Should You Embrace the Dark Side of Wood Floors?-Part II

 

Wow, guys! Many comments and opinions from Wednesday’s post focused on the hardwood floors of my new place. This is actually a continuation of that post. However, instead of light and white floors, the focus will be on super dark hardwood floors.

I’ve always found it interesting throughout my career that one person can look at something, for instance, a sofa. One will say, “oh, that’s so traditional.” And, another person will say, “That sofa’s too contemporary.”

 

It’s the same sofa.

 

Is one of them wrong? Maybe. Or, they might both be wrong, or they may both be right.

However, I’ve mentioned this numerous times on the blog how the word “traditional” is often a misnomer. Traditional means something historical, right?

Well, there is nothing historical about a sofa that looks like this. That is, unless you’re only going back to the 1940s at the earliest.

 

19th Century Chippendale Style Camel Back Sofa - First Dibs
This Chippendale style camel-back sofa is traditional.

 

So, let’s talk about the floor finishes a bit more. There’s a third word that came up a lot in the comments. And, it’s become a dirty word. A dirty six-letter word.

“Trendy.”

 

Telling someone, they’re doing something “trendy” is pretty much the same as saying, “you’re an idiot who’s going to regret this decision in ten years.”

 

One trend discussed regarding the white floors is the current “trend” of Scandinavian (Scandi) or Swedish Gustavian style. The former is a popular contemporary style. And the latter is a classic style that’s been around since the late 18th century. Gustavian is actually the Swedish neo-classical style, which occurred simultaneously as the Louis XVI neoclassical style in France and the Georgian neoclassical style in England.

Now, it’s possible that a design style can be BOTH trendy and an enduring classic. And, it can be both contemporary and traditional.

That is the case with the white-painted or stained white floors.

 

However, if you perceive it as purely contemporary, it’s most likely because you don’t know its history.

 

And, that’s okay if you don’t know. I don’t know how to drill a hole in someone’s head.

I realized the other day that it isn’t ten years that I’ve loved Swedish interiors and white floors. It’s been at least 30 years. I saw a gorgeous Swedish room in a magazine and fell in love. But, there was no trend back then. That doesn’t mean I’m not influenced by trends just like most of us are. However, that is not the case with my love of white floors.

 

The truth of the matter is, no one lives as the Victorians did in 19th century Boston.

 

I’m looking forward to visiting the Gibson House Museum, which is a short walk from my new place. This home built in 1860 was lived in by three generations for the Gibson family until 1954. And, apparently, they weren’t into any remodeling, so after the last family vacated the place, it became a museum in 1957.

You can take a virtual tour of the museum here.

By our modern-day standards, the house feels dark and heavy.

 

kitchen - scratched floors - Gibson House Museum - Beacon St. Boston, MA

As for the floors, well, except for a sliver in the kitchen of some pretty beat up floors, you can’t even see them under the heavy rugs.

poorly renovated apartment Back BayConversely, here is a two-bedroom apartment which recently sold 280 feet away from the Gibson House, on the same block.

 

The contrast is pretty jarring.

 

These kinds of renovations are commonplace. Hopefully, the new owners will fix some of this. However, my point is that painted or white stained floors ARE traditional and historically accurate for a period earlier than when this house was built. But remember, Victorians never said, “Okay, we need to design this house in the Victorian Style because we live in the Victorian era.”

That would be like people living in the UK, today saying, “Okay, we need to design this house in the Queen Elizabeth II-style because we are living during her reign.”

Those designations only happen after the fact, as a matter of perspective.

I’m trying to say that people just designed what they liked, as we do in the present. And while there were prevalent trends, just like there are today, that doesn’t mean that everyone followed them. Or, there might’ve been some folks who were ahead of their time, the trendsetters of their time. After all, that’s how trends and change occur.

My goal isn’t to change minds but to expand our view into broader ways of thinking about what is appropriate in design and what isn’t.

 

What bothers me is when people think in absolutes such as:

 

  • We must have a kitchen island, even if it’s hanging out into the middle of the living room.
  • Everyone wants an open floor plan. (nope. everyone does not want an open floor plan)
  • We need to take all of these fussy old mouldings down because no one does those anymore.

That’s not really the reason. The reason is money.  When they break up the rooms, the problem is that they need to recreate the old mouldings on the new walls. And, it’s bloody expensive. Thus, they take it all down. Sometimes they put something else up that’s nice, and sometimes they don’t.

 

So, how do we know what’s appropriate and what’s not?

 

Well, it’s not always easy. And one reason which a lot of you have come across is resistance from contractors and builders.

No, not all of them. However, a lot of them get very set in their ways. A lot of this is reinforced by HGTV, who have brainwashed us into thinking that we want things open, gray on gray on gray, devoid of architectural adornment, transitional, brightly lit with white LED lights, poorly scaled and laid out. And, it needs to pop! (it does?) Plus, some builders think it’s okay to make these unattractive alterations in a 19th-century treasure in a historic district.

Well, I don’t think it is. However, if someone wanted to give their Victorian home a Swedish or French neo-classical late 18th-century styling, I don’t see a problem with that. Of course, you don’t have to agree.

 

Overall, my source of inspiration is to look at what the best designers of our day are doing.

 

You can also look at Wednesday’s post to see some of the most brilliant talents in the design world.

 

me-with-one-mans-folly-furlow-gatewood

 

Let me ask you. Do you have Furlow Gatewood’s book, One Man’s Folly? If you don’t, you must get it or tell Santa to get it for you.

 

one-mans-folly-exceptional-houses-furlow-gatewood-416x555

The reason I’m singling him out is that his style has no classification, except for classic.

 

One thing Furlow does that I love is that he has a combination of painted floors  (both plain and decorative) as well as stained floors.

 

Please check out one of my favorite posts, hi-lighting some of Furlow Gatewood’s gorgeous rooms.

You’ll get some terrific ideas for your floors in that post.

 

Then, there’s another idea and actually, these floors I also love, but it scares me far more than the white. And, that’s the super dark floors.

 

If I did the espresso floors, I’d have to cover a good portion of them with a rug or rugs. Otherwise, it would feel too heavy, I think. But as an accent with maybe 25% -30% of the floor show, it’s a very sophisticated, rich look.

Forget about the dust. Some of that is a function of the finish. I want a rich and shiny finish. That’s another thing. I’m not sure if I want gloss or semi-gloss, but I definitely do not want a satin finish. And, especially a water-based satin poly. I’ve never seen one that didn’t look like plastic.

I don’t care what the flooring contractor says. When it comes to a dark hardwood floor, I want oil. If your contractor insists on water-based, fire him and hire one who understands that oil will give your dark floors that rich, deep luster you’re longing for. He’s pushing water, because it dries faster and less noxious. But, the oil, in the long run is so much better. I feel quite strongly about that one.

 

HOWEVER, for white floors, you MUST do a water-based poly.

 

I used Fabulon oil-based in a semi-gloss finish for our old townhouse. It was gorgeous and exceedingly durable and still looked fantastic 16 years later. It withstood two wild boys, their friends, and a cat with long claws. Fabulon seems to be harder to get now. But, in a bit, I’ll recommend two other oil-based polyurethanes.

Now, I want to show you what I mean by gorgeous antique, dark hardwood floors. This is a house I’ve wanted to show you guys since last summer.

 

Yes, it’s another Greek-Revival beauty!

There was another one last summer. However, the photographer found the post and asked me to take the photos down. So, I did.

 

This house is in Kinderhook, New York.

 

Where is that, you ask? It’s way up in Columbia county. It’s the place where wealthy Wall Streeters go to retire when they’re burned out at 45 from having worked 80 hours a week for 20 years.

But, anyway, I seriously wanted this house AND everything in it. And, you will too. Or, many of you will.

Plus, it has these antique, shiny espresso floors.

Here are a few pics from the listing. They’ve re-listed it with more photos, which you can see here.

 

Stunning Greek Revival - Kinderhook, NY shiny black floors

 

Stunning Greek Revival tastefully decorated - gorgeous floors

Greek Revival Kinderhook, NY shiny espresso floors bedroom

I knew this has to be the home of an interior designer or antique dealer. So, I did some stalking sleuthing. And, I found that indeed it is the home of John Knott and John Fondas, the owners of Quadrille Fabrics! Love Quadrille!

