Palmer House

Renovating and Restoring Our 1880 Folk Victorian

Well hello there! It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to write! I know…shame on me. It’s been a crazy month! School started at the end of August and at the end of this semester, I’ll be two years away from completing my bachelor’s degree in nursing that never seems to end! We went on a fantastic vacation to visit our friends out in Portland, Oregon, we went to an awesome wedding, and went camping with our cousins for a weekend. And my body has finally decided to wave the white flag…I am sitting here on my couch, home early from work…with a stomach bug. So I figured that I would hop on here and use my free time to finish up this post about the wood floors. Lord knows I’m not going to clean!

Honestly, I have been dreading this post. I’ve been avoiding it. That’s how much I hated this entire process. When we left off, I had just gotten home and found my dining room like this, after we made the difficult decision to replace the original maple wood floors which were too far gone to save:

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And we found all of those glorious newspapers had been sitting under my dining room floors for over a hundred years!

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The square-head nails in the hemlock sub-floor made me smile!

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So, let’s continue with this story that I can say, for sure, was the most frustrating and infuriating situation I have ever had the misfortune to be part of. Yes, dramatic. But it’s true.

So the next day Fred and his workers didn’t get to Palmer House until almost 10:00 am. Now, I know I’m a nurse and that I work long hours that start early in the day, but 10:00 am was quite late in my book. It would have been one thing if I had at least gotten a phone call from Fred letting me know they wouldn’t be starting until then, but I wasn’t given that courtesy. Interesting…since I was the one paying for his services.

So Fred came with his guys and started laying down new, two-and-a-half inch maple floors. Now, one thing that I forgot to mention in the previous post was that we made one very specific request of Fred when we spoke about restoring the floors: We wanted FLAT floors. Not necessarily level. It’s an old house…nothing is level! But FLAT. I mentioned in the last post that the floor seemed to be almost ducking underneath the dining room floor, with the result being that you felt crooked walking into the kitchen. It was the one thing that Chris wanted to correct out of everything! I was the one with the rest of the demands. He only wanted flat floors. Not an unreasonable request and Fred assured us that he could fix the problem so that we wouldn’t have that feeling walking into the kitchen by the time it was done. When Chris came home that night, I was still at work and I got this picture sent to my phone:

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That. Is. Not. Flat. And that was exactly what Chris planned on telling them. Except that it would have to wait because after their 10:00 am start time, they “finished” their day at 3:00 pm. Five-hour work days must be nice, huh?

When I came home at 8:00 pm, this is what I saw:

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Yep. You got it. The wood floor guys had their tools all over my original wood floors in the formal living room. They set their dirty equipment all over my uncovered furniture, set their red bull on my built-ins with no coaster to be seen, rested their brooms next to my breakable family heirlooms and antiques, and put their tools and trash all over my antique built-in hutch without a drop cloth!! They never laid down one drop cloth! Not one. Everything you see in these photo’s belonged to and was put down by me. I was dumbfounded. Fred knew that my father was a contractor. We had told him during our first meeting. We may have never worked with anyone besides my father before, but I knew enough about the business to know that we had hired someone with absolutely no professionalism. But at this point, he had got us. We had given Fred a down payment and the floor was half torn up. However, if we were going to deal with these yahoos, we were going to make sure they did the job right!

That evening, I sent those pictures you just saw to Chris along with expletive-filled comments about how nothing in the house better be damaged or stained. Chris called Fred and told him point-blank: The floor isn’t flat. You told us you would make it flat and it’s not. Start over.

This didn’t make Fred happy. It would increase the cost, he told us. We didn’t care. He was going to do it right, but he wasn’t going to see penny of that extra cost until he was done.

