A Camp Washington Restoration: The Floors!

3071 Sidney has a gorgeous central staircase from the 1st to the 3rd floors. Someone painted it dark red and white. The steps are painted red too!

When Adam bought 3071 Sidney Avenue in April 2019, the 3-story home still had its original yellow pine flooring.

Ask any historic home owner and they will agree that original woodwork and wood floors are important to the character of their home. Plus, the beautiful color, luster, texture and grain that exists in old wood is beyond compare. During a home restoration project, if the original wood floors are still there, there comes a point when you need to assess their overall condition and decide what you are going to do with them. If the condition is good, wood floors are prime candidates for refinishing and restoration, especially if you know some tips and tricks…

When Adam Sanregret, Lead Agent of Cincinnati Historic Homes, bought his latest (6th!) home restoration project–3071 Sidney Avenue in Cincinnati’s historic neighborhood of Camp Washington–the original wood flooring was still there. What was its condition? What to do?

3071 Sidney Avenue, an 1885 Second Empire home  in Camp Washington, Cincinnati.

Oh, the Pitter-Patter of Everyone’s Feet

Tongue and groove edges on two old wood floorboards.

Restoring old wood floors brings back their natural beauty and shine–and nothing beats the unique sound of footsteps across a wooden floor.

The wood floors found in most historic homes are pretty resilient. A high-quality floor was designed to be refinished multiple times over the span of its use life (which can be well over 100 years!). Woods typically used included maple, oak, walnut, pine and fir.

Starting in the mid-19th century, most wood floors were connected via an interlocking edge called a tongue and groove, which works to minimize gaps and keeps the face of the floorboard from cupping. The upper and lower tabs are about 1/4” thick and can be sanded two or three times before they start splintering. There are also ways to repair areas that have a small amount of damage so that it is barely–if at all!–noticeable.

A staggered pattern of replacement floorboards. After sanding, staining and a top coat of polyurethane, this patch will blend right in.

Wood Floor Patching–It’s More Than Just a Band-Aid

Did you know that damaged areas with pet stains, loose and missing boards, rot or termite damage are pretty easy repairs for a flooring professional?

Judicious patching can take care of most problem areas. Sound old wood can be moved to prominent areas, and the patchwork done in dark corners or under where rugs and furniture will be placed. Matching wood can also be repurposed from a closet or attic. Or, like Adam’s project, if you are changing the floorplan to add a room that will have different flooring (tiles, etc.), old wood can be used from that location. Even when there is no other choice but to use modern wood, the key is to match the old and new boards as much as possible. After sanding, the repair can be blended in by mixing wood stains until you have a good match (Tip: Practice on a scrap piece of wood first!).

A non-staggered patch. The replacement boards practically pop off of the photo, don’t they?

Patches are installed by cutting back some of the floorboards in an irregular pattern over the damaged area. A staggered pattern of boards is best–if you simply fill in a rectangular space with new boards, your eye would stop abruptly at the edge of the new flooring. Like there was a bright red flag standing there with “SEE! HERE’S A PATCH!” on it.

Sidney’s Floors

The condition of the wood floors on the first floor of 3071 Sidney Avenue when Adam bought the home in April 2019. There was old carpet in the front room, which helped protect the wood underneath for years.

The original wood floors at 3071 Sidney Avenue–all 3-story, nearly 2700 square feet of them–were made of yellow pine. When Adam bought the property, most of the floors were in pretty good shape. Little was left of any finishing coat or stain but rugs or wall-to-wall carpeting likely helped to preserve the floors over the decades. The kitchen floor needed some help however.

The former kitchen at 3071 Sidney Avenue. Remnants of linoleum tiles were present atop the original wood floor.

Although the house was built in 1885, indoor plumbing was not added until the 1920s. And it entered the house through the first-floor kitchen. We could also assume that a “modern” (read: 1920s) kitchen was added around that time too. Whomever did the work wasn’t shy about disturbing what they just may have considered to be a worn-out floor (!).  At some point, linoleum tiles were installed in the kitchen. Luckily, the tile remnants could easily be removed.

Most of the floor was intact but damaged areas needed floorboard patching. Adam salvaged as much original yellow pine flooring as he could where he planned to install tiled-floor bathrooms on the second and third floors (if you haven’t read it, click here for the previous blog post on his architect-designed house plans). For the remainder, it was necessary to use modern wood flooring. He selected fir wood–the closest match to the original yellow pine in the house–and had it milled into floorboards with the same dimensions as those of the originals.

After sanding, the repurposed yellow pine floorboards blended right in. The modern wood floorboards? Ask Adam for a copy of his flooring guy’s recipe–a “home brew” solution of lacquer and stain to blend the boards with the original yellow pine…

A photo gallery of Adam’s work-in-progress to finished-floor is below. Let us know what you think of Sidney’s “new” floors!

Stay tuned!

This is the 5th  post in an ongoing series documenting Adam’s restoration project: an 1885 Second Empire home. We hope you are enjoying the journey!

Up next:
A Camp Washington Restoration: To Strip or Not to Strip, That Is the Question

What to do with interior woodwork–the baseboards, molding, trim around windows and doors, and built-ins–sometimes isn’t so clear during a home restoration project. There are many questions to consider–Is it natural wood or painted? Was it meant to be painted? Can it be stripped? Refinished?–but perhaps the most important question is: What will make you happy with the look of your home? After all, what good is restoring a home’s features if those features don’t really make you happy…