Palmer House

Renovating and Restoring Our 1880 Folk Victorian

Ugh…so maybe the title is more dramatic then what it ultimately ended up being, but that’s exactly what this whole project felt like – hell.

loved my floors! Original, two-inch maple that was colored, aged, and worn so gorgeously that I never, ever wanted them to leave this house. So much of the original features of this house have been stripped away over the years that I was determined to keep these floors with this house.

img_1360

This is the best and only picture I have the shows how beautiful our wood floors were when we moved in!

When we moved in, I noticed that there was a patch of the floor in the dining room that had begun to sink, almost like it was ducking under the wall. I had asked my dad what he thought could be causing it and he wondered if the sub-floor could be bad. We went into the basement with a level and held it up against the ceiling in various places. It was completely level. No changes anywhere. We just couldn’t understand why there was this mysterious dip in the floor. And it was getting worse.

wish that I had a before picture so you could see exactly what I was talking about! The floor was not only appearing to dip under the wall, but over time the wood was starting to split, cup and come apart. If we were going to save the floor, we would need to act fast.

Let’s be clear: The plan was to restore the wood floors and not replace them. So I started my search for someone to restore the floors. Mistake number one: using a home contractor search site instead of asking around to find someone who knew old floors and would be able to restore them.

So we met the new owner of this wood floor business. We’ll call him Fred. This is a classy blog, and I’m not going to use it to smear anyone’s business (no matter how mad they made me). But let this be a warning of what NOT to do for those of you out there looking for contractors! So anyways, Fred came to Palmer House with one of his employees, and the first red flag should have been this: He showed up in a rusty, hole-filled Toyota. Not a vehicle with the business name on it. Not even a nice car, nope. A rust bucket of a vehicle that certainly didn’t scream “professional”. But the business profile on the website said that he had experience in old homes restoring floors. He got great reviews on price and quality of work, and he had pictures and videos to back those claims up. Second red flag: There was no actual business website. Just a Facebook business site set up. Now, I know how hard it is to get a business going and that running a website can sometimes be expensive and time consuming, right? Right?? Agree with me please…

So needless to say, that red flag was brushed to one side as well. He came in, looked at the floors, and oiled us up like any good salesman would by telling us everything we wanted to hear. We took him downstairs into the basement and let him inspect everything downstairs (Which made it seem really legit, right?). By this time, I had discovered that the stairs had been, at one point, rotated 90 degrees within the house. I told him that my theory was that the opening for the bottom of the stairs likely opened into the dining room…right were the problem spot was. When the stairs were turned, the staircase into the basement was moved as well, and a giant chuck of what I am sure is a load-bearing beam was cut out to make head room. This wasn’t a possibility, he assured me. And even if that was the case, the house was “done settling” and there wouldn’t be any more issues with the floor once they were finished.

img_1779-1

This was the location of the old staircase.

img_2652

You can see where a significant chunk of the beam was cut out at the center of the picture…and yes, those are spider webs. It’s an old basement, what do you want from me?!

We went back upstairs, and he said that the area of the floor we were concerned about would, at worst, need to be patched in, along with another small area in the doorway to the formal living room. Otherwise, his exact words were “Oh yeah, we can definitely do this.” He told us that he could get the job done in a week, with minimal dust, stating that they had a venting system that they put in the windows and that they would place plastic in the doorway to the kitchen and the living room. We were told that there would be some dust that would inevitably escape into the other rooms, but that it would be minor. We asked him a bit about his background and he told us that he had just taken over the business from his father, who had owned the business for several decades. He said that he has been around the business or doing the work since he was thirteen. In the end, he quoted us at $1,300.00. A steal, in our books, for restored original flooring. Red flag number three…and yet we booked him then and there.

Several weeks later, Chris and I emptied out the dining room into the formal living room in prep for Fred and his crew to show up the next day. They came, and luckily Chris was home to supervise, as I had a wake to go to. I got a call on the way home from Chris that broke my heart…the floors couldn’t be saved. They had taken up one piece of wood from the problem area that was going to be patched, and discovered that there was nothing left of the wood. It had been sanded and re-finished so many times, that there was just no material left to work with! If they tried to sand the floor to re-stain and finish it, the nails would end up poking through the material.

img_1707

Original wood floor on top, new wood floor on the bottom. You can see how thick the floor should have been, but due to years of refinishing over and and over, there was just nothing left. I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear.

So we had to make a decision…either they could hand-sand the floors, re-stain and poly (but it wouldn’t fix any of the problems that would continue to get worse) or we could pull the floor up and put down new. It was the most rotten, nasty, terrible choice. I didn’t want to loose my floors! But I couldn’t leave the problems cover them up with a pretty new stain-and-poly job…the floors would have to be replaced. I gave Chris strict instructions to save every piece of wood possible. It was not leaving this house. We would find somewhere to put it where it could still shine. I also gave strict instruction that the species of the wood and the size of the wood must be the same. Unfortunately, I was told, there is no such thing as two-inch maple wood floors and the closest thing we could get was two and a half inch. I gave the go-ahead, and the crew started tearing up the floor.

The only silver lining to the entire situation throughout, was what they found when they pulled up the floors! Newspapers. Hundreds and hundreds of newspapers from just a few weeks before WWI broke out. I told Chris to save as many as possible and to have the flooring crew put them aside.

I couldn’t wait to get home and see what the newspapers were like and what the sub-floor looked like! By this time, Chris had left for work and the crew was finishing up. I got a call from Fred when I was almost home, saying that they were done for the day. Interesting, because it was only 3 pm…

He told me that they had finished tearing up the floors and had left the pieces on the front porch. Then he asked me if it would be ok if the crew left their tools there for the night. I was a little taken aback by the request…I didn’t want to be responsible for their tools. But then again, it’s not like I was going to be touching them or anything. And they were going to be back the next day. So why not? I told Fred it was ok, but that I didn’t want them anywhere where they would be tripped over, and I definitely didn’t want them on the carpets in the living room. To that I heard “Oh…*Fred turns to this crew* Hey guys, we need to move all this stuff into the other room for tonight”. Wow. Really? Guess I’m glad I said something…

When I got home, this was the bittersweet sight I walked into. The sub-floor was a beautiful hemlock (and completely level, I might add!). The newspapers had been crammed into industrial-size garbage bags. Rude. But I was happy to have them!

img_1686

It’s such a pity this was the sub-floor! These gorgeous hemlock boards were covered with newspapers from as early at 1911 – perfectly preserved! They were laid down over a layer of burlap and some sort of glue as insulation.

Are you ready for this? I really don’t know if you are…

img_1705

Piles. And piles. And piles of newspapers! Some of them still stuck to the floors!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

But the best, most amazing piece that I managed to salvage, was a woman’s magazine that was in color! Not only that, but I managed to get out the entire thing, including the pieces that were ripped from the front!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I immediately put that gorgeous thing under glass and framed it, making sure that it was touched as little as possible. I was high as a kite! I started rummaging through the papers and buying up frames to put them in. I still have a huge bag full of articles waiting for me to go through them. I can’t bear to throw them away, so my plan is to frame articles and sell them to history lovers in the Village during the annual village-wide garage sale. Whatever doesn’t get taken home to be loved, I plan on giving to the village archives.

For now, let’s leave it here. On a happy note. Part two will be coming soon in which I go into the horror story of how business was conducted in Palmer House over these wood floors…and what the future might hold for them!

To be continued…

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: