Monday, June 22, 2015

The Floors

The process of restoring and refinishing our eastern white pine floors has been, by far, the most complicated and long-running project. 

Presently, the floors are completely raw, covered with ramboard for protection. Thankfully, the lengthy process of deciding how to remove the lead paint and then actually removing it is behind us. 

What we didn't anticipate was the complexity of the step that would follow. 

In the beginning, we had in our minds (for several months) that we would be staining the floors so that they would look aged rather than freshly refinished. This idea lead to an extensive search to find a no-VOC stain. 

And we did. Sansin out of Canada. 

Of course, we tried about every color they offered and like all water-based stains, there were variabilities - depending on how fine the floor sample was finished, the particular board used, how many coats applied, etc. 

Eventually, we decided on a color and our floor refinishers (who were patiently standing by) applied the stain to the upstairs hallway (an inconspicuous place). 

Suddenly, we (I) panicked. It felt so dark. Especially compared to the lighter raw wood, which we had grown quite fond of in the interim. 

It also felt unnatural and counter to the the historic character of the nearly 200 year old floors to manipulate them with stain to achieve an 'aged' appearance. 

So, against the schedule of the floor refinishers and our own 'need to complete one task and move on to another' I said, "I'm going to have to think about this for awhile." 

That was many months ago. 

What we decided quite quickly was that we did not want to use a stain. We instead wanted to just seal the wood and let the process of natural aging dictate the patina of the floors. 

But which product allow us to allow that to happen? 

It had to be 'green' of course, yet durable and with a solid reputation. Finding a product that fits this criteria involved a great deal of research that included: 

1. Calling many natural building supply stores in the United States
2. Calling the floor finish manufacturers themselves
3. Doing test samples
4. Researching and reviewing feedback from prior users

In the end, this exhaustive search led to Vermont Natural Coatings

The two sample boards above show their poly whey product in a matte finish. The sample boards are both the same age, but clearly offer different tones. 

The variation shown is the wood, not the product. It was our way to be sure to understand what the applied product would offer because although two boards may be side by side, they can have very different coloring due to the inherent nature of the wood. 

We like the idea of matte, which, according to Lenore at Vermont Natural Coatings, is just as durable as a satin. It used to be that the higher the sheen the more durable the finish, especially in oil based products. This is not so with their product. 

Another selling point was that Vermont Natural Coatings has tremendous customer service. I have spoken to Lenore on numerous occasions. She is not only extremely knowledgeable but very generous with her time (I've called a lot). 

The matte sheen, which many companies do not offer, also offers a very organic and raw finish that we really appreciate. I think it offers the least-treated aesthetic. 

But the floors will not be completed until the very end, when all the trades (and their sturdy boots) are done doing this and that throughout the house. 

August? That's our goal. 

Green Floor Products we sampled: 

Green Building Supply stores: 


  1. Beautiful!!! I will admit that as I was reading and looking at the "samples", something just didn't feel right (I opinion matters) So when I read about your decision and saw the final product I was thrilled (and more than a little envious) I'm saving this information for our "dream cottage". I love your new home and it's such fun to follow along with you. All the best!!

  2. I agree, the natural wood looks fabulous - and who would not want to admire it in its most natural state? It will age gradually. Although the hallway colour does not look so bad - it just looks yellow, and treated in some way, in stead af aged. But that is also a beautiful colour.
    Here in Finland and also in Sweden there is an old way of treating wood floors, that is linseed oil soap, that slightly lightens the colour of the wood (usually spruce or pine), while at the same time it impregnates the floors a little bit against dirt. The idea is that while the floorboards are washed yearly the resistance to dirt improves year by year and the floor keeps its lovely light appearance.

    1. I so love that look and considered it for our house. In the end, we opted to do the more traditional thing in our region. I wonder what the upkeep is with the linseed oil? That was also a component for us as we don't have much wood on our floorboards to re-finish many more times.
      Best, Catherine

    2. Using linseed oil lye soap does not involve sanding. I washed my floorboards as they were dismantled for renewing the floor structure underneath. I scrubbed them with a hard coconut brush, linseed oil lye and plenty of water several times in the garden, and let them dry there in the sun. They became clean and considerably lighter in colour.
      After that, every year, they are just scrubbed with the same brush and a little soap. The rinsing has to be done carefully though, since adding insulation (previously there was just a cavity & earth underneath the boards) means they can not be rinsed with plenty of water as would have in the olden days, when the water just dipped into the soil underneath. I guess they will have to be wiped with a cloth.

  3. We faced this same dilemma when refinishing our nearly 60 year old floors. We were told that we would have to choose a dark stain to cover previous owner pet stains. To our amazement, most all of the stains were removed and we were in awe of the natural color of our red oak floors. Immediately we knew that natural was the way to go. We are complimented on the beauty of our floors every time someone visits. We went with a water based satin finish and they are gorgeous!!! Your instinct and impeccable taste are going to make this house sing.

