The Treehouse: Floors

pulling up the carpet

Images and text by Gabrielle.

When we moved in, pretty much the first thing on my fix-it/change-it list was getting rid of the carpet in the dining area. Partly because the carpet was stained and worn, but mostly because carpet + eating doesn’t work for our family. I realize there are many, many people the world over who have carpets or rugs under their kitchen tables and get along just fine. But I feel like carpet under the table leaves me spending too much time scrubbing out stains from spilled milk, and I also find myself feeling angry at totally normal messes or spills that wouldn’t typically stress me out. Best to get rid of the carpet.

So we immediately started scheming about what kind of flooring we would put in instead.

My first instinct was concrete. I adore a highly polished concrete floor! And I like a nice industrial looking matte one as well. I like concrete floors when I see them in stores. And I like them when I see them in homes. Concrete floors appeal to me immediately whenever I encounter them. I’ve been warned the floors can feel too cold or unwelcoming, but after the old stone floors in France, I wasn’t too worried about it, and know I can warm things up with area rugs (just not under the kitchen table! Hah.).

But. After an initial consultation with a contractor, we thought we should also look at alternative options. Because he told us concrete floors would actually be quite expensive — even more expensive then hardwood! And he also said that the weight of the concrete floors might be too much for our house to structurally bear.

So, I didn’t totally give up on the idea of concrete (I’m wondering if there is a light-weight/skim-coat alternative? Or maybe a DIY version we can tackle ourselves?), but I began to think of second choices, and I landed on industrial grade linoleum/vinyl. Imagine the hallways of a school or a hospital. That’s the sort of material I’m thinking of.

We had this type of flooring put into the kitchen of our first home and I loved it! Because it’s industrial-grade, it’s made to handle high traffic and heavy use. The maintenance was wonderfully easy, you can give it high shine or keep it matte, there are dozens and dozens of color options available, and since the flooring pigment goes all the way through the material, if you scratch the floor, you don’t see a contrasting undersurface.

By the way, it’s been over a decade since we last looked into this flooring, but I remember hearing that true linoleum wasn’t really made any more, and that available options were all types of vinyl now. I have no idea if that’s still true.

Anyway, I started really thinking hard about linoleum/vinyl floors.

wood floors revealed

But then we got curious. We decided to pull up the carpet in the living room/dining nook area and find out what kind of subfloor we’d be working with.

Turns out the carpet was hiding (and happily, protecting) gorgeous hardwood floors!

We couldn’t have been more excited. The floors are truly beautiful, and in really good shape. We couldn’t believe our good luck! So of course, we immediately forgot all about the cement floors and linoleum floors and starting picturing our furnishings with these lovely hardwoods. We especially loved the idea of being able to use what was already there.

And then.

We pulled up the carpet in the dining area.

wood then plywood

Alas! No hardwoods there. Just plywood subfloor. Turns out the dining nook was an addition to the original floor plan. Seeing the plywood also explained why the beautiful wood was covered up in the first place — the owners had wanted one consistent flooring throughout that space. Which makes sense. We’ve already experienced that the two different floorings make the rooms feel smaller.

Which leads me to this: How hard would it be to add-on to the existing wood floors? Could we mimic the widths and the style and then refinish everything in the same finish or stain? Would trying to work with the existing floors end up being cost prohibitive compared to replacing them? I’ve never worked on any kind of wood floor restoration and don’t know what my options are.

It seems like I either need to add to the existing wood floor, or replace all the flooring in that area and pretend we never uncovered the beautiful hardwoods in the first place. Which seems like a shame. But then again, the existing wood doesn’t cover that big of an area, so maybe saying goodbye to it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.

I know it’s hard to form an opinion without being in the space in real life, but I’d love your thoughts. How would you handle this existing wood floor? Would you do everything you can to work with it? Or say goodbye and go with something else — perhaps even a different hardwood?

