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Stairway to Heaven: Stairs and Floors, Part I

Hello friends! Did you think we forgot about you? Maybe you thought we fell down into our backyard pit? Never fear! We are still here, and we are still cranking away at fixing up our house, one inch at a time. Work has been a little chaotic lately and has disrupted my work/life balance, hence the radio silence. To make up for the long blog drought, we’ll write a few extra over the next week or so.

Tonight, I wish to discuss our floors and stairs. As you may remember if you’ve been reading along, we have a very special new friend, our flooring artist named Adam. Our floors have been in distress and so have our stairs. Adam’s special magic and artistry will help save the day.

On the second floor, the previous owners did a poor job refinishing the floors, leaving us with tiger stripes from sanding and staining against the grain. Some of the polyurethane has worn away over time, and just generally, the floors looked tired.

You can see both the tiger stripes and the worn stain in this picture

On the first floor, the flooring has buckled over time with the water intrusion and no climate control.

Oh yeah, and years of dirt and grime

The stairs were painted with thick, brown lead paint. Some of the treads (the part you step on) were broken, and 6 spindles were missing.

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Lead paint and damaged treads
A broken spindle, removed to send to the replication shop

Our plan of attack is to slowly restore the flooring from top to bottom, starting with the second floor. Adam was especially excited about a couple of rooms on the second floor, because the flooring is made of quarter-sawn wood, which means it was cut in a special way to highlight the uniqueness of the wood grain. Adam’s plan of attack on the second floor was to sand off all of the damage caused by the previous work done on the floors, then to stain and add polyurethane. He started by sanding, sanding, sanding the floors. He collected 3-4 large contractor garbage bags full of sawdust from all of the sanding he did.

Before, during, and after sanding

When he was done, we were all pretty amazed with what was underneath that damaged finish job.

The office floor nears completion
Buh bye, tiger stripes!

It took me and Steve about a week of deliberation to decide how to refinish the floors. One option: leave them natural, with no stain and just add polyurethane. When Adam showed us the pictures of the floor originally, that’s the route we figured we would take. But when we were actually physically AT the house, we changed our minds. We felt that the flooring was too light.

They feel a bit too bland for our taste now

So then we had to choose a stain color. It feels like SUCH a big decision to choose a stain color. You just get a small swatch of color and it’s hard to say if that color will end up the same on your floors, since different types of wood absorb stains differently. It feels more high-risk than paint color, since if you choose a wrong paint color, it’s just a matter of painting over it with a different color. It’s much harder to do that with stain on the floor–you’d have to sand off the original stain, and given how many sandings our floor has experienced, it doesn’t really allow for that to happen.

After much analysis and discussion, all three of us landed on a stain color called “Chestnut.” We wanted to go for a color without too much red or yellow, something that felt like antique furniture.

Then it was time for Adam to get to work. He has very special rules to follow when he stains and polyurethanes the floor. No one else can be in the house for a few days. No dust, no dirt. Also, once he’s done, no one else can come in until we return. He feels very strongly that we should be the first people to experience the change. I think that’s pretty awesome!

You know what else is awesome? Our refinished floors!


Guest bedroom: BEFORE, DURING, and AFTER. Just in case you wanted to see it all at once. In case you’re like me and can’t stop staring at the transformation. Oh wait, you can’t tell there’s been a transformation? Must just be me.


Although Adam still roots for our guest bedroom and closet because of the unique wood grain, my personal favorite is my office.

Adam’s favorite floor: Closet (quarter-sawn red oak)
My favorite floor: Office (old growth heart pine)
Gratuitous second picture, because hey…I write this blog. I’m the blog boss!

Adam has a few small details to finish up, but the second floor is 99% complete.

While he was working on that task, Steve and I moved on to selecting new hardwood for the first floor. Unfortunately, the original wood flooring on the first floor cannot be saved. Deciding on a new hardwood floor for the first floor required multiple trips to various flooring stores, samples of wood flooring sent in the mail, and endless hours of discussion. Something more red, like Brazilian cherry? Something that more closely matches what’s upstairs, like red oak? Something wild and crazy?

Maybe Brazilian cherry?