  4. What a great compromise...the raw finish look will add such character to your home.
    Lori from LL Farm

  5. When we refinished our floors 15 years ago, we just sealed them -- we DID NOT sand and refinish the stair treads nor the insides of closets . . . and it is amazing that they all look alike -- you would never know that one is almost 100 years old and the other just a mere 15! I like the natural wood look rather than an artificial stain.

  6. Those floors are going to be gorgeous. Can't wait. Again, I really appreciate all the time and research that you put into each decision, and then ultimately, share with us. Linda R (Phila burbs)

  7. I agree too . . . staying with the natural looks rich, warm and perfect . . .
    Isn't wonderful to receive such kind, patient and helpful customer service!

  8. Hi Trina,
    Love the raw finish look it is subtle. Showed my husband the post as the finish that you were going to go for we sanded off when we moved in orange, clashed with everything and too shiny. After so much indecision and sanding we left the floors unfinished - mainly I could not make up my mind and in the far distance we know we were going to add on an extension and I would want the floors all to match. They now have a lovely aged grey patina and suit the house. 1850 old English Farm house albeit in London, the extension is ten years later in progress and flooring is now back on the debate table!!

    Love the progress.


  9. We are planning on pulling up the carpet and sanding our pine hardwoods in our old farmhouse sometime this summer. I love the look of the raw wood on your floors and how bight it is!

  10. Wood is so lovely in its natural, raw state. If you can afford to keep it that way, I will always choose to keep it natural. Your wood floors are beautiful.

  11. So worth the hard labor, and so parents refinished there vintage pine in the natural and it takes on a worn peaceful beauty in there home.


  12. Of course, I love your floors! Those are square head nails, aren't they? You can buy new-made-to-look-old ones -- or, if you're me + installing pine floors in 1990-something -- you could use cement nails for the same effect. At any rate, it's really fun to follow your project!

  13. We have reclaimed heart pine floors (from old Texas buildings) in one of our farmhouses. We did not stain them. We just applied a coating (not as green as yours). Eight years later the floors are still darkening. They don't look all that different from the stain sample you tried.

  14. I love the look of wood floors kept natural. I'm not a big fan of the dark flooring look, and am so glad to see more people deciding to keep their floors natural or use lighter stains. Our floors are 100 year old fir, and at the moment are mostly painted white. The floors are in need of a perking up one of these days, and I have considered stripping the paint and leaving the wood it's natural fir color. Not sure my husband and I are up to all that work, though. But the look of antique wood flooring is so beautiful!

  15. So glad you found Vermont Natural Coatings, Catherine! We were going to use their finish on our floors (it was even delivered), then, because of time constraints, we had to go a different route with our flooring & had to return the product. But, I remember talking to Lenore, too, and can second your appreciation of her! I will definitely keep their product in mind for future projects - just love the fact that they offer a matte finish! I already know how I want our next floors to look. Great job on the restoration of your house, it's been so fun following (an endless process for you, I'm sure). It's such a wonderful treat to see you make such careful, accurate consideration over every aspect of the process. Best!

  16. Love the raw wood. We are contemplating the same thing and are leaning towards Woca swedish finish (lye and natural soap). We live near the coast and I learned that the original floors would have been scrubbed with sand to clean them. Seems like a light finish would be in keeping.

    1. I so agree. We were concerned about upkeep and the fact that we don't have much board left in our floors for re-sanding too many more times. I will look into it again. Thanks! Best, Catherine

  17. Have you considered oils, such as linseed oil, tung oil, or even paste wax? They would give you that natural look, and without the chemicals. Plus this is what has been used traditionally for centuries. I thought this article provided a good overview of wood floor finishes: . Hope this helps.

  18. Have you considered oils, such as linseed oil, tung oil, or even paste wax? They would give you that natural look, and without the chemicals. Plus this is what has been used traditionally for centuries. I thought this article provided a good overview of wood floor finishes: . Hope this helps.

    1. We have thought of it - thanks for the link! The only reason we shied away from it was the upkeep. I look forward to reading the article. Best, Catherine

  19. Another informative and educational post - I truly appreciate how you share your extensive research with your readers. I am sure the floors will be beautiful and cannot wait to see the house when you complete the restoration phase. I know you must be looking forward to move in day.

  20. Yay!! You ended up doing matte! We love our matte finish and cleans really well! I had to get over that two dogs were still going to leave some scratches but with the matte finish unless you're looking for them (as I am ALWAYS) you can't see them. You floors look gorgeous - LOVE those wide planks!


Thank you for leaving your thoughts. Kind regards, Catherine

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