Dan's Kitchen: All About Floors

Renovation Diary

A sneak-peak at the still-wet, refinished floors after the first coat of polyurethane, looking across the dining room into the kitchen. Tune in next week to see the finished product.
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Name: Dan Bailey
Type of Project: Kitchen remodel
Location: East Boston, Boston, Massachusetts
Type of building: 2nd Floor Condo in a Greek-Revival Row House

The Renovation Diaries are a 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 week was all about the floors. My contractor, Gregg, came back early in the week to finish patching the kitchen floor. I think he ended up putting a lot more work into the floor than he had originally expected – flipping damaged floorboards, pulling out extraneous nails, transferring floorboards from one part of the kitchen to another – but he did a really nice job. Attention to detail definitely paid off in this case.

The kitchen floor, completely patched and ready for refinishing. The new floorboards, visible on the left, will be hidden beneath cabinets.
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Late last week, Gregg moved four floorboards from the back of the kitchen to the front in order to cover up a hole in the floor with boards that run the full length of the room. This week, he replaced the missing floorboards in the back of the kitchen with a combination of new lumber and the original, shorter floorboards that he removed from the front of the room. The new floorboards are “select” grade pine with minimal knots. They’re lighter in color and not as beat up as the original floors, so they’re not a perfect match. But most of this section of flooring will be hidden beneath cabinets. Even so, Gregg managed to fit the old and new floorboards together like a giant jigsaw puzzle in such a way as to minimize the amount of new lumber that will be visible once the cabinets are installed.

The floor as seen from the opposite side of the kitchen.
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As he was pulling up floorboards in the back corner of the kitchen, Gregg came across a 1944 penny sitting on the subfloor directly beneath a floorboard. Apparently carpenters and other tradesmen used to hide brand new pennies in out-of-the-way places – beneath a bathtub, behind a medicine cabinet, under a floorboard – to mark the date of their work. This means that the last time the kitchen floorboards were pulled up was 1944. I looked through the old building permit records for the property, which are available online, and discovered that the building was split into apartments in the mid-1940s. So the 1944 date makes sense. This was probably when the room was converted to a kitchen for the new second floor apartment. Hiding a new penny during a renovation project is a pretty cool tradition and it’s something Gregg wanted to continue. So he put the 1944 penny back where he found it and added a shiny new penny along with a note containing our names and the actual date.

The 1944 penny, left, found between a floorboard and the subfloor, and a new 2013 penny, right, marking the date of my renovation. Both pennies were sealed under a floorboard.
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In an ideal world I would wait to refinish the floors until the drywall was up and the walls were painted. This would minimize the risk of messing up the newly refinished floors as the renovation work continues. But I wanted to refinish all of the floors in the condo at the same time, a process that requires that I vacate the condo for three days. So for logistical reasons, I decided to refinish the floors this week.

A note on the subfloor left by my contractor containing our names and the date.
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I briefly considered refinishing the floors myself, but quickly decided against it. I don’t have any experience with sanding and finishing floors. And the floors are all pine, which is a really soft wood – one mistake with an orbital or belt sander and I could end up with uneven floors, or worse, a large, permanent gouge. This seemed like a job better left to the pros – the risk of doing it myself and irreparably damaging 150-year-old floors just isn’t worth saving a few hundred dollars. Plus, a professional flooring crew will have the job done in three days, while I’m sure it would take me significantly longer if I were to do it by myself. Once the floors are done, we’ll cover them with cardboard and drop cloths to protect them while we continue working on the kitchen. I also can’t wait to see how the floors turn out. It’ll be encouraging to see one small aspect of this renovation completed.

Estimated time for project: 12 weeks, probably longer
Time remaining: 4 weeks

Check out the full series (so far) and be sure to join us next week for installment #12 of Dan's Kitchen Renovation.

(Images and diary text: Dan Bailey)