 

Laurel Bern Interiors Portfolio Bronxville Dining room

The dining room chair fabric is from Quadrille.

 

It’s funny because in the Kinderhook house, AKA Crow Hill, there isn’t one Quadrille fabric to be found.

 

Okay, here’s what I’m thinking might be cool for my place.

 

Suppose I did the super dark, shiny floors in the living room and guest room and entry. Maybe I could do something different in the kitchen. Or, do the same different thing in the kitchen and entry. I’m thinking of something black and white, possibly. It could even be a black and white checkerboard or something like that. I was messing around with some ideas today, but haven’t hit on just the right thing yet.

Then, downstairs, for the bedroom, I could do a stained white floor.

furlow+gatewood+-+greek+key+2

 

I love Furlow Gatewood’s stenciled subtle diamond floor with the Greek key border.

Okay, I’ll keep working on that one.

In the meantime, I researched the best oil-based polyurethanes to get that dip rich shine that’s so wonderful on a dark hardwood floor.

 

And, I came up with two products.

 

Please note, I recommend that your flooring contractor make samples before applying to your entire floor.

 

varathane-polyurethane-wood-finish

You can purchase Varathane poly at the Home Depot. (it also comes in different levels of shine)

 

zar-polyurethane-wood-finish

Zar polyurethane can also be purchased at the Home Depot.

 

If you have a different recommendation for a product you’ve used, please let us know in the comments. I prefer that you not link to any products as I have to make sure the link is okay, first.

One last thing.

 

This, I know from experience, is when using a dark stain over oak, especially if there’s a heavy grain, and you want a more uniform color throughout the wood that will minimize that heavy grain. You’ll probably need to water pop the wood before applying the stain. Please read this excellent post about water popping on the flooring girl blog. Of course, always test and consult your flooring professional first.

Well, I think that’s going to be it for the hardwood floors for now.

I hope everyone’s doing okay this week.

xo,

 

 

PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES and also the beautiful HOLIDAY SHOP filled with holiday decor and gifts for everyone!

 

5th edition rolodex-post-graphic - November 2018 - A unique shopping guide with hundreds of sources created by Laurel Bern

  • svetlana - November 20, 2020 - 1:35 PM

    Dear Laurel, amazing post! Could you help to make virtual renovation for 109 Beacon St APT 4? Can it be helped? What moldings should we put there? What baseboard? What would you do with design, white kitchen cabinets to the ceiling probably you would say… I hear your voice lol. This chandelier reminds me your favorite one from your older post like Sarah Jessica Parker has that’s been discontinued. This could be such a fun post I’d love to fantasize about what you /can we do to make this beauty shine again! Teach us! There is not that much natural light in the kitchen, what would you say? Dark kitchen maybe like Devol? What can we do with kitchen moldings?? Please write I can’t wait to read hahaha.ReplyCancel

  • Alina Silvestrovici Paun - November 17, 2020 - 11:11 PM

    Hi Laurel,

    My husband found your blog about 4 years ago and I’ve been reading it since. We used some paint colors you recommended and was so inspired by your wainscoting post we ended up doing our dining room ourselves (recessed). It turned out so well! So, to stir up some controversy (and no, I will not suggest an elevator) we considered refinishing natural red oak floors but ended up installing new white oak hardwood, a bit distressed, in a dark chocolate semi gloss. We looked at some friends’ houses at how the finish on refinished floors held up over the years and it just didn’t cut it for us. The impression we have is that the factory finish just cannot be recreated in place. So how about installing new hardwood???

    (On the dark v light – do what you truly love looking at. You’ll find a justification after, even if you have to clean more or whatever. I decided that it wasn’t that great that with natural red oak there was so much dust that I couldn’t see! But really, I still don’t vacuum more than once a week.)

