossed the subfloor where an extension of the sunroom had been done previously. One section of the room where the dining table is was on bearers and joists, and the sunroom side was on a concrete slab. This was causing the floor to move and gaps had appeared over time running the full length of the room. The flooring company in Sydney said it had been badly done by the local flooring company originally and that they would fill the gaps with putty, repair and stain and they should disappear and look like new.

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The problem I had was a timing issue. We only had a few weeks until Christmas, the builders were still working and the painters had only just begun. But unless I had the floors done at that time, I had to wait until February for them to fit us in. So I really had no choice unless we wanted to live out of the shipping container full of our stuff parked in the driveway for another few months.

We had to remove everything from all the floor areas, so bits of furniture was taken outside on the veranda, some piled up to the ceiling in other rooms, most put in the shipping container. It was a nightmare to live like that not being able to find anything, tidy up, or even sit down for what turned out to be about 5 weeks.

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And I can’t begin to tell you what a mess the dust made. Of course, they didn’t suggest we cover up or block anything, insisting that the dust bags on the back of the sanders would suck up all the dust. I should have known better, but I think by that point I was so over it I didn’t really care what happened anyway. But I am still wiping out the wardrobes in the bedrooms where I find red dust even now that managed to make its way upstairs. Below is the thick layer rest dust that settled on the top of the kitchen shelf. You get the idea…imagine that all over the entire house.
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And below on the handrail going up the stairs! Honestly, cleaning the entire house from top to bottom, every single surface, inside every cupboard, wiping down dust stuck in my computer keyboard, every skirting and timber profile, the carpets, on pens and every household item lying around, washing almost everything that could go in the washing machine….it nearly sent me troppo! And not to mention some of the rooms had been painted, so they all had a fine coating of red dust on the freshly painted walls and joinery too! I just wanted to curl up in a ball and cry.

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So with literally a week  before Christmas they finished the sanding and returned to do the stain and polyurethane coating. We were really happy with the colour which was a custom blend created to counteract the red and it seemed to have taken well to the brush box. The herringbone pattern looked lovely and the whole house seemed transformed by the new look floor. Perhaps it wasn’t such a bad idea after all – I couldn’t wait until all the new wainscoting was painted fresh white to make it all come together.

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Problem was, I now had the painters and builders still working on the house. And despite them insisting they could just thrown down a few drop sheets to cover the floor where they were working, and take off their shoes, I knew that the floor would be scratched and damaged if we didn’t cover it properly. Despite the groans of resistance, I bought rolls and rolls of cardboard to cover the floor. The painters had 4 more weeks of work, including scaffolding to put up to do the walls and ceiling, so there was no way I was going to trust a few flimsy sheets to protect my new and very expensive floor.

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So I painstakingly started to cover the floor but it was taking forever to do myself, so the builder sent his young carpenter to help. I was grateful, but then he started using painter’s tape to keep the curling cardboard down. I had been overlapping the cardboard and taping it sheet to sheet, but he was sticking it directly on the floor. I asked him if that was going to damage the floor or the new stain, but he insisted they did this all the time and hadn’t had a problem. I felt really nervous about that, and reluctant to let him do it, but didn’t have a choice with the team of painters poised ready to start work and he assured me it would be ok. Big mistake!
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The painters moved back in and started their painting job which would continue on 6 weeks longer than they had anticipated, or quoted. What a hideous job that was. And although we had thought the cardboard would only be down a few days or a week maybe, it turned out to be laid for nearly four weeks as it took them so long and were painstakingly slow.

 

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We went on holiday in January and returned when the painting in this living area was complete. Then it was time to remove the cardboard and get all our furniture back into start living. That’s when it all went pear shaped….

As Tom and I peeled back the rolls and rolls of cardboard, across the 150sqm of new floor, it didn’t matter how slowly or carefully or what way we removed the tape, it started pulling off the seal, the stain and the timber! Huge long strips of colour were coming off the new floor, right down to the raw timber. The tape had stuck to the new stain and was peeling it off. I went into a panic. I burst into tears, but I was absolutely furious too. Who could I blame for this?
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There are about 40 spots across the floor where the stain has come off. It was utterly galling. I called the builder who was suitably embarrassed and apologetic, but he had only been trying to help and I felt we had mucked them around on timing anyway, so didn’t feel I could point the finger at him. As tempting as it was.IMG_0508

So I asked the floor man to return to inspect and see what could be done. He came down reluctantly and attempted a few things, including trying to sand and restain small areas, but in the end nothing was working and it made it look worse. So he said he would have to resand and restain the floor. And charge us another $10,000 as it wasn’t his fault!
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It was at this point that I started to lose it ever so slightly. We could neither afford the time nor the $10k it would cost to redo the floor, the bloody stupid floor I hadn’t really wanted in the first place. We had to get back in and get on with life, so we elected to do nothing. It was so disappointing to have got to this point in the 6 month renovation and have this final and costly element ruined, what was supposed to be the crowing glory. Despite trying cover it up where I can with rugs and furniture, there are about 30 places it shows. And every time I walk across them it’s like a dagger in my heart! So frustrating.

