At the end of the day we were floored. Literally. Honestly. We were floored. After all these months we have flooring.
I am not sure what made floors seem like such a big change in this every growing house of ours but it is another of those things that hit us in the gut. The stairs from the main floor to the loft floor nearly took us to our knees. After no house for more than a year and then a ladder for months, having access to our upstairs by a real staircase was freeing.
The floors are something we dreamed of and thought about and worried about and went back and forth and back and forth trying to get someone to understand what we were talking about. We wanted floors that looked old, not floors that looked badly made. The “western” rough cut, circle-sawn, hand scraped, etc stuff is not what we wanted either. We wanted someone’s loved house that had old board flooring. Finally we took a risk and just bought raw wood in 10″ wide by 14 feet long planks. The problem with such wide boards is that they can cup but we have thin ridges on the back so the floor can breath and move with the weather. We are already seeing some cupping but hopefully when the wood has some time it will settle in well.
We are going to putty, sand and finish the floors ourselves. We did not set out to do this but it has been hard to say to someone, “we want them to look antique and we want them to walk and sound this way.” The cost of finishing even ordinary floors is a lot so we are taking it on so that we can find that singular balance between this time in history and another. I have been mixing various stain colors trying to figure out how to make the boards look old, not too gray or dark and to highlight their natural characteristics. We bought the white pine flooring because we liked it, not because we wanted to turn it into Zebra wood.
The more homework I have done the more convinced I am that the best finish we can get for what we want and the wood we have is a hand rubbed one. We have 1800 square feet of hardwood so I think we are going to need some hard knees for this. Actually, I am looking forward to it. Slow, methodical, tasks when I can see beautiful patterns emerge are just right for me.
We have wood above and wood below. I have thought about stain colors and our desire to keep the natural characteristics of the wood without leaving it bone-dry and bare. I look up and see red pine 6 inches wide boards and below and see white pine 10 inches wide boards. It is an unusual feeling, standing between our floor and our ceiling. There is not a lot of space where the wood is uninterrupted which is proabaly why when you are in that space it feels so unique. when I stand there it feels like the ground and the heavens are both within my grasp if I stretched one arm down and one arm up.
It would be easy for the house to become “wood chuck” like. We don’t like “woodsy” houses but we like wood. We tried to balance the dry wall with the wood so that the wood was highlighted, in ways that each board can show its beauty. We have hand hewn fir 8 x 8 posts and a hand-hewn face board that is 12 inches wide. We have the ceilings and the floors. We have growing, live wood outside the windows. We don’t old wood antiques like we did before the fire but we have a few things we will be pleased to share our space with.
We have color too. The walls are color. We ended up with more color than we intended but each room makes sense and going from room to room makes sense. With furniture and deep, beautiful, antique Persian rugs I think everything will settle in place.
Sometimes I get the feeling that people who have worked on the house are not sure what they are seeing. The whole of the house lives in my head and increasingly as the house unfolds, in my spouses head but we are eager to see the parts come together. I am eager for people to understand what they worked on. We have many different types of wood, not one wood. We have many colors, not just one color. The stairwell to the garage is painted two shades of blue. We have strange porches and decks. We have open spaces and smaller spaces. It has not been an intuitive house.
In our old house I discovered that painting one wall of the stairwell a slightly different shade of blue than the other made the stairwell look wider and more square when you looked down it. While it was an interesting exercise in perspective, the narrowing that you get when you view things from a distance, it was easier to see the definition of the stairs. We painted a lot of the house ourselves but worked with a professional for the larger and taller spaces. When he asked how many colors I wanted I paused. What I wanted and what I felt like I could ask for were two different things.
As it turned out, we had the world’s best painting contractor. He painted multiple colors for us, and he did strange things like cutting the colors so that one color defined the stacked stairwell below and another above. I did that in our old house but I did not pay me to do that. I did not really pay our painting contractor to do that either. He was interested and wanted to do it. He saw the photos from our old house and liked it. We were deeply touched and now we have his gift on the walls. I think it looks a little too strong now so I greatly appreciated that he painted on faith in my vision. I look forward to putting the furniture in place so the whole will come together.
That is the way this house is. It is of a whole but it reveals itself in parts. I designed it from scratch, and know its every inch. I purchased the wood and the fixtures and the fittings. I have spent more than a year with a tape measure and building materials on my desk. It has bordered between a labor of love and just hard, painful labor. I thought I really knew the house. Still, it surprises even me with its unfolding. It has secrets to tell us. We found secrets in the corners when we were painting. We discovered that all the strong colors shades to the same dusky tone when the sun starts to set. We learned that the stairwell, while the same size it has been since November, with its wood floor, looks much wider.
We are coming closer to moving upstairs from our little 390 square foot apartment in the basement. We spend more and more time upstairs as our DIY tasks are coming into their own.
Getting here from the fire that burned our home has been a complex journey that has taken in the trauma of the fire, dire illnesses, job layoffs, multiple moves, retirement, and re-understanding who we are as a family. The house reflects that journey. It is as simple as wide board pine planks and as complex as the different people who hand cut our wood.
Today its simplicity and its complexity floored us. Tomorrow we will learn more about this building of wood and drywall mud. The fire taught us that it is possible that this house, too, could burn down but we know that is unlikely. At the last, we will have an eternity to learn what it has to teach us.