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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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!
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.
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.