Now, you have to remember that while all this is going on, Chris, myself and the two cats have been relegated to our bedroom – along with everything else it takes to take care of two cats. This includes water and food bowls and yes…the litter boxes. We had to keep the poor kitties locked up during the entire catastrophe. We couldn’t risk the workers letting them out accidentally, and once the stain and poly went down they couldn’t walk on the floor. If you have never been cooped up in one room with two animals before, it’s terrible. They kept me awake all night – for a week. Can you see how all this lack of sleep, frustration and pure disgust was building up to a blow up?

Fred came back the next day (again, at 10:00 am), and they started looking at the floor they set down and how NOT flat it was. Luckily, (very luckily, because I would have screamed at someone), Chris was there to lay down the law. He repeated what he told Fred on the phone – it’s not flat, fix it. But Fred didn’t want to fix it. So his solution was, naturally, to dodge the situation and try and get us to do something else. His first solution was that we needed to jack up the floor from the basement below. When Chris told me this later on that evening I almost lost it! Jack up the floor? With plaster walls in the house? When YOU told us that the ceiling the basement looked fine and was level everywhere? When YOU said that you could fix this issue to begin with?! I was disgusted. When Chris shot down that suggestion and again repeated to Fred that he needed to fix the floor, Fred then recommended that once he and his crew ripped out the floor they just laid that we use leveling cement to level the floor. Picture me face palming right now. Chris finally spelled it out for him – he was going to rip up the floor he just laid down and layer plywood underneath the floor until it was level, and then lay down the maple again. Fred wasn’t pleased that we laid down the law, but he did was he was told.

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Do you remember in the last post how Fred had told us that he had a venting system that would practically eliminate the dust issue when they sanded? Do you want to know what that venting system was? A fan. It was a fan. The face palms are never ending. So we finally made it to the point of picking out stain. I wanted to try to match the color of the original wood floors in the formal living room as close as possible. Fred laid down several different colors for me to choose from, and we ended up choosing a red mahogany stain by Minwax.

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The stain went down, and I went to bed for the night. What I didn’t know, was that there were severe thunderstorms on their way, and our original wood flooring was still sitting on our front porch covered by a tarp. Do you want to know what my amazing, loving, caring husband did for me? He came home from work late, around 12:30 am, and stayed awake until almost 2:00 am sorting through all that wood, and storing it in the garage for safekeeping.

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I love, love, love this man and how he is growing to love the quirks and intricacies that makes Palmer House so special.

The next day was the day I almost lost my mind. Throughout all of this, we had allowed the workers to keep their tools at the house. As it was, they were starting their day at 10:00 am and leaving at 3:00 pm – we didn’t want to give them an excuse to shorten their day (Like needing to go get their tools from wherever). So we tolerated it and asked them to keep their tools off the uncovered furniture and off the wood floor in the formal living room. For the most part they honored our request, but when I came home that day, I found a giant scratch in the floor.

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As you can see by the picture, their saw was sitting on our floor, and one of them slid it across the floor, leaving a scratch in (thank God!) the finish in the floor. I immediately took a picture and sent it to my dad in a panic, wondering if there was an easy fix for this. Thankfully, there was! We just needed to take a Q-Tip and some polyurethane and touch it up. Phew! Now that the panic was gone, the pure rage set it. I was done. I was sleep-deprived. I was frustrated. I was ready to fire these guys the second they walked in the door. Floor be damned! We could find someone else to put on the polyurethane and finish the floor! I told Chris that unless he wanted me to not only fire Fred but to throw his guys’ tools on the side of the road, he needed to address this. I knew that even though he was just as livid as I was, he would be the level-headed one out of the two of us. I had to physically remove myself from the situation and go sit upstairs in the bedroom when the guys showed up. Chris pointed out the damage, and the employee offered to fix it. Chris politely but firmly told him no thank you, that the damage would be fixed by us, and that all the tools needed to be removed tonight. They took everything with them that afternoon, and we repeated the mantra “It’s only three more days. It’s only three more days.”

