The Most Drastic Change Our Tree House Has Seen

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Although refinishing the floors was on our Tree House to do list for 2017, to be honest, it was more of a wish. Initially, we had every intention of doing it ourselves, but we quickly realized that the time we’d need to dedicate towards the job wasn’t feasible. Not to mention, Scott was adamant that he wouldn’t want me around that amount of dust and fumes, and so, we agreed that maybe it wasn’t in the cards for us. Womp womp. But if not now, when?

Out of curiosity, I decided to gather quotes from professionals. I knew that once we started bringing any furniture into the home, the chances of us actually refinishing the floors – at all! – would be slim to none. I called, emailed and followed up with upwards of 6-7 companies in the Harbor Country area (including parts of northern Indiana and into Grand Rapids, Michigan), and only one person got back to me. One! This has been our experience all around with contractors for Tree House, but the great news is this: That one was a real winner.

For our Chicago / Northern Indiana / Southwest Michigan friends (phew), we used Hultman Flooring, and we will rave about their service all day long! We met with Dean, the owner of Hultman, in early November. Our initial plan was to refinish the floors in the mudroom, kitchen, living and guest rooms, but that escalated into the master bedroom as well – more on that in a second. As a refresher, here’s what the kitchen and adjoining mudroom looked like the day we closed:

These two rooms had sticky vinyl flooring that we think was new-ish, because they were in relatively good shape. Maybe it was installed in the 90s? (Dean agreed.) The flooring in the living room, however, is original to the home. Dean walked in, and he immediately complimented our Douglas fir floors, going so far as to guess their age. They look to be from the 1930s?, he asked. Not only were we learning they were Doug fir for the first time, but we were impressed that within the first 5 minutes, he correctly guessed the age of our home!

While we fell in love with the original flooring during our walkthrough, upon further inspection, we realized just how beat they were. The hardwood, below on the right, was really red and scuffed, and there were long black streaks throughout the grain:

You might remember that during demolition weekend, we had a mild freak out when we removed the kitchen island and began peeling back the kitchen vinyl. Underneath, we found that the Doug fir continued! There’s also a small access panel to the crawlspace in the mudroom, and Scott peeled back a scuffed piece of vinyl to find that the hardwood flooring continued there, too, leading us to believe that – holy cats, fingers crossed! – the flooring might be salvageable underneath all the vinyl!

Below, you can see the area that we uncovered beneath the kitchen island. The hardwood flooring that was hidden had a greenish hue because it was painted over at some point. This wasn’t terribly surprising, as the guest room was also lined with a green paint stripe – a detail we noticed weeks prior and chalked it up to a bad refinishing job at some point in the home’s history.

But! Back to the master bedroom for a moment. This room was an obvious addition to Tree House, and as a result, the transition into this space is less than ideal; an exterior grade metal strip plus a step down onto a painted plywood subfloor says it all! Originally, we thought we might run with it. Maybe we’d lay down finish-grade plywood in strips (which would also bring up the level another 3/4″), re-paint it and call it a day?

While Dean was in our home, I couldn’t resist asking him, what if we laid new Doug fir in the bedroom? Not only would this be visually seamless, but it would give us an opportunity to address that step down (or up, depending on which way you’re going). Most importantly, it could only make the space feel larger with a floor plan as small as the one we’ve been given with Tree House!

Okay, so at this point, we were looking for:

  • Removal of the vinyl flooring
  • Refinishing of the mudroom, kitchen, living and guest rooms
  • New installation of Douglas fir in the master bedroom

We also talked about exactly what we were hoping to see in the results. What would the floors look like once they were sanded? Would we want to re-stain them? Did we want to apply a semi-gloss finish? High gloss? Matte? Ideally, we were looking for the lightest finish possible (Let’s brighten this space up! we said, i.e., no stain whatsoever), and ooh, wouldn’t matte look so, so pretty?

Dean, otherwise known to us as the Yoda of Flooring, explained that Doug fir has a slightly pink undertone, but the good news is that it was definitely possible to go several shades lighter than what we were standing on in the living room. Not only did it appear that the original floors were stained at some point, but the semi-gloss finish was oil-based, therefore yellowing the color even further over time. The dark spots we were seeing were the result of a somewhat shoddy sanding job + poor protection, and although they might never go away completely, they still had an opportunity to lighten up significantly.

We were sent a quote a few days later, which was broken down into two jobs: 1| Refinishing of the existing hardwood floors (including the removal of vinyl flooring), and 2| Installing and matching the floors throughout the master bedroom. In the meantime, Dean also dropped off samples of Doug fir flooring in its natural state with a commercial grade, water-based matte finish. You guys. Look at the difference:

Okay, enough shop talk; I’ll just say that we were head over heels for the potential we saw, and after a lot of discussion, we decided to rip off the master bedroom like a bandaid. We also inquired about a cash discount (we always ask this – see our contractor tips here!), and by doing those two things, we were able to bring the entire cost of the job down by $1,500. $1,500! For those curious, Our total for the entire job – including the new material + labor install for the master – came in at $4,500 for the whole main floor of Tree House (minus the bathroom – another day, another project), a value that we deemed 100% worth our own time, sanity, happiness and lack of expertise in the area.  Note: We paid an additional small fee for the removal of the vinyl flooring and a small-ish surprise in the mudroom.