On top of which, the gaps in floor that he insisted would be repaired have returned not 5 months later, in fact some so huge I can put my finger in them! The putty has cracked, the timber has separated and opened up. It looks like the floor is ten years old and needs doing again. The stain and colour has faded a lot just in this short time and is now a light brown in places where the sun is strongest.

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So I don’t know if James Packer is happy with the job they did of his floor, but I certainly am not! And yes it’s obviously a first world problem and lets keep it in perspective, and now that the house is all finished and decorated I know most people wouldn’t notice, but it’s still disappointing. Another hard lesson learned during this renovation, to go with your gut when trying to make a hard decision about something you are going to live with in your home for a long time.

I think ultimately I should have found a way to put down the vinyl floor and would not have had the problems I have now, which will be ongoing and continue to cost us money. I don’t know if the fact it’s a genuine timber floor and a pretty pattern is enough to console me. The jury’s still out.

mel-x

13 Responses to Real Timber Floors – to have or have not?

  1. Tamarra says:

    Oh I feel the pain, that is gut wrenchingly horrible. Especially that photo with the wide gaps. We had an experience (but not nearly as crushing as yours) with floor sanding and staining done poorly by an ‘experienced’ floor guy we knew, who left footprints on fresh laquer and patchy staining that he insisted was the timber absorbing differently but quite clearly was not.

    It is so hard to find a tradie/tradies that are genuine, honest, hardworking and turn up on time. (When you find them, keep them and pay them well.)

    Thank you for sharing your journey so honestly.

  2. Christine says:

    Hi, this is the first time I’ve replied to a blog. My heart goes out to you, even if it’s a first world problem! We are on the tail end of a reno and I’m deliberating on a vinyl plank floor downstairs. I think we’ve made our decision on a Black Butt. We pulled up carpet upstairs to find a beautiful Black Butt floor and decided to have it resanded and poly finish which only took 2.5 days but what a mess. We had just had the painters in and fortunately not too much mess came downstairs but that dust was everywhere. Like your floorers they said there would be no dust ! All around the skirts and about 2ft off the floor had to be washed and then I had to repaint ! My husband is lining our hideous block walls with tongue and groove paneling downstairs which is turning out well, more painting for for me though. Our house is a beach house on the Sunshine Coast but was originally 2 flats, which we have converted into one and we only started in June. I’m really happy with the results so far and fortunately my son is our builder and we are retired so plenty of time to do fiddly bits. Your story was so touching but I’m sure it will work out in the end

  3. Rachel Ferguson says:

    Hi Melinda. Thank you so much for your honest account of your renovation. We are renovating our farm homestead in Canterbury NZ. I was planning on keeping the floor boards and prob still would (as even if not perfect they are beautiful! ) however we have decided to place the new kitchen in the extension part of the house with no original floors. Therefore I need to look at options. With fear of rubbing salt in the wound… Could I ask what you used for your previous home? This is my first renovation and a family home for life. I am very grateful for you inspiration and insight! Warm regards Rachel Ferguson

  4. Kristy says:

    Oh Mel, I hear you and understand your huge disappointnent. From the photos I think that the flooring looks amazing and in fact swooned at the herringbone pattern. I think the way it has turned out gives it character and makes it look authentic, something we don’t have with our new build.
    We had the opposite issue with our new home. Trying to keep to a budget (emphasis on “trying”) we opted for engineered wood. We are in WA and our designer chose a company in NSW (like you, no names). The boards were long, 180mm wide and a lovely dark colour. However when they were being installed they wouldn’t fit together properly, leaving gaps or if they did, they curled up like a boat! The builder said that the boards were faulty and the supplier said it was an installation issue. Not the builder’s fault as the boards were in our contract. But in the end, who wore the $16k product cost? You guessed it, us! So our effort to save money severely bit us on our butts.
    We did end up with gorgeous real wood floors (we opted for a lighter colour in the end as worried about dust/scratches etc showing up – and funnily enough the cost difference between the engineered and real wood was less than $6k).
    This post is all very timely, as the left over engineered flooring arrived back at the supplier today after months of negotiation and clogging up our garage. After costing us almost $900 delivery and a 20% restocking charge, we are getting just under half our money back. Expensive boo-boo indeed.

  5. Gabrielle says:

    Hi Mel,

    I was bitterly disappointed when we were unable to have timber floors down in our new kitchen. I had scrimped and saved for them, but the floor was too uneven to have the timber laid on the top. I hesitatingly elected to have the vinyl slats. I have been completely delighted with them. They have been down 8 years now, are still like new, and so easy to clean. Most people cannot tell.

