By Gabrielle. Images by Ben Blair and Gabrielle.
I’m still giddy as can be about our finished floors! I’m definitely in the honeymoon phase where I tenderly sweep and sponge-clean them each day, and passionately apply felt protectors to any furniture that is even thinking about moving on to those floors.
The whitewash finish is exactly what I hoped it would look like. But my-oh-my it took some work to get them to this lovely state.
Here’s the story (sorry in advance for the Instagram shots, but I hardly pulled out my big camera at all for this ongoing project). When we moved in, we found exposed wood in the kitchen, carpet in the living room and hallway, and ceramic tile in the entry. We pulled up the carpet and found beautiful wood under one portion of the carpet, plywood subfloor under the dining nook portion of the carpet, and old linoleum tiles under the hallway carpet.
We spent quite a bit of time deciding what to do, and ended up choosing to add to the existing wood. Keeping wood in the kitchen and living room. Adding wood in the dining nook. Replacing ceramic tile and linoleum tile with wood in the entry and hallway. Basically, the whole main floor is now wood (except the bedrooms).
We were told that the old wood and the new wood could be matched and that the finished floors would look seamless. Hooray!
The first step was demolition. We took out the rest of the carpet, and the ceramic tiles (way harder than it looks!). We pulled off the baseboards too. Then our woodworker, Merick, installed the wood. This was estimated to take a week, but ended up taking longer because there were some surprises. For example, under the ceramic tile in the entry, there wasn’t much between the inside and the outside:
So that took some work. But during the installation, we could still walk on the floors and use the house pretty normally. We would have to clear certain areas for the day or maybe even just the morning, but it wasn’t too disruptive.
When Merick was done, the floors looked like this, a mix of new, unstained wood, and old wood:
The new wood then needed to cure for at least 2 weeks. Because of the timing of Thanksgiving, our wood ended up curing for about a month.
Then it was time for Merick to come back. This time, everything had to be off the floors completely. All the furniture. And all the people. This included the kitchen appliances. Lots of work! Ben Blair happened to be in France for this clearing part, but happily, I’m stronger than I look. : )
Merick prepped with putty, and set nails for about a day and half, then there were a few days of sanding and buffing. At this point, the old and new wood were starting to blend more, and it was time to discuss the stain color. I showed Merick some of my Pinterest images of “white-washed floors”. I even showed him this tutorial in case it helped.
Technically, the floors aren’t really whitewashed. They’re bleached, then stained with a white stain. But when I say “whitewashed floors” I’m meaning wood that looks white-ish, but not painted white — wood that still shows the grain.
Once the floors were sanded, it was time to bleach them (not with Clorox, but with a wood bleach), and 24 hours later, the white wash (white stain) went on. 24 hours after that two coats of sealant were scheduled to go on.
The extra challenge here is that the whole job was originally scheduled to take 7 days, but ended up taking 11 days instead — plus another two days of letting the floors rest before we moved furniture back on. And we were all camping out upstairs without at kitchen that whole time. We were getting on each others nerves for sure. We made a make shift kitchen in the office (toaster, cooler with milk & jam, supplies for making lunches, etc.). We ate out a lot during that time. And we couldn’t wait for the floors to be done!
At this point, the floors were bleached and stained and ready for sealant. They weren’t quite what I had pictured, but I trusted Merick. He had seen the inspiration photos and was the expert, so I figured the sealant would finish things off and give just the look I was going for. (Obviously, I’m a newbie as far as floors go!)
So the 2 coats of sealant went on while I was busy with my day. Eventually, I came downstairs to look at the basically finished floors. And that’s when I started to freak out.
The floors looked awful! Something about the sealant gave the whole floor a golden slant that I didn’t want at all. And the difference between the old and new floors was striking — it was suddenly super pronounced. It’s like you couldn’t tell they had been white washed at all! Merick was coming back the next morning to do a final buffing and put on a final coat of sealant. And I didn’t know what to do.
I couldn’t sleep that night. It had been 9 days up till this point (when we had mentally prepped for 7), and we were so ready to be done. Plus, this was an expensive job. But I hated how the floors looked! I felt so hopeless. And was simultaneously trying not to care — because it’s just floors after all. But I DID care. Oh man. I didn’t know how to proceed.
Merick came bright and early the next morning (he would typically arrive around 7:00 AM). I was in the middle of getting the kids ready for school and told him to wait a second before he got started so I could talk to him. After the kids were ready, we had a talk. I told him I didn’t like what the sealant had done and asked what my options were. He basically told me there weren’t any options, and spent a good hour trying to convince me that the floors were great and that I would get used to them. I assured him there was no chance of that happening and by the end of the hour told him it was best if he didn’t put on the final coat, because I was going to have to hire someone to come in and sand off the earlier two coats of sealant so I could change the color of the floors and try again.
It took him awhile to realize I was serious.
At that point he said. Okay. Let’s just try something. Basically, since I was willing to go back to sanding, he felt experimenting was worth a try. If it didn’t work, then it would still be back to sanding. He went out to his truck and mixed up some whitewash and added a coat of it over the existing sealed wood. He covered a few boards and had me come check it out.
It was SO MUCH BETTER! It looked great.
The only catch, is that the new method required board-by-board application of the white wash. There was no coating the whole floor with one fell swoop. Some boards required two coats, others more. While the new boards required a thin coat that was then wiped mostly off with a rag.
Ben Blair and I jumped in and started painting. With 3 of us working, we finished up before lunch and Merick headed home for the day.
As the new coat of whitewash dried. I would examine the floors and add another coat on particular boards wherever it was still feeling too golden. I did this throughout the day and into the night. But by bedtime, I felt really good about the color.
Merick came the next morning. He had a new sealant that had been sold to him with the promise that it would not yellow the floors. He didn’t buff the floor first (which he would normally do before a final coat) because he was afraid it would take off the new coats of whitewash. So he vacuumed, then went straight for the sealant. He applied this liberally over all the floors, spreading it with some type of roller brush. I watched it like a hawk all that day as it dried, willing it not to change the floor color.
And it didn’t! The floors stayed beautifully white-washed. And I truly love how they turned out.
I also feel like it ended up being a bit of a hack job. With only one coat of sealant over the final whitewash. And the final whitewash resting not directly on the wood, but on the previous coats of sealant. So I’m very curious about how these floors will wear, and if they’ll hold up. That said, for now, we’re pleased as punch. And really, the way the white stain sat on the sealant (instead of sinking into the wood) very likely helped me achieve the look I wanted more quickly.
If I were doing this again, I would have gotten more involved in the bleaching and white-washing stages (pre-sealant). I know it would have added extra days, but we probably should have bleached 2 or 3 times before we started white-washing. I’m confident we could have achieved the color I wanted, and gotten the old and new wood to look more similar before we sealed it, but we would have had to go board-by-board from the beginning, white-washing more in some areas and less in others, and it could have added another week of experimenting. Finally, I would have checked and double-checked that the sealant used would not yellow the floors (ultimately, the second type used on our floors didn’t yellow them).
And that is the tale of our whitewashed floors. Baseboards have been installed (we went with 8-inch straight-edged pine boards), the walls have a fresh coat of paint, and now I get to start doing the decorating! Hallelujah!!
Any one else out there have a flooring gone wrong story? I’m sure I’m not alone! And I’d love to hear what you would have done if you found yourself like me — with almost done floors that you hated?