    Stay funny!ReplyCancel

  • SM - November 17, 2020 - 1:22 PM

    Thank you for bringing attention in your posts to the bastardization of these beautiful houses that started in the 70s! Some of these homes where one family used to live were chopped up into as many as 10 tiny units and completely mutilated! It happened not just here, but in the beautiful capitals of eastern Europe, Prague, Budapest (during post-war Communist times such refined period embellishments were considered too ‘burgois’) where last summer I had the chance to see some gorgeous apartments with soaring ceilings, beat up but original herringbone parquet floors that were now totally bare of all period details such as moldings, tall doors, but where artisans now are scrambling to recreate the original details and put back what once had been ripped out. I know it’s a money issue, but I think lowering door openings in 13 feet tall rooms just to fit standard size cheap MDF doors should not be allowed to happen in 150-180 year old buildings in historic districts. Now onto your the floors. We have the exact same floors like yours in BB, but I never thought of them as orange. We just refinished them and patched a few boards and I like them as they are, but then again, I’m a rug fanatic, I love Oriental rugs and I have them everywhere, so I guess maybe that’s why I don’t see the orange?! I like the dark, shiny floors above, I think it would look really elegant in BB, but you have to think about your lighting, because while you are on the south side, you are on the first floor and have buildings in front, so some daylight will be cut and Boston has too many gloomy, grey days. I love the preliminary furniture plan and that you incorporated a big, nice rug (One that actually has a pattern! Too tired of all the monochromatic rugs one sees everywhere, not to mention grey rugs!). I have a few great rug sources by the way, some close to your new home, I can send them to you if you are interested, but you may have these already.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 19, 2020 - 1:09 AM

      Thanks so much, Sylvia! I’m very much looking forward to meeting you!ReplyCancel

  • Cynthia Lambert - November 17, 2020 - 11:58 AM

    The reason there are Quadrille fabrics in that house is that it was bought and restored by John Knott, the owner of Quadrille, and a friend of mine. He sold it after fixing it up, and the person who bought it is selling it again.
    Also, I painted my floor white in the foyer, and used Fine Paints of Europe lacquer, and it is holding up very well. Has a high sheen and is easy to clean.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 17, 2020 - 3:22 PM

      Hi Cynthia,

      I think you might’ve misread what I wrote in the post. (unless I’m misunderstanding what you’re saying) Here’s what I said:

      I knew this has to be the home of an interior designer or antique dealer. So, I did some stalking sleuthing. And, I found that indeed it is the home of John Knott and John Fondas, the owners of Quadrille Fabrics! Love Quadrille!

      It’s funny because in the Kinderhook house, AKA Crow Hill, there isn’t one Quadrille fabric to be found.

      However, cool that you’re friends with John Knott and great to know about the FPE lacquer holding up.

      I’d love to know what floor finish they used in the house. I love it!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - November 17, 2020 - 7:34 AM

    Just want to mention for your readers that oil based finish is very cost prohibitive and just damn near impossible if you live in California due to EPA guidelines there. I worked for a hardwood flooring company for years. It can no longer be sprayed or purchased in anything larger than a quart.ReplyCancel

  • emilia - November 17, 2020 - 7:05 AM

    Can we restore moldings in one of those beautiful houses (that destroyed their moldings and made boring architecture crime) that you showed us? Money is a question but they ripped off all pretty moldings away… how would they know where to buy them in believable proportions? Maybe they just don’t know where to buy them? I certainly just don’t know sources..I’d buy amazing moldings, done in good taste but I don’t know any sources where to buy them. I mean … not metrie…something more gorgeous or I prefer no molding at all (why spend on average it will not elevate the look anyway and it’s still cost something). But where would you look for gorgeous moldings, any sources are much appreciated!ReplyCancel

  • Martha Foss - November 17, 2020 - 1:08 AM

    Have you heard about Rubio monocoat? It is a special oil for the floor that works with the tannins in the wood. I did the shelves in my kitchen, when I did not want the oak shelves to go golden oak or orange. I wanted them to stay very natural. The same with a live edge piece of wood I put over my stove as a mantle. A lot of floor guys, Will discourage you from using the Rubio monocoat because I don’t know a lot about it and it’s more expensive. You can buy a sample for under eight dollars. It’s not very big but you can actually do quite a bit with it to try it out. I’m excited for your new house I’ve been Reading long on your blog quite some time. I subscribe to your Laurel home colors and I’ve used it on our house in on our rental properties. One I just sold was 17 offers in one week, 200,000 over asking, it must’ve been the colors😀!!ReplyCancel