Or so we thought. No one was at our house by 10:30 am the next morning. By 11:00 am, we got a text from Fred saying that he was having car trouble and wouldn’t be able to get there until noon. I looked at Chris and said “He’s going to text us at noon and say he’s not coming.” I was wrong…by three minutes. So we had a day alone, and some time to re-group. We decided that the way we wanted to decompress was to DUST! We went through (I kid you not) three cans of bulk-store size lemon Pledge. The upside was the house smelled wonderful. The downside was that we knew that the screening in-between the polyurethane coats was going to cause a mess again. But we had to do it…we had to feel some sort of control over this ridiculous situation.

Over the next few days, the polyurethane went on, and the floor came alive.

The floor was gorgeous. It was such a shame that we had such a terrible experience. Fred wasn’t lying to us when he said that he had experience…just not with business. I was very happy with how the floor came out, but to go through all of that was not worth it.

Oh, you thought we were done? That that was the end? Oh my darlings, no! We still had one more issue to discuss with Fred…like all the damage done to my moldings while they were sanding.

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As you can see by these pictures, these were taken before the floor was stained. What these pictures don’t show you is the sloppy, stained mess they also left on the base moldings. To top it off, the quarter-round that was at the bottom of the base molding – the one that they ripped off in order to do the floor in the first place – was no where to be seen. Now at this point, Chris and I had had enough of these guys and we just wanted them out. However, we wanted to see just how honorable Fred would be about the quarter round. Chris asked him if he would be replacing it since he and his team had to tear it off to begin with, and they pulled it off and broke it into pieces. Per Chris’s report, Fred’s face looked exasperated. He told Chris that if he went and picked up the materials and called him at a later date, he would come and shoot it in for us. Yeah, OK Fred! We’ll be in touch! (Picture an eye roll so large that one might just fall off their chair). We dismissed Fred, and “for the trouble”, he only charged us the original quote he gave us, which was $1,300. Good thing. Because there was no way I was going to give him any more money.

Fred and his guys left, and we will never, ever recommend them to anyone – ever. We called my hero of a father, and went to Home Depot to pick out some quarter round. This part we were doing ourselves! Once bought, I sanded, primed and painted the quarter round and stained one to run along the hutch. Three coats of polyurethane later, and we were ready to install! Dad came over and gave Chris a lesson in cutting and coping edges, and taught him how to use an air nailer. He even gave him one of his old nailers to keep!

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This room was inching closer to being done! Last thing to do after the quarter round was installed was for me to paint the base molding over again to cover up the sloppy mess and damage that the workers left.

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As much as I hated that my base moldings were damaged in this process, I have to say that now that everything is touched up, I like that the dings show the story of the house. Don’t get me wrong, if I had my choice I would have my perfect base moldings back. However, I can live with what’s left behind.

In the end, I loved the results. Would I do it again? Not on your life! Do we need to do wood floor restoration and installation in other parts of the house? Yes. Am I looking forward to it? …Unknown. One thing is for sure, we won’t be using Fred again, we won’t use a home contractor search site to find a business, and we will educate ourselves very, very thoroughly before we hire anyone. However, I think we have found our happy place in these floors.

 

Update: So all of this work was done in April of 2018. It is now September of 2018 and we are already having issues with the floor. We were told by Fred’s crew that when you put in your very last board in your tongue and groove, you need to cut off the tongue to get it in. The cut was done so badly on this tongue that the guys needed to use wood filler to fill in and repair what they did. They sanded it smooth, and once it was stained you couldn’t see a thing. Now, however, that filler is buckling and basically being pushed out of place by the wood swelling in the summer heat. To boot, the boards on either side of the filler are lifting with the filler, creating a little hill of sorts. Of course, this section has to be right in the path that we take to the kitchen, so we step on it and notice it every day. This is the most frustrating thing ever. Nothing is worse than paying for and suffering through a renovation only to have it turn into something less than perfect only months later. Needless to say, it’s salt in the wound, and another thing to add to the list of things to do.

“When you fall, I will be there. With love, from the floor.” (Laugh a little!)

 

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