In the early stages
of my kitchen reno we discovered the original wood floor boards (the same as we uncovered and refinished throughout the front part and 2nd floor of the house) were not going to be salvageable. Sadly, after scraping off the current top layer of vinyl we discovered the plywood sheeting that was installed over the original floor boards was screwed down with a million screws all spaced randomly closely together. Each attempt to remove a screw resulted in the heads being stripped or breaking off. There’s only one way to remove a subfloor like this and its not easy - its backbreaking tedious work requiring a skill saw to partially cut thru the boards and then pry up the wood in bits and pieces while also cutting the screws off. Its a slow process and after all that prying and removing of screws the floor boards underneath would suffer a lot of damage. It would result in a lot more time, a lot more work, a lot more money to end up with not so great boards. My heart and mind were set on having the same antique wood boards continuous throughout the house but the time and effort needed to uncover and then restore the kitchen boards wasn’t practical and didn’t make sense to pursue. I needed to come up with another solution, and fast, since we had just demolished the old kitchen.
The original floors in the rest of the house after being stripped of paint, ready for finishing.
I knew without a doubt I wanted wood floors in the kitchen as the house did originally. Trying to find new wood to install right next to the antique floors in the rest of the house wasn’t appealing to me, at all. Distressing new wood to make it look like old, also wasn’t appealing to me (besides the last thing I needed is another project). The entire point of the kitchen floor is I had never given it a second thought, there was no over thinking or contemplating choices,,,they would just be wood as you would expect them to be in a house of this age. Nothing imported, nothing decorative, in other words not over designed, I would just be peeling back the layers to restore some original character - or so I thought. Turns out I needed to another layer not peel away. : / Fortunately in Nova Scotia there are a lot of re-sellers of antique wood flooring as well as suppliers for salvaged architectural wood products. One of my concerns was that we didn’t know what species our original floors are and it’s important to me they be the same. Up until this point no one had been able to identify the species, hemlock?, pine?, ash? all we knew is it was local.
After a bit of research I found a supplier who demolishes dilapitated historical houses, piece by piece, salvaging and re-selling the components. A few of the houses recently dismantled looked to be of the same age, size and character of our house. I sent off some pictures of our floor boards and they easily identified them for me as red spruce from approx 1875. Lucky for me they had several batches of salvaged boards that matched, this would be my perfect solution. Unfortunately for me it was early February and we would need to wait a month or two before we could search thru their inventory which wasn't accessible until the snow melted.
The antique boards I selected.
On Easter weekend we finally made the trip to pick up the wood. I was thrilled to find a batch of smooth, previously walked-on, unpainted flooring boards, which meant they would be fairly easy to refinish as they wouldn't need to be planed or grinded down. And, the fact the boards came out of a house on the South Shore was also perfectly fitting. What wasn't perfectly fitting was that the boards were so long (some were over 16' long) we had to cut them down to less than 11' in order to fit in the trailer, this meant we wouldn't be able to do single continuous boards across the width of the kitchen, like the rest of the house, but it was a small compromise I was happy to work with. On the spot I calculated the best lengths to cut so the seams would be under the cabinets or in inconspicuous places, and counted off the quantity of boards we needed as they were loaded up - using a piece of bark for a make-shift note pad.
Since the boards are all planks and not tongue and groove, they were face nailed in place, they're also random width, rarely two boards the same size. I did a dry layout in key areas to make sure the best boards were used in the most visible open areas and placed the cut boards so the joints were staggered and as discreet as possible. The task of trying to align two cut pieces so the widths and colouration matched was a challenge, in hindsight we should have marked each piece of a cut board at the time it was cut so we could pair them up easily. Once the 'art directing' of the layout was done,,,I took a jet plane out of there while all the dusty and noisy work happened, first sanding and then nailing - 6" nails, each one pounded in by hand. It was a long and noisy installation.
Newly laid old boards, sanded and ready for finish coat.
I returned a week or so later to find the floor completely laid and ready for its finish coat, it was wonderfully smooth and felt amazing underfoot. I was happy to see that so much of the patina remained after the sanding, they had a subtle greyness to them and beautiful blackened crevices.
The newly laid antique kitchen flooring viewed from the back sun room (family room).
Where the kitchen and the addition on the back of the house meet there was already a 3/4" transition in flooring height and now with the new installation of the kitchen floor that transition got even larger but we made the best of it by sloping a threshold between the two rooms.
The newly top coated floor and a peek of the other finishes going in the room.
Next up I'll post about the cabinets and the other details in the room. Here's a little sneak peek of some of the finishes with the floor. The cabinets are painted in a colour inspired by vintage crockery….
Check out the previous post for the first look at the kitchen reno, the before and after floor plans.
All photos: Carol Reed