Expect the Unexpected (Part 2): Wood Floors

Surprises abound when you take on a home remodeling project. You never quite know what you will find; and once you’ve started, there’s no turning back.

I used to consider myself an optimist, but that was before I turned into an avid do-it-yourselfer. Now it seems that I’ve turned into a “glass-half-empty” type of person, at least as far as home renovation is concerned.

Related: 10 Totally Unexpected DIY Flooring Alternatives

It seems an unfortunate truism that every project we start ends up taking longer than anticipated and costing more than budgeted. This stops us from tackling myriad tasks, but it does factor into our planning process.

Sometimes—albeit rarely—we are pleasantly surprised by an unexpected find.

Case in point: our dining room. When we moved in, the dining room floor was in very sorry shape. The wood parquet was dingy and heavily scratched and had been finished in some sort of unattractively reddish lacquer. All in all, it looked pretty crummy—so bad, in fact, that we figured we’d eventually have to tear it up and replace it. We had neither the budget nor the inclination
to undertake the project then, so we covered most of the floor with an Oriental rug.

When the time finally came to deal with the parquet, we decided to go slow and see if we could actually salvage what was there. We moved our china cabinet to experiment on a small section, figuring that, at the very worst, we’d simply discover that the existing floor would need to be torn out.

After sanding a roughly 1×2′ section, however, we became cautiously optimistic about the chances that the floor could be saved. Not only did the old lacquer finish come off easily, but it appeared that the parquet underneath was in astonishingly good shape. Buoyed by this initial success, we moved out the remaining furniture, taped off the area, and gave the entire floor a thorough sanding.

Sanding the floor was a revelation. What emerged from underneath the scratched, dull red lacquer was an extremely lovely, almost silky wood floor in variegated hues. We had no idea what type of wood would have this kind of wide deviation in tone. Before selecting a finish, we wanted to know exactly what type of wood we were finishing.

Armed with a small sliver of wood, we headed down to a local flooring store. We were in for quite a shock—but for once it was the good kind! Our much-maligned dining room floor turned out to be constructed of actual walnut, both valuable and beautiful. We finished the floor in three coats of clear, satin polyurethane to play up the natural beauty of the varied wood tones.

We also learned that the inner and outer sections of the walnut tree produce different hues. Walnut heartwood is from the inner part of the tree, and the color ranges from a deep rich brown to almost black. Walnut sapwood is from the outer part of the tree, and the color ranges from light tan to almost white. Because our floor features sections of both heartwood and sapwood, the result is very nearly a work of art—a truly enchanting and lovely creation that had been hiding in plain sight for years.

For more on hardwood flooring, consider:

Expect the Unexpected (Part 1): Wood Floors
DIYers’ Best/Worst Remodeling Discoveries
Wood Flooring 101