  • Mary D - November 16, 2020 - 10:24 PM

    I have black/white tile floor on diagonal in my kitchen, Just know it’s a challenge to keep looking great. My tile has a matte finish which shows every water droplet. I always loved the look and vowed to have it in my home. Well, I got it but regret the upkeep.ReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 16, 2020 - 10:34 PM

      Oh, how well I know. I had a black and white vinyl tile floor in my kitchen for 17 years!ReplyCancel

  • Heather - November 16, 2020 - 7:15 PM

    To tie in with Monica’s comment, we also had our dark floors finished with the 2 part Loba Supra system, satin finish, 2 years ago. It has a gorgeous glow and does not look plastic at all. Very low to no fumes and dries quickly. Extremely low maintenance. The floors were previously high gloss (from the prior owner), and I felt that they looked like a basketball court.

    Oil wax finishes, I believe, are no VOC, so you might want to look into those, too. My understanding is that they require more care and maintenance.

    I think that when floors look plastic, they may have been finished with a low quality product and/or refinished poorly.
    Choose a contractor that is both passionate and meticulous about his or her work.

    If you do opt for a traditional oil based finish (if those are even available anymore), make sure your contractor properly disposes of oily waste at the end of each workday. Oily waste is an ignition hazard and should not be left lying around your house at the end of each work day.

    Laurel, whatever you choose will be lovely! I must say though, that English Chestnut would be my pick.ReplyCancel

  • George - November 16, 2020 - 6:42 PM

    Well, if you are going to sand the hardwoods,
    a couple of thoughts: After staining, use a coat of yellow shellac – yes the old fashioned kind – to give some color. Then two coats of gloss for depth topped by one coat of satin. if you are not going to sand, just paint. Consider stencils, but be restrained in their use. Respect the architecture.ReplyCancel

  • Monica - November 16, 2020 - 6:05 PM

    I have dark brown oak floors. My contractor used a 2 component polyurethane called Loba Supra 2k. It has a nice sheen and wears amazingly well. My neighbor used a high gloss oil finish, which makes the floors look like they have been coated with plastic. I personnally don’t like the look.ReplyCancel

  • Deb Carey - November 16, 2020 - 10:46 AM

    Hey Laurel,

    I love your dark floor idea so much I did it in our last home. Oxblood. Super deep dark rich mahogany color. Yes, lots of dramatic impact. Especially, if you don’t swiffer mop them at least once a day. You probably have way more free time and love cleaning- not. kidding aside every hair and lint piece will show up….just when you are sitting down with an adult beverage!

    On a happier note I painted bedroom floors and the dark stairway treads and they were stunning.

    New home came with antique oak wide planks. Not at all trendy but but super comfortable and easy to decorate and live with,just enough drama. Lake house is getting a french oak stain. – just a little gray instead of stark white. It will be stunning!
    Best wishes,ReplyCancel

  • susie - November 16, 2020 - 9:40 AM

    Yes, I got myself the Furlow Gatewood book for Christmas this year. It is all wrapped and ready for me to open it on Christmas morning. Hope everyone has a virus-safe Thanksgiving.ReplyCancel

  • George Costakis - November 16, 2020 - 9:25 AM

    Now that you are in Boston you can team up with Renovation Husbands. I’m not sure if you follow them. They’re a husband and husband DIY blog remodeling a 1893 Victorian home in the Boston neighborhood of Dorchester. On Instagram they are renovationhusbands.ReplyCancel

  • Erika - November 15, 2020 - 11:30 PM

    I refinished all of my downstairs floors in a dark color and I love it. But you are absolutely right about the water based poly looking like plastic, I hate it!! And I think it is satin too…eww. But live and learn. I have a lot of rugs anyway. We did the kitchen separately and used an oil based semi gloss there and it is such a difference I love it.ReplyCancel

  • Harold - November 15, 2020 - 9:37 PM

    Though I have not read Julia Reeds book, I do know that she has passed away recentlyReplyCancel