    Despite your floor, your home renovations still look sensational, and the floor is still lovely.

  6. Oh Mel what a heartache!!! I too was in the camp of you CAN’T cover up those beautiful herringbone timber floors…but now I’m in your camp. I was such a fan of your flooring in your previous home, and I would never think I’d say I loved vinyl! Food for thought for any future renovations for us. Our family home I grew up in, which my parents built, originally had similar beautiful herringbone parquetry. My childhood memories however are of sitting in front of the fire and pulling up all the parquetry pieces as they were so loose, warped, the glue had melted between them (underfloor heating). In the end when I, and the house, was about 15 the beautiful herringbone parquetry was all ripped up and a new floating floor was put in. It still looks the same almost 15 years later. And the home is currently for sale!

  7. Kathy Perdue says:

    Omgosh, you poor thing what a nightmare and a very hard lesson to experience. They are beautiful but I know first hand how something like that can be hard to get over. hopefully time will heal. So sorry this happened to you.

  8. Lee says:

    OMOGosh Melinda, I really do sympathise with you but I thank you also for being so honestly frank as I have a couple of decisions to make and one is whether to sand back and re-polish or white wash our existing wooden floors or to do vinyl planking over. The vinyl today looks amazing, I went into a house that was for sale that had oak vinyl planking and to be honest I couldn’t tell the difference, in fact I thought it was wood. However if I had the convenience of being able to move elsewhere I would definitely go for sanding back our existing floors. I think in the long run you have made the right choice as your home is probably more valuable keeping those floors but I am pleased to hear that you are acceptable of vinyl flooring.

    I may be buying a new build house as a future retirement home but investment meanwhile and I am wondering if I should be paying extra to have wooden flooring throughout the open plan kitchen/dining/living area or I should take the cheaper option of vinyl planking. After reading this I am thinking that although we might only be renting it out a few years, tenants will make wear and tear on a hardwood floor.

    Thanks for this interesting post, I understand how you will notice those faults but memory of them will fade. I have been living with a different coloured part of our floorboards in the kitchen area and it really bugged me in the beginning but I really don’t notice it now, its more the visitors that comment and ask if we are going to re-sand…but thinking about all that dust, I think it might be better to go vinyl 🙂

  9. Heidi says:

    Hi Mel, I’m an Architect and have renovated a couple of houses of my own as well, so I’ll weigh in with my perspective… while you’ve obviously had a terrible time with the refinishing of the floors and the disappointment of the sticky tape marks, I think that overall you made the right choice to go with timber.
    Vinyl is plastic, and plastic degrades over time. You lived in your previous house for a very short time after completing the renovation so only saw it at its very best. All man made products on the market are designed to last only as long as the builders warranty on the whole house (otherwise the builders won’t put them into your house as they don’t want to be responsible for it). Therefore it will only last 10 years at best before you will definitely see problems with it.
    Additionally UV in Australia is incredibly strong and will fade anything. Vinyl flooring will also fade in UV light, and if you’d removed rugs after 10 years with vinyl floors you would definitely see the rug outlines, just as you have on the timber floors.
    If you’re concerned about fading of your floors you could look into putting a film on the windows to reduce the UV into your living area to prevent damage to them.
    Hope this makes you feel a little better about your choice – I for one think that you did the right thing keeping the timber – I can always tell when it’s not real timber… the clacking noise that you get as you walk across it is a bit tell tale sign!

  10. vicki says:

    What a disaster!! Not to mention the expense and cleaning. I think your feeling now to follow your gut instinct is so right. My husband and I hired sanders etc to do our wooden floors, I was 7 months pregnant, we had no issue with dust fall out as it was contained in the bags on the machines so wondering if the company had faulty fittings with them?

  11. Steph says:

    Oh Mel, you poor thing. What a nightmare experience. At least those first few scratches and high heel dents wont’ hurt as much now. We’re still living with cork in our kitchen/dining so will have to read all about your old vinyl floors when the time comes to update! Steph x

  12. Lucia Donahower says:

    Hello Mel, so sorry to hear about your hardwood floors. I’m sure over time you will not even noticed the imperfections, there will be so many beautiful things to look at besides the floor.
    Enjoy your gorgeous home.
    Lucy in California

  13. Your floors are simply beautiful! So sorry that you have had such a difficult time! I have plan old 3/4 inch red oak hardwoods throughout my home sealed with polyurethane. I hate poly and wish that there were more legitimate alternatives to sealing hardwood floors. I would love to just be able to re-oil or wax my floors when needed!

    Next house, I am definitely going to research options. I’m dreaming of wide planked floors….someday.

    Love your style!

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