From Ugly to Lovely: Painting a Floor, Part 1

Our house was built around 1911 with Douglas Fir floors. Six years ago, during our remodel, we ripped out the carpet and saw why someone chose to cover up the floors.

There was/is:

  • a sad array of worn finishes/surfaces – natural, painted (lead of course), and stained
  • patched-in sections where there was originally a furnace and built-in bookshelves (and why did someone think that was a good idea – removing the bookshelves?)
  • numerous large screws (+ holes) where someone tried to fix the squeaks
  • holes where we removed the heating vents when we installed in-floor heat


Our options:

1. $3,500/$4,000 to replace and/or refinish + upheaval.


2. Paint them charcoal gray (gasp!) for $350ish and some day get new floors (after fixing the driveway/retaining walls, replacing the garage door, hiring an aborist to remove 3 badly chosen (by us) trees cut down from the side yard which have grown to 40 feet in 10 years (never plant a Leyland Cypress and think it won’t grow HUGE), and a trip to somewhere besides the Midwest….).

This is our conundrum.

I’m preferring option #2, even though it may make wood floor lovers cringe. So, after some research/planning, with help from Daly’s Paint store of Seattle and Google, this is what it would entail:

  • repair register vent areas with reclaimed flooring
  • wash and dry floors
  • deglosser for the lead painted areas because we don’t want to sand lead paint
  • sand/rough up and prime the natural wood areas, vacuum, wipe with tack cloth
  • Withstand” floor paint (charcoal gray), 2 thin coats, brush on
  • Crystal Fin (urethane/acrylic polymer finish) for topcoat

And, because one thing always affects another (the husband calls it “scope creep”, like it is some contagious fungus), rip up the toe-stubbing, ugly, tile hearth under the (ugly) wood stove, cut in a border for new non-ugly tile which would sit flush with the floor.

Which leads to more “scope creep”.

Consider wood stove replacement:

1. leave it, although it is ugly ugly ugly (when it is not in use, I cover it up with a throw)

2. new wood stove, black, efficient ($2k)

3. new wood burning insert, Scan Designs ($5k, including rigid liner)


Back to the floors. We’ve decided to go for it, for better or worse. (Actually the floors can’t look much worse than they do right now.) We will let you know how it goes. Wish us luck!


The floors are painted! See Painting a Floor, Part 2 for pictures and how we got it done!

See more of Heidi’s artwork at Old Stuff. New Stories.

13 thoughts on “From Ugly to Lovely: Painting a Floor, Part 1

    • Hey I’ve got some Swedish in me! But you are right, no white for me (or my messy family with their soccer cleats). Great pictures on Pinterest! Some great ones with dark gray too, which is encouraging.

      • As Doug Fir LOVER, our house is filled with old growth fir, I think the repairs and scratches are beautiful and would show the house’s history. Replacement fir flooring could be found at Second Use in Seattle. Come on, you can do this! After the sanding and repairs, seal the floor with OSMO, an environmentally safe product. Let the wood, fixes and all, be the center piece of your house.
        Also, you are right, replace the stove. Check the Cypress by Avalon built right here in Washington. Simple clean design.
        Good luck

        • I totally agree with you – I love old Doug Fir and my middle name is patina. BUT the lead paint freaks me out. Right now it completely covers the living room and is used as a 2 foot or so border around the perimeter in the dining room, leaving about a 10 x 12 foot non-painted surface. To get rid of the lead we would need to strip it (chemically or citrus), but I’m afraid the grooves would still retain a lot of paint, which would be hazardous when we sand. The kitchen also has the old vg fir and we patched that (using salvaged flooring) where the old stair was and extended the fir into the family room and hallway. So I really do love fir, honestly! That is why this was a hard decision. We considered ripping it all up and laying down either salvaged or new fir, but that seemed costly and extreme.

          I’m curious about the OSMO product – you used it and like it? We looked into it for our kitchen and I’m wondering if it provides a hard enough surface (stains, water) for that.

  1. Good Luck with your project. Everything you do turns out so well, I know it’ll look great. Too bad about all the holes, but it might add to the charm. Years ago, we had the wood burning stove in our living room changed to a fireplace insert. I liked that it freed up valuable floor space. Sounds like you’ll be living in a bit of a mess for a bit, but it’s always worth it.

    • Thanks Boomdee! I may try to fill the screw holes with wood filler and see how that works. I agree that the added floor space would be great, will gain some by making the hearth flush with the floor (and the same color), even if we end up keeping that woodstove. Re. living with a mess, that is par for the course around here, unfortunately. Did a test today and it looks nice, can’t wait to do the whole thing!

  2. Cool middle name! Bummer about the cracks that will hold the paint, which will look bad. I recently made a proto type of a bed side table out of scrap poplar and 2×4’s and after the customer approved the design I kept the table and painted it dark gray and put fir drawer fronts on it. The contrast between the gray and deep red color of the fir made for a handsome look.
    Osmo is a product that is sold by ecohause (which is now green depot) and I have used for years. Used it on all my projects including my dinning room table, exterior front door, I have not used it on kitchen counters, but have used it on a bathroom vanity (not the top). I would talk to the people at green depot. The very nice thing about the product is you can do “spot” repairs and don’t have to sand the entire project. There is a trick to using it but once you get the hang of it it’s great.

  3. I painted the floors for the all the same reasons in my old 100 year old house in Pittsburgh, 25 years ago. It worked great and looked great too. It was cheap, easy and charming. I’m surprised people don’t push this more often. I needed to use my dining room quickly (we at there with three kids daily) so I used porch paint, eliminating the need to prime or top coat that worked great too. I loved my house, but a previous owner took all the old-school charm out of the place they could.

    • Thanks! That’s encouraging. Porch paint is a great option, I will look into that. We demo’d the tile hearth today and took out the woodstove. Something that has bothered me for almost 20 years took about 1 hour (+ clean-up) to get rid of! Amazing.

    • I agree, lead is scarey. Glad to hear your kids made it through ok! I bet all of us have a huge amount of lead and other toxins in our bodies. Maybe that is what I can blame my forgetfulness on – you think?

    • Hi Landon, thanks for your comment – I agree – I love old fir floors. In this case though, one room is completely covered with lead paint and one room has a lead paint border around the perimeter. I feel that even if we were remove the paint without releasing a ton of lead in the air that the paint would still remain in the grain/grooves and would be released when we sanded it. In a perfect world we would probably rip it up and replace with it reclaimed/salvaged fir, but for now I think the best thing it to paint it. We have finally repaired all the register vents holes so we are almost ready to go.

      Your wood products are beautiful, by the way, I wish you had a location closer to Seattle!

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