    • Laurel Bern - November 15, 2020 - 11:00 PM

      Someone else mentioned that earlier. I’m sorry to hear that.ReplyCancel

  • Diana - November 15, 2020 - 8:11 PM

    To have peace of mind, walk away from dark stained floors. Had them, too much work and shows everything including 2 Great Dane foot prints.
    The shinier it is, the more it looks plastic unless u have floors which require waxing. Had those even in the kitchen, never again. They owned me. 2 a.m . I was still buffing.
    Laurel, own the home, don’t let it own u. Ur choices will be good, never strive for perfect as ur home will lose its charm.ReplyCancel

  • Beth Horsley - November 15, 2020 - 6:36 PM

    Laurel, I have never written to you before but I adore you. My husband calls you Lady Catherine DeBurge from Pride and Prejudice.. be a use whatever you do or say is the last word. Anyway, we have orange American cherry wood floors and we installed them on purpose back in the Tuscany years of 1980. Well, I hate them and wanted to paint them white as you suggested, however, I found a wood floor guy that had an idea. Bleach them. I did it myself. THEY ARE STUNNING AND LOOK GUSTAVIAN. The product on the top is called Loba Invisa Protect. I am in love with my floors. I truly am in shock as to how pretty my floors are. Now to buy a Mora clock!ReplyCancel

  • Ralna Cunningham - November 15, 2020 - 2:38 PM

    THAT IS A GREAT POST from the flooring girl about prepping for stain. We are in the west, where it’s common to use softwood species like pine and alder in cabinets, moldings, doors, furniture and the like especially when the look tends to the rustic side. She says use a “conditioner” before staining these species, so that it will fill the pores somewhat and keep the stain from being blotchy or overly dark. So true. Our term (my contractor husband and our painting contractors) use the term “pre-stain” for this product. And yes, it makes all the difference in evening out the color on a softwood. A lot of painters don’t want to bother with this extra step, believe me it shows. Having stained lots of wood material outdoors on sawhorses, I learned the hard way what happens if you get water (rain drops) on wood before you stain. Yes, better stain penetration. I just didn’t know it was done on purpose for some woods. Great info. Thanks so much.ReplyCancel

  • Mary E - November 15, 2020 - 2:20 PM

    Hi Laurel,
    I’m really loving your history lessons. I walk away feeling more educated after each post.
    When do you have to make a decision on your floors?
    And will your kitchen renovation effect your wood floors?
    Ideally it would all be completed before you move in.ReplyCancel

  • Christine Segalas - November 15, 2020 - 2:18 PM

    So true about contractors and builders. They can add so much self-doubt to your design decisions. Their sense of aesthetics is not the same as an interior designer’s. So, go by what you love, be careful of what’s popular today and educate yourself on tasteful, artistic design. I love so many different styles, so for me that is the difficulty in making any final choices.ReplyCancel

  • Ramona - November 15, 2020 - 12:55 PM

    I’m with the other commenter who suggested reversing white to upstairs floor as downstairs would be colder and upstairs would be warmer in terms of temperature and psychology. I’m also with the people who say you will make the right decision. What about the maxim which tells us to do all floors in same finish to create an expansive feeling in a smaller space? I would worry about three different finishes in upstairs space although I totally understand the impulse to go with delineating entry/kitchen/living/dining room, etc. Waiting breathlessly for your decision and even more breathlessly to see the result!ReplyCancel

  • Patti - November 15, 2020 - 11:36 AM

    I feel your pain. We have oak hardwoods all over the downstairs (living areas) of our home but I want white painted hardwoods upstairs in the extra bedrooms. Everyone tries to talk me out of it, but the simplicity of the look and the upkeep have called out to me for over 20 years. I did the ‘trendy” thing when I put down off white berber carpet that immediately showed every speck of dirt our boys could dig into it. Go with your gut – you won’t regret it and it is YOUR home.ReplyCancel

  • vanessa - November 15, 2020 - 10:30 AM

    The post about the floors is from September 4 in case you are interested. Sorry I don’t mean to take up too much space on your blog.ReplyCancel