P.S. — Curious about that white area between the hardwood and plywood? It’s a sloping transition made of wood and plaster. There was a lip where the hardwood ended, but the owners didn’t want to feel the lip under the carpet, so this made the transition more gradual. Here’s a close-up:

plaster transition

113 thoughts on “The Treehouse: Floors”

  1. My brother installs hardwood floors (he’s very good) and has said that wood floors can usually be matched. Ask around and find someone who really knows what they’re doing.

    The other alternative that I would suggest is doing a different type of flooring in a similar color/tone. My parents have laminate flooring in their living room and tile in their adjoining kitchen. They are both very close in color/tone, so the space isn’t broken up visually. Perhaps a concrete floor in the dining nook stained to match the wood?

  2. Have you thought about doing a stone or travertine tile? You could keep the gorgeous wood and use the tile as an accent for that gorgeous, bright dining area.

  3. I once attended a floor “ageing” party. My girlfriend had added on to her house and put in new fir floors, and she wanted them to look old so they would match the original fir floors in the original house. People wore cork books, hit the floor with chains, you get the picture. I just kind of watched. My husband refused to attend, because it hurt so much to see a beautiful floor get wrecked.

  4. The same thing happened in our house – we pulled up carpet in the dining area and found lovely original fir floors, then pulled up carpet in the nook and found plywood.

    Our house was 100 years old, so it was small grain fir – something you can’t buy anymore. However, we located a restoration store that sold reclaimed flooring from old houses that were being torn down or renovated. We bought enough for the nook (and a bit more) and a reasonable price for our flooring guy. The plan was to have a flooring installer weave the old flooring into the original flooring, sand, and refinish everything.

    If you decide to do this, make sure you have an experienced flooring person. The first guys we hired did not have experience in fir flooring and nearly oversanded/ruined our fir floors (which had never been touched). The second guys we hired had to repair the damage (gut wrenching), but the result was really very lovely.

    Your nook looks not huge, so you only have a small amount of square footage to deal with. If you can’t match the width/height of the boards at a local home supply store, try to find a salvage/restoration store. The floorboards may be a lot less expensive, and may already have a similar finish. Perhaps find an experienced, small-business flooring person who needs to fill hours with smaller jobs. :)

  5. As much as I love the industrial grade linoleum in my kitchen and bath I am a sucker for that gorgeous wood floor! I say leave it. A good flooring person can match it amazingly. I say leave it.

  6. Nicole Curtis of Rehab Addict on HGTV usually uses old wood to match the existing. No clue how doable that is, but she seems to always have a flooring guy who can do this. Your floors are so beautiful, it’d be a shame to cover them. Good luck.

  7. I just adore your posts about The Treehouse. Ironically my hubby and I moved into our forever home at the same time, and I felt in the same boat as you blogged on your huge traumatic purge. Sadly I’m still in mine, but you have given me hope.

    I like the idea of trying to either reuse of the planks from another spot in the house or make a marriage of new and old wood floors. Good luck!

    We removed and renovated our entire MCM home with strand-woven bamboo after contemplating cork, concrete and Marmoleum. Concrete was a huge thought for us. We too loved the look of the stained concrete, and thought it would be great because we have radiant heat. After visiting and standing on them in our neighbor’s homes I can honestly say they dropped to third choice. Concrete is really hard on your feet and back, and unless you have radiant heat, you will have a very cold floor all year round. Cork fades and dents too easily, so if you have lots of glass and kids, like we do here, it’s not the best option. Marmoleum was the most sturdy and had some cool colors, but can be a bit sterile feeling.

