Hardwood, Hardwork


I bought a house.  It had white car­pet (except for the stains), white walls, white ceil­ings — a blank canvas.

I set about to change that. I bit off more than I could chew. I thought about giv­ing up.

I’m glad I didn’t, but that doesn’t mean I loved the process.

It began with an exploratory phone call to my good friend Bran­don Mar­tinez. He and his wife bought a house the year before and there­fore became the per­son in my con­tact list with the most exper­tise on the subject.

He made it sound easy. Rent a sander. Set a cou­ple of days aside. Don’t expect it to be easy.

Easy” is so damn relative.

I’m sure he didn’t mean for it to come off that way. It’s just how the words sounded in the dream­world I was inhab­it­ing at the time.

So I ripped up car­pet with the help of some friends from work. I removed sta­ples from car­pet padding and tack­ing strips, again with the help of friends from work.

The demo­li­tion of the din­ing room revealed a layer of pressed lam­i­nate floor­ing beneath the car­pet and 1/8″ par­ti­cle board beneath that. Care­ful appli­ca­tion of a pry-bar and rhyth­mic thrusts toward the sky, where the Gods of begin­ner home ren­o­va­tion sit and watch, proved to be most effec­tive. I filled the bed of a bor­rowed pick-up truck and took what couldn’t be given away for free on the curb to the dump.

I rented a sander of the ran­dom orbit­ing vari­ety and set to work inhal­ing century-old wood par­ti­cles. A mask just fogged up my glasses when I exhaled. It turns out, century-old wood floors don’t really want to be sanded. If they did, they would stay even and flat. They wouldn’t cup or bow. They would let go of the gummy stain in their grain. Those DIY-ers on YouTube made it look the way Bran­don made it sound. Easy. Chris Jones, a writer-at-large for Esquire mag­a­zine and occa­sional Twit­ter respon­der told me it would be “a pig of a job.“He was right.

With the advise­ment and help of yet another co-worker and friend we set to fin­ish what the ran­dom orbital couldn’t, using palm sanders and belt sanders.

These boards had flaws. But we chose to think of them not as blem­ishes, but as char­ac­ter. The floors have integrity.

I opted not to stain the floors, despite the can of Bom­bay Mahogany I pur­chased. I’d like to say I changed my mind after I saw the nat­ural beauty of the floors. No. I’m fun­da­men­tally lazy and I was fed up with this nonsense.

Three coats of clear gloss polyurethane on all 776 square-feet.

I like my floors. I like them more than other peo­ple, specif­i­cally my co-workers, like hear­ing about them.

It was a good expe­ri­ence. One I don’t plan to repeat any time soon and in the time that these floors have been “lived” on, I’ve learned a few things.

Wood floors don’t age gen­tly. The scratches from the dog’s nails, the fur­ni­ture feet dent into the once thought to be pro­tec­tive coat­ing — they are wrin­kles, laugh lines. Gaps between the floor­boards like gaps in a toothy smile, of a time worn with mem­o­ries of actions. This floor will be cared for, not coddled.

These floors are more than just floors, they’re part of the first step of every day.

  • Tom Lock­wood

    Great piece, Kelsey. See, you have vision, project lead­er­ship skills, per­se­ver­ance and endurance, not to men­tion great writ­ing skills! Looks great and I agree, the imper­fec­tions are just indi­ca­tions of character.

  • GPM

    Sure the floors look won­der­ful. Classy, sharp and well done. But I’d call a floor guy the next time the spirit moves you. The same goes for roof­ing. I’m no fool.

  • Emil­lie Willey