  • vanessa - November 15, 2020 - 10:24 AM

    Hi Laurel, with your knowledge and skill you can make anything work, and it goes without saying you should have the floors you’ve been dreaming about. I wanted to share what I had learned recently that those pale Scandinavian wood floors are typically not finished or painted and a different type of wood that holds up well under those conditions. Instagrammer Annikavonholdt has those floors and has discussed them in one of her posts. As you know historically some of the finishes or lack thereof evolved with the species of wood and may be more difficult to achieve or maintain if used in a different application. On another note you’ve convinced me to get my Statuario floors in my bathroom, but my contractor insists they must be sealed which I want to avoid if possible.ReplyCancel

  • Sara - November 15, 2020 - 10:01 AM

    Great post — thank you for the inspiration! This may be a silly/stupid question, but if you have oak floors and want to do something in the middle per your last post (not painted white and not espresso), would you recommend oil-based or water-based poly?ReplyCancel

  • Marianne - November 15, 2020 - 9:02 AM

    Laurel, I agree with you. I love espresso floors always have, but I love the white ones as well depending on where I live.

    I do not find espresso heavy as in your examples of the Kinderhook home . With the lighter paint it works so well.
    Whatever you decide it will work.ReplyCancel

  • Russell Payton - November 15, 2020 - 8:44 AM

    Love that green dining room-and the Greek Revival floor is a very classic look.
    You are right-it’s almost always the money-it’s much more expensive to do it right-but every time you look at a beautifully finished space-for years-it is worth it. And that’s without furniture-just the space itself in every detail. Audrey Hepburn looked great-even in a potato sack…ReplyCancel

  • Margaret Vant Erve - November 15, 2020 - 8:38 AM

    Hi Laurel,

    Fabulon is still the best finish. Flooring contractors can still access it, at least here in Canada but it is not available to the public because of the high VOC content. The problem with lower the VOC is that it also affects what goes into the product to help create that hard durable finish. THe Varthane product you have listed above is not likely to be as tough a finish as the Fabulon because it is retailed to the public and therefore must have a lower VOC rating.. Try find an old school floor finisher who can still access the Fabulon, I like your idea of doing the downstairs floor in the white and a darker floor upstairs. I think the chestnut would be beautifulReplyCancel

  • Lin Moen - November 15, 2020 - 8:29 AM

    I love Furlow & his book is one of my favs. I am a fan of Furlow because his rooms are balanced and classic but always surprise me. One of my other inspirations is Mark Sikes. I am drawn to the both of them because of their affection for blue and white porcelain. However, the floors of your beautiful new space are a different issue. Your floors are the foundational palette of your place. You have chosen this historic, classic, sophisticated, educationally founded city of Boston because it calls to you. Your floors should reflect this. Chestnut floors all the way — no mixing. It would be like wearing a classic camelhair coat with a black cashmere sweater then putting on white gogo boots. Ouch! I think you would regret it — and it’s such an expensive, chaotic process of having your entire place torn apart! Let your creativity shine in your details. You have a charming city space — you’re not in the country like Furlow with numerous buildings on extensive acreage. I think Furlow would agree. If only he would weigh in now ———ReplyCancel

  • Tsippi - November 15, 2020 - 8:22 AM

    Hi Laurel. Thank you for this great post. Do you have any suggestions for folks living in buildings that require using low VOC water based floor finishes? I had my floors finished in matte/satin, and you’re right, they look plastic. I didn’t want shiny because of the increased upkeep, but if it would look a lot better, perhaps I would reconsider if I ever redo the floors. Incidentally, while mine (stained in special walnut) look a little plasticky, a neighbor left her oak floors unstained with satin water based poly and they look like photo laminate.ReplyCancel

  • April - November 15, 2020 - 8:13 AM

    I really enjoy your posts and I especially like your explaining historical and other aspects of design and making sense of “trendy.” I learned design from a multitude of magazines and tv shows! I have that book by Furlow Gatewood and was amazed at it’s beauty. I did what some might think is totally wrong…I took a plain little 50’s ranch and turned it into my English country cottage…inside and out. I even put gray and white diagonal checkerboard tile in the kitchen. I enjoy learning from you. Thank you.ReplyCancel