  8. One year after we married, we bought a farmhouse built in 1900. It had been in the same family for 96 years, but was a rental for 20 years before we came along, and sadly neglected/abused. We tore every wall back to the studs, and started over. The wooden floors were in such poor shape that we decided to use them as a subfloor, sanding them then topping them with tar paper and salvaged hardwoods.
    Because we were starting our family, and because of budget and time constraints, we worked on the house in phases. So even though the kitchen/dining room united with the living room via a huge double doorway, we only floored the kitchen and dining room to start with. When I laid the salvaged hardwoods (while 7 months pregnant!), I ran staggered strips into the living room area, and simply left them. We sanded and finished in the kitchen/dining room (where we lived for the first 2 years), and sealed off the living room until time and money allowed.
    Later, when it was time to floor the living room (7 months into my second pregnancy), I just started the flooring where I left off. We sanded all three rooms to keep the finish unified, then sealed them. Thirteen years later, we’re still living hard on the same floors.
    My point in all this is to suggest that you use a sawzall (or similar tool) to remove staggered sections of the boards in the living area where they meet the dining area, then insert flooring the proper size (like teeth in a zipper!) and carry that same flooring through into the dining area. Sand it all and seal it all to unify the finish. It will get you the floors you want for the least cost, and with the right tools, it’s totally a DIY project.
    Another option (lots less work, yet very sensible with your layout) would be to install a board perpendicular to the flooring — like a door sill — and continue with new flooring of similar size on the other side of the board, in the dining room. We used that tactic between our large upstairs hall and the bedrooms.
    The floors you uncovered are gorgeous. It would be a shame to lose them.

  9. Paint! I would paint the flooring in the dining area. We painted the flooring in our kitchen in an olive green tone kitchen and LOVE it. And if a scratche happens, i just grab the pot and paint it over.

    And if we are fed up with the green one day, we can go white, grey, black… or maybe hague blue? I also painted the floor of our balcony! looks great!

  10. PS. I know my paint idea doesnt solve your problem about the flooring on the two areas looking different. But I like the idea of defining different areas. You could even paint a striped floor… or checkered!

  11. hi! you CAN add on to your existing hardwood! we did this exact same thing in our home recently and the results are beautiful and seamless. we live near you (just over the hill in orinda) if you need the name of our hardwood guy! he’s fabulous and reasonable.
    good luck!

  12. i haven’t read all the comments – but have you thought of a painted wood floor? we are renovated our old (1894) kitchen and i don’t feel like trying to match the original wood floor with something new, so i was thinking of doing a painted wood floor – do you have any experience with that? or thoughts?

  13. Here in New England houses have patched and hodgepodge hardwood floors all over the place. It becomes part of the charm, if in fact it is ever noticed at all.
    I would hold off judgement until you call in a really good hardwood flooring contractor and get their advice — they really are true craftsmen and I wouldnt proceed without expert advice! It would be nice though to level height of the two rooms!

  14. I agree with a few others above that using the linoleum in the dining area would be nice and there are so many colors to choose from. You should try to get rid of the white sloping material so that the transition between wood and linoleum would be smoother. Another option that I think would work well is to have a good wood flooring installer feather in a new floor with the old. They take out a few existing planks so that the transition is not a straight line which would make it more visible. The idea of using the kitchen wood is a great one too! Depending on how much light the kitchen gets versus the living room, the wood may not exactly match in color at the moment, but the sizing should.
    I would steer away from any time of concrete skim coat, because it would tend to crack over time because of the difference in movement between the materials, and since you are dealing with two spaces that were built at different times and therefore potentially have different things underneath them which can create different temperatures and movement conditions. (basement vs crawl space; room vs ground; heated space vs unheated space, etc).

  15. We live in a 103 year old farmhouse in Portland, OR. We still have a mystery floor in our dinning area as well. For some reason it has laminate hardwood installed over hardwood. Before we moved in we had the upstairs refinished (the hardwoods had been hidden under carpet and linoleum (that was a fun project), and there were several old vents no longer in use. The company that refinished the floors also put patches in to cover up the old floor vents (one was quite large). The wood they used was repurposed hardwood, also 100 years old, taken from another house. You can’t even see there the vents were now, and the “new” hardwood matches the old hardwood perfectly.

  16. Carpet in the dining area doesn’t work for me either. Your hardwood floors are beautiful and very fitting for a “tree house!” It would probably be very affordable to keep the existing wood floors, just give them a good cleaning or new finish maybe, and replace the plywood in the small dining area with new wood flooring that matches.

  17. i would definitely keep the original wood floors, and add on – i wouldn’t worry about mimicking the width – as long as the color is consistent, and the seam is well-done, they will flow and even add more warmth.