We also debated the merits of purchasing pre-finished or unfinished wood flooring. According to what we read online, pre-finished flooring stands up better to foot traffic but can be problematic if your subfloor is not perfectly level, since you can’t sand down a pre-finished floor. And let’s be honest: there ain’t no way that our subfloor could be considered level in any stretch of the imagination. The benefits of unfinished are that it is more forgiving for uneven houses and you can stain it whatever color you want.

After chatting with Adam, who reassured us that uneven subfloor was no match for his flooring prowess, we decided to purchase pre-finished flooring. We landed on a wood type called Amendoim, aka Brazilian Oak.

Which one do you think we chose?

We fell in love with the variation in color of the floor sample at the store Adam recommended. When we talked to the manager, he thought we could use a cheaper flooring provider and get a hefty discount. We brought a sample home for Adam and he scoffed. “No way,” he exclaimed. You might as well buy cheap wood and finish it yourself, since the color is nothing special. When we showed him our original pick, his response was, “wow, youse guys really surprised me.” I have no idea what that meant, but he seemed in favor, and really, I was in love.

Did you vote correctly? Welcome to our first floor wood: AMENDOIM

Getting the flooring to our house proved to be a bit of a challenge. For some reason, the flooring store doesn’t have a way to deliver flooring to people’s houses. That seems like a pretty big miss to me. Adam was adamant (pun intended) that we not rent a truck to fetch it ourselves. Somehow we ended up shelling out $270 to get it delivered. Not sure how that was our best option, but I was too busy fighting with other house and work problems to try to find a cheaper solution.

The flooring is now in boxes in our house, acclimating. Evidently, it is important for the new wood to have the same moisture content as the house. If there is a difference in moisture content, the wood will either shrink and contract, leaving big gaps between the floorboards. Or it will expand and buckle. Neither seem like a good choice to us, so we are waiting patiently for the floor to get wetter, since everyone knows that our house has HIGH moisture content.

47 boxes of wood, stacked and awaiting installation

While that is happening, Adam has been hard at work on our stairs. He started by informing us that the brown paint on the treads is lead and must be removed. We rewarded him by letting him use my ray gun, which he really, really liked.

Bubble right off, you nasty lead paint!

See, told you it was an addictive tool! He then set to work installing the new spindles to replace the ones that were missing or broken.

Next up, he sanded down the railing and revealed a pure mahogany hiding under layers of dark stain and shellac (which is made of bug guts and exoskeletons, by the way).

Starting to sand and replace spindles
Screen Shot 2017-09-29 at 7.13.20 AM
Mahogany railing under all that shine

When he sanded down the treads, we all got excited. The wood underneath revealed itself to be carefully selected and installed, and the paint came off beautifully.

Nice quality wood hiding under layers and layers of crap

Now, what color to stain the treads? And what color to paint the risers (the vertical part of the stairs)? We looked at lots of pictures and decided on white risers, white spindles, a splash of magenta striping, and a stain on the treads that would balance the darker upstairs with the warmer, lighter downstairs.

Adam and Steve debate the merits of various stain samples

Ready for the reveal?

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Moved in to this
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Not looking so pretty
In progress
And more progress…

Current state: Over halfway there!

Ooooooh, pretty!
First coat of stain: starting to catch the vision!


We are pretty excited about how everything is turning out in this department. Honestly, I spent the better part of the day in meetings, just looking at pictures of our stairs. I think I might be in love.

And since the stairs are the first thing you see when you enter our hours, I’m doubly excited. I think the house is going to give off a darn good first impression.

For added bonus, when Steve and I were nosing around houses for sale in our neighborhood in Zillow, we found our stairs’ twin sister in a house 3 blocks away from ours. Comparatively speaking, I like ours better!

8 thoughts on “Stairway to Heaven: Stairs and Floors, Part I

    1. I agree–those crazy Victorians used many eyebrow-raising components when building their homes (arsenic-laced wallpaper, anyone?). I think of you when I write these blog posts. We enjoyed reading your FB posts about your recent travel to see family.


  1. Aww, this is a cliff hanger . . . Can’t wait for the part two of this story. And how fun is that, a sister stairway?! Yours is definitely the winner of the two. Yay for Adam! He is a floor whisperer!!


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