  • Susan Hijazi - November 15, 2020 - 7:45 AM

    Hi Laurel,
    The image you showed of the two bedroom 280 feet away, in such a gorgeous old building seriously makes me want to spit nails. When my husband and I were in Savannah looking at properties, the same thing had been done. Gorgeous homes, chopped up, ornament removed, hand hewn floorboards had been stripped and made so orange and shiny I wanted to puke. Honestly I feel these people who ruin such structures should be rounded up and shot at dawn in the town square.
    Sorry for my outburst, I just can’t look.
    I’m on board with the light floors, But would also be fine with the dark upstairs and the light downstairs.
    Except that the downstairs will probably be colder and feel warmer with the dark and vice versa upstairs.
    Love Furlows book One Mans Folly…So sad though Julia Reed just recently passedReplyCancel

  • Maggie Mackriell - November 15, 2020 - 7:36 AM

    Floors are so important as they really influence the ambience of the home. For our floors we used hardwax oil. It’s a wipe on product and we’ve found it to be excellent – still looks lovely after four years, easy to clean and foolproof application. I like that it is oil based and not a varnish and the grain is not concealed. There are choices in sheen level and I (sometimes!) maintain the shine with homemade olive oil cleaner. We found choosing blackened tones works to subdue any latent orangeness in pine boards. I also used hardwax oil to create a black and white chequerboard on our hallway floorboards. The tins seem expensive but the product goes a pleasingly long way.
    We’ve used both Fiddes and Osmo brands but we are in Scotland.ReplyCancel

  • Kirsten - November 15, 2020 - 7:03 AM

    I love your ideas, and I can see the drama of the espresso working in the sitting room, with the brightness of a white floor working in the kitchen and downstairs room. I have a huge crush on Furlow Gatewood, ever since I discovered him on your blog. I’m of Scandinavian heritage, and I struggle to convince British people (especially my husband) that painting wood isn’t ‘trendy’, it’s traditional across many folk cultures: Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, India and more. When I renovated a 65 year old French Oak herringbone parquet floor before my husband and I sold his family home, I did masses of research on finishes. I found a UK expert – and sorry, but he only ships to the UK mainland, so this recommendation is for fellow UK residents. He does a water-based finish, that you can top with a hybrid finish that is water-based but has wax oil particles suspended in it, and it gives a beautiful traditional look of a polished wax floor – but is an incredibly hardwearing finish that you only have to clean with a damp mop. Best of all, he gives free advice over the phone, whether or not you end up buying his products, he is simply a wood finishing geek. We managed to sell the house before it was even listed, to one of only 4 viewers. All viewers mentioned the floors as the main selling point. In fact I had to reassure them that it wasn’t a waxed floor (so they weren’t scared off by the maintenance), since it looked so convincing. I even finished an 18th century oak table with the leftover floor varnish, since I wanted it to be hard wearing – and it looks like a wax polish finish. His name is Mark Finney of Finney’s Wood Finishes. You can tell I’m a fan but have no relationship!ReplyCancel

  • Linda in CT - November 15, 2020 - 7:02 AM

    Espresso floors are certainly beautiful and striking. In photographs. In other people’s homes. In my nightmare reality (a rental, thank goodness), I vacuum twice a week because the espresso floors always look dusty (husband, no pets, shoes not worn in the home). Half an hour after I put away the vac, I wish it was still out. There aren’t enough carpets in the middle east, or fibers in the forest that could temper my dislike of living with the dark side. Before anyone says robovac, edges around floor coverings are not their strong suit. For my lifestyle, the espresso floor is the stiletto heeled, pointy toed work of art shoe that is gorgeous yet painful.ReplyCancel

  • Liz OConnellIt's terrific to see Crow Hill in such finr form. I - November 15, 2020 - 6:43 AM

    It’s wonderful to see Crow Hill in such fine form. The house is even lovelier than when I used to visit there 30 years ago.ReplyCancel

  • Carrie H - November 15, 2020 - 6:03 AM

    What a classy and well developed post after some really interesting comments/responses to your exploration of paint vs stain for your own home .

    I’d love to see you go with both- some kind of oily gorgeous upstairs and Laurel meets Furlow
    downstairs.

    Whatever you choose, I know you will keep the irreplaceable patina of your fabulous period home intact . Congratulations! ( and thanks for sharing )ReplyCancel

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