  18. A friend told me once that the house he grew up in had carpet everywhere, including the kitchen and bathrooms. If ever milk spilled, it would stink for months. His mom made the whole family use sippy cups all the way through his middle school years when the finally replaced the carpet with tile. He remembers how embarrassing it was being an eighth grader having friends over and telling them they had to drink from a sippy cup. So, I’m glad you tore up the carpet. I think you should keep the original wood floors and try to match new wood floors in the dining nook. If you refinish the old with the new, it should flow well even if the boards don’t match exactly.

  19. We had hardwoods added to a new space adjacent to existing hardwoods and it turned out fantastically. It you look closely you can tell the existing hardwoods are more scratched etc. but at first glance you can not tell! I was doubtful but it worked out so well. If the difference bothers you, you can always refinish the existing hardwoods to get a more similar patina. Hardwoods are so expensive you would most likely still come out ahead!

  20. We had the same issue and tried to match existing hardwoods – but the older wood did not take the stain as well as the new and we ended up replacing all the wood in the end. Much more expensive than we had planned. Perhaps you could do a painted wood floor? Paint would match both old and new?

  21. Please keep the old floors! If you really want the dining nook addition to match it, you will need to have new wood (of the same species) laid in that space and then have all the floors sanded and refinished at the same time. You’ll need to be out of the house for probably 5-7 days while this is going on because of all the dust and then fumes from the polyurethane. You can choose a stain to unify the spaces. We did this in our home (laid new floors where there had originally been carpet to match up with original floors) and it looks perfect and no one can tell what is old and what is new. If you go this route, you should absolutely hire someone that specializes in hardwood flooring and not just a handyman. We made this mistake and it was costly and time-consuming as well as frustrating. Luckily my husband and his parents were able to re-finish the floors a second time and as I said, they are beautiful and no one can tell what is old and what is new.

  22. I agree with avoiding concrete! We have them throughout our entire space, and while beautiful and industrial, they really are more difficult to clean. A huge issue is that you don’t “see” the dust and dirt on the floor like you do with other types of flooring.

  23. Maybe this has already been suggested, but I vote for keeping the beautiful hardwood floor. In the dining area, I’d suggest going for a hardwood there too, but laying the boards in a different direction (e.g., perpendicular to the existing floor). This way you can keep the wood theme (even trying to match the color and board widths) without killing yourself trying to match it exactly. (Or worse, pulling up some of the existing floor to try and blend it into the newly-laid floor.) . It gives an obvious transition from living to dining rooms and you’re eye will notice the change in pattern as the main distinguishing feature.

  24. How about a take on a marquetry floor? Since your space is constrained on three sides with just a border to the existing wood floor, doing something just a little bit funky could actually be a real visual treat, would allow you a little creativity, would still maintain the easy cleanup of wood and would give you a chance to express your family’s creativity. By creating a border around the edge, you could do anything in the center you wanted – a pattern, an initial “B,” anything really.

    http://www.otterine.com/blog/blog1.php/fancy-parlor-flooring-marquetry-border

  25. I would go to a few tile stores and look for a small lot of larger slate tiles. Slate looks pretty against wood (esp if you refinish, which you should do now if you plan on it at all) and is natural-looking and easy to care for. Such a small square area could easily be done in a day for not too much $$. We put slate in one of our bathrooms and it’s gorgeous.

  26. Hi. I know that you already have a LOT oc advises about what you should do and here am I. Doing the same. I am a french architect and I had the concrete floor issue with an old house too. The resin is a good solution. Nice look and much warmer that a real concrete floor but with the same raw material/industrial look. And less expesive. Check the brand Weber.
    xx

  27. We did the same thing and had beautiful hardwood with some ply wood. We hired a floor guy and he matched the wood, put it together like a puzzle, re-finished and re-stained it all. You cannot tell were one floor ended and the other began.

