Floored, at the 11th Hour: The 12-Year Kitchen

Oak floor with second coat of finish

From our vantage point on the staircase, the oak floor looked great as it dried. Once we got up close to it, though, the flaws were obvious.

We were so close. The cabinets were in place, the appliances and lights installed, and we’d moved in—our beautiful new countertop and backsplash were now truly work areas. We’d had our first home-cooked meals again and had been enjoying our icemaker and water dispenser (cold water, after eight months!). We’d sent out the invitations to a little cocktail party to thank our friends and neighbors for eight months of support (dinners when we couldn’t cook; play dates when we needed the kids out of the house for a few hours; the use of their driveways when we had three contractors at the house at the same time).

All that was left was the final coat of finish on the oak floors. We’d had the stain and first coat put on before the cabinets went in, but waited on the final coat until everything was done, so the finisher could buff out any of the inevitable scratches from the installation. That was set for Tuesday, leaving us four full days to get ready for our Saturday soiree—doing the wall hangings, final painting, and all the other finishing touches we didn’t want to put in place before the sanding machine was done kicking up dust.

But we missed a few key details on this one. First, nobody had warned us that the second coat was so much more pungent than the first—we could barely breathe in the house. Second, we didn’t know that the top coat would require a much longer drying and curing period; the first coat had been walkable after a few hours and completely usable the next morning. The second coat, which didn’t go on until 5 pm that Tuesday, would be off-limits completely for 24 hours, and not ready for regular use for 48 (bringing us to Thursday night—with our party on Saturday!). Finally, we didn’t know any of this until after the floor was done—with our microwave, coffeepot, and the contents of the fridge all trapped inside a room we couldn’t enter.

We flung open as many windows as we could, ran HEPA air filters at top speed, and had the kids sleep with us in our room (theirs being directly over the kitchen). But we dined out, since the smell was so overpowering, and we planned a new strategy of party prep around not being able to get into the kitchen until Thursday night.

We could peek into the room from halfway up our staircase, but for the most part it was out of view while it dried (since it was barricaded to keep the cats from leaving poly pawprints). We couldn’t wait to get back in on Thursday to admire the results.

Yuck.

How could it have gone so wrong? The floor was covered with little specks and bubbles, with grit and dirt, and even hairs, now dried firmly inside the polyurethane. My heart sank. We’d been right there at the finish line, ready to uncork the bubbly, and now it was clear we’d have to have this redone.

Our contractor assured us this was no big deal, that it happens, and is relatively simple to fix—a buffing and recoating is all it needs. We banished all thought of that from our minds until we got past the party (a smashing success, might I add), and this week we face the do-over. We’ll face it from a hotel, where we’ve booked a room for all four of us to escape the fumes this time.

We began this project on March 9, and tomorrow is November 10. And we’re not… actually… done… yet.

So I’m floored. This time next week, I hope against hope we’ll be truly and officially done. I can’t imagine what I’ll do if we’re not.

Next: Fresh Powder (Room)

For more on flooring and floor refinishing, consider these Bob Vila articles, videos and slideshows:

Green Home—Flooring

Bathroom Flooring: A Wealth of Options

Wood Floor Refinishing