I posted a while back about the love of old things beginning at home, in reference to the house I grew up in. It was a wonderful place, an equally perfect setting for tea parties or haunted houses. When TBM and I were looking at houses to buy and we saw the one we now own, one of my first thoughts was “Too much like the house I grew up in. I don’t want it.” Also: I was really hoping for a “fixer upper,” though TBM did not agree, and this house had been recently renovated. It was the most amazing house we had seen, with good old bones and a still-intact soul. We had been through a lot of renovated houses in the shabby chic town where we reside, and many of them had been voided old structure charm: Outside they said “historic”; inside they said “modern condo.” Not interested, thank you very much. But this house was different- thoughtfully renovated, interior footprint intact, and full of special features: a tin ceiling, pocket doors, exposed brick, front and back staircase, and twelve-foot ceilings. In the end we bought her and have been slowly making her into a home.
You’d think that because the house was renovated, there hasn’t been much to do. Ha. Any house, but especially an old house, requires lots of work. We’ve done plenty on the outside: fenced the yard, planted trees, begun a landscape plan with a raised-bed kitchen garden and perennial potager. On the inside though, beyond troubleshooting and required maintenance, we’ve hardly done anything at all: not painted a single wall, not settled on the use of different rooms, not put down rugs or hung (much) on the walls. Why not? We’ve lacked a “foundation,” not of stone or brick, but of floors. We’ve been living with god-awful painted floors.
But this weekend, during a marathon push towards completing the process of refinishing the floors, I realized something: actually, we’re not refinishing them, we’re restoring them. The first step was removing the paint- up to five layers in some places. This has required sanding each room several times over with a drum and an edging sander, then an orbital sander, heat gun, or sandpaper in hand, where the floor is uneven or inaccessible for the big machines. We’ve spent hours plugging holes where formerly pipes snaked their way up from the basement, using every method we’ve learned: wooden dowels, wood glue, wood epoxy, rope, newspaper, shims and slivers of wood. This weekend, I used wood filler to plug hundreds of holes on the front staircase, made by tacks that must have held down carpet once upon a time.
The downstairs of the house is nearly finished, and we have a goal to have the entire house done by Thanksgiving. We don’t yet know if this is realistic, as the upstairs floors have a lot of damage that was well-hidden by the paint. For now, all of our belongings are in just two rooms, one downstairs, one up, and essentially we are camping out inside the house. Nerves are starting to unravel and everything aches. Yet as we sand and scrape, repair and refinish, we reveal aged pine planks that haven’t seen the light of day in over one hundred years. As the grain comes through, the stain takes hold, the tung oil finish adds richness and depth, our efforts seem rewarded.