  28. Hi! If you love the hardwood floors you discovered I would say keep them. In the nook you could add hardwood in a cool pattern like herringbone or something then have everything sanded and stained to match to create uniformity. What a great discovery under old dingy carpet!!
    Good Luck!!1

  29. When we has this issue our builder got wood to match the existing flooring and at the join laid a line of the planks at right angles and then butted the new flooring up to this. Then we got the whole are republished in one go. Once it was done no one ever noticed that the wood was two ages. Good Luck

  30. Consider painted wood, perhaps done to look like a cool rug, in the dining area only. It’s cheap and cheerful and gives you time to determine your heart’s desire!

  31. Those wood floors are beautiful and I am all for keeping what you have. We just bought and renovated the home in which I grew up. The main floor was carpeted since before 1971 when my parents bought the house. When my husband and I bought it we were thrilled to find oak floors under the carpet but not so thrilled with the orangey stain. The kitchen didn’t have hardwood. Our lovely contractor put wood in the kitchen, sanded all the wood and stained it. You can’t tell the difference between old and new. Long story short, go for it!

  32. I second the vote for hardwood at 90 degrees in the dining area. Tearing up or covering up those beautiful floors seems heartbreaking!

  33. I would definitely leave the existing floors–I don’t think it’s that hard to get a close match to hardwoods if you know what kind of wood it is (my parents did that at their house a few years ago and it wasn’t a big deal). And you can always have the existing floors refinished when the new floor is installed and stain it all one color to make it more cohesive. If it were me, though, I think I would put in the new hardwood in the opposite direction from the old floors–perpendicular to what’s already there. That way, any difference in the floors looks a little more intentional. I would never, ever be able to rip out old hardwoods. :)

  34. Oh, sorry and I would do some amazing simple ceramic tile in that deck eating area. Something on the darker lakestone grey/blue color scheme with a grey grout. Won’t show dirt at all! I think that blue stone would be beautiful but I think it would be too heavy up there. Seneca Tile makes ceramic and concrete tiles.

  35. Hi Gabby,

    We live in Rockridge, Oakland and used Le’s Golden Floors to match our dining room to our kitchen. The match is exact. Everyone thinks they are original to the house. Customer service from the owner was ok, but the price was good the work was good. Based on those two factors I would recommend him. Good luck with the renovations. I also have an electrician, painter and contractor I can recommend :)

  36. Our neighbors had new hardwoods installed in one room to match the existing. It looks fantastic; I’ve never been able to tell the difference; I wonder if they can. But, it looks great.

    I should take my own advice… the ONLY carpet in our house is white carpet in the dining room. (Why? Whyyy?) We have beautiful hardwoods everywhere else, but when I’ve pulled up a corner of the carpet , I see that somewhere along the way, someone installed linoleum on top of the wood in the dining room. I’m sure that’s why those floors weren’t restored when the rest of the house was, and it makes me anxious about doing it myself. I suppose we should call in the pros to either fix or replace.

  37. We tackled my sisters floors this summer and we found THE EXACT THING…beautiful hard wood EXCEPT for the place that she was using as a dining area (same situation…this section of the house was an add on). What she did was get the hardwood in tip top shape and then used the industrial vinyl tiles (she would tell everyone “think grocery store” but in super great colors!!…she went with cinnamon brown and cream) for the dining area and it looks FANTASTIC!!! Everything was actually completed in a few days. Easy-peasy!!

  38. There is a growing trend for nicely finished plywood flooring. I think it could be really fun to have plywood in the dining nook abutting the original hardwoods. I also recommend houzz.com for ideas. The plethora of photos has been a God send as my husband and I remodel our 80 year old craftsman.

  39. It’s totally doable to feather in new hardwood with the existing wood. I helped my dad do it when we moved into our place. Just make sure it’s the same width and then do a new stain so it matches. It’s pretty simple.

  40. This is my kind of project. I studied historic conservation in grad school, and one perspective I gained is to value authenticity, above all. I also value the ability to read a space, so that I can and appreciate the history before me. What people think about is now, but try to think 30 years down the road. New wood might look new now, but how about in 10, 20, or 30 years? Eventually everything will seamlessly blend, and you’ll maintain your authentic, historic space in the mean time. I’m not a fan of techniques to age materials to make them match, but that is because I want to be able to see and appreciate the history before me.

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