Christine and Pierre's Kitchen: All About Flooring

Renovation Diary

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This is what the floor looks like in the rest of the apartment. 100 year old mill-run birch. LOTS of variation.

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Name: Christine & Pierre
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: Montreal, Quebec
Type of building: Ground floor apartment of a triplex, 1,100 square feet

The Renovation Diaries are a new collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

This was a bit of a funny week. By all accounts, not much was accomplished – our big achievement was finally finding and ordering flooring. But finding a flooring option that we were happy with has been such a challenge that it felt like a massive milestone. 

Because the extension is built on a concrete slab, we couldn't lay down hardwood flooring as in the rest of the house. Due to moisture issues with concrete, it's not recommended to install solid hardwood, as it will expand and contract much more and potentially buckle or warp. So that left us with the choice of either tile or engineered wood. I love tile, but we couldn't imagine a way to have half the kitchen in wood and the other half in tile without things looking very odd and disjointed — and it made us sad to think of removing the original wood from the old kitchen. So we set out to find an engineered wood option that would work well with our existing floors.

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On the left, red oak. A decent match colour-wise, but it's a different species. On the right is the birch – not even close!

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THIS is what we're looking for!! But this is in a solid wood, not engineered.

Because engineered wood is a manufactured product, and tends to be more expensive, we found it was almost impossible to find options that have the same amount of "variation" (meaning difference between the light and dark boards, knots and contrast) as our existing floors. Floors have "grades", and generally, the cheaper grades have more variation. Often we would find that a company would create a beautiful match for our floors in solid hardwood, but their engineered version would be a premium grade, meaning it was almost uniform in colour (and typically much lighter). 

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We also came to the realization that it would make sense to refinish the existing part of the wood floor in the kitchen. The floors in our house are in pretty good shape and don't really need to be refinished, with the exception of the kitchen where the finish is badly worn and scratched everywhere. 

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More matching attempts. Another red oak. This was probably the closest we got colour-wise.

We knew we weren't going to find an exact match. I actually don't mind the idea of newer sections of wood mingling with older sections. It tells the story of the house, and seems honest. But I was frustrated to invest in a flooring option that couldn't age with the rest of the house. Many engineered products have thin veneers that can only be sanded once, maybe twice. They also have a machine-made finish and a micro-bevel on the edges of the planks that just makes them look so... NEW. 

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The wood we ended up buying. 3/4 inch unfinished engineered birch, with moderate variations.

So we were super happy to finally find what we were looking for this week — an unfinished 3/4 inch engineered birch, with medium variation. This is a solid product with a thick top veneer that can be sanded multiple times, so if a future owner decides to restain the whole apartment a different colour in 10 or 20 years, they can. Since we would be sanding down the adjacent wood floor anyway, we could sand this one along with it and finish them both simultaneously. This way, while the floor wouldn't match exactly, it would have the same finish and be in the same "spirit". We had to visit a ton of flooring places for us to both 1) identify what we wanted, and then to 2) actually find it, but it was worth it.

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What I was doing on the weekend instead of laying floor. (Photo is from the Nogushi Museum in New York.)

Lastly, we took this weekend off reno work. Pierre had planned a trip with friends, and I went to visit a close friend in New York. With the reno in a good place and all of the scariest bits over, we felt okay about taking a weekend off. 

Was this an efficient way to advance the renovation? Hell no. But life doesn't stop when you renovate, and this was possibly going to be our last chance for long-distance travel before the end of my pregnancy. We decided we would rather work an additional weekend at the end than regret not being able to travel while we could. Some people resent a renovation when it goes on too long, but we knew we would resent the renovation just as much if we let it keep us from the people in our lives for too long.

Estimated time for project: 13 weeks
Time remaining: 5 weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for #12 of Christine and Pierre's Diary.

(Images and diary text: Christine Zoltok)

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