If you follow along on our Instagram Stories, you know that we saw the floors for the first time in-person last weekend. We might have been a wee bit excited, ha! Throughout the process, the refinishing team texted us photos and updates daily, and when we walked through the front – er, side, ha! – door, we saw this. We’d say those samples he gave us were almost a dead ringer!

Let’s get into the fun stuff! I’ll start with the master bedroom, since this was the room that received the brand new Doug fir flooring. They were able to adjust the slope of the transition between rooms, and although the new flooring (sadly) lacks the 90-year-old pocks and scratches, the color is consistent and should wear nicely over time:

Master Bedroom | Before

Master Bedroom | Progress

It’s a bit difficult shooting towards the window in the living room, but at the very least, this will give you a good comparison between the former semi-gloss finish and the new (beautiful!) matte finish:

Living Room | Before

Living Room | Progress

The kitchen was a wreck – although the best kind of wreck? – after demolition weekend, but our new view still makes our jaws drop. We feel so lucky and fortunate that the flooring was salvageable underneath the vinyl! (Why in the hell would they cover that up?!):

Kitchen | Before

Kitchen | Progress

And here’s the view from the kitchen, looking into the mudroom:

Mudroom | Before

Mudroom | Progress

But this – this! – is our very favorite view that shows why we decided to dive into this refinishing project in the first place. The continuity between all the rooms completely transforms this little Tree House:

View From Kitchen | Before

View From Kitchen | Progress

Throughout the home, the character ‘flaws’ are what kills us (in the best way). From old plugged plumbing to the extra deep scratches to the perfectly-imperfect discoloration, we haven’t been able to stop smiling.

There are so many more updates to share (including all those master bedroom changes!) and just as much fun to come.

PS: If you decide to work with Dean at Hultman Flooring, please tell him that Scott and Kim say ‘hello!’ We couldn’t be happier to endorse Dean + his team wholeheartedly. 

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  • Stacy G. - December 21, 2017 - 6:31 AM

    It looks so good. What a transformation. We are doing our first floor next summer, and I feel equal parts of excitement and dread. I cannot wait until our hardwoods floors look as great as the ones in your Treehouse, but oh the work!

    I am enjoying following the Treehouse project very much.ReplyCancel

    • Stacy G. - December 21, 2017 - 6:33 AM

      Treehouse, Tree House, when will I learn to edit better? :DReplyCancel

      • Kim - December 21, 2017 - 9:29 AM

        Haha, Before we nicknamed Tree House, we went back and forth a thousand times on which way was the correct spelling – turns out, they both are. We chose two words because it’s a house surrounded by trees, as opposed to a house IN a tree. It makes sense in our minds, but we’re all right! :DReplyCancel

        • Stacy G. - December 22, 2017 - 6:05 AM

          Your choice to call it the Tree House vs. the Treehouse makes complete sense. :)ReplyCancel

  • Haley - December 21, 2017 - 6:41 AM

    This looks awesome! Amazing how different it looksReplyCancel

  • Vanessa - December 21, 2017 - 7:21 AM

    What a fantastic upgrade! It is really beautiful and worth so much more than what you paid, it will set the stage for everything you do to the place going forward. If it’s Douglas Fir, does that mean the wood was shipped form the Pacific NW back in the 1930’s? It’s kind of funny to ship a soft wood across the country to hard wood land. I guess that is an indication of the cost difference back then which I doubt exists anymore.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 21, 2017 - 9:32 AM

      That’s a great question, and it’s one I wish we would have thought to ask! Scott also reminded me that the flooring is more or less a subfloor throughout. The fir floors are attached directly to the joists, and the insulation is in our crawl space! Because it’s a soft wood, maybe it was just the cheapest option back then? There’s actually a difference in temperature if you’re standing in bare feet on the living room floor versus the recently added master bedroom floor.ReplyCancel

  • Rachel - December 21, 2017 - 7:58 AM

    OH MY GOSH IT’S BEAUTIFUL!!! Jaw-dropping is right… what a transformation! This makes me want to get our floors refinished even more than I already did… but it’s our regular house that we live in… and all that furniture… it would be A PROJECT, even with hiring professionals. I’m thinking of trying some of that floor rejuvenator stuff.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 21, 2017 - 9:33 AM

      I’ve been curious about that stuff! Let us know how it goes?ReplyCancel

      • Rachel - December 22, 2017 - 7:49 AM

        For sure!ReplyCancel

  • Lauren - December 21, 2017 - 8:20 AM

    What a dramatic transformation! It looks incredible. And I’m with you, the more character in my hardwoods, the better.ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - December 21, 2017 - 8:31 AM

    Wow, this looks beautiful! I actually love the bits of pink that peek through here and there in the douglas fir.ReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 21, 2017 - 9:33 AM

      Right?! We don’t mind it. We didn’t love that saturated red, but the soft pinks mixed with the yellows feels really pretty and sort of ‘old world.’ReplyCancel

  • Elizabeth - December 21, 2017 - 9:02 AM

    Wow! This is SO beautiful. I am loving following along with your Treehouse renovations.ReplyCancel

  • Liz - December 21, 2017 - 9:17 AM

    I’m so in agreement re: your appreciation of the character in old flooring! Those knicks and patches are like an homage to an old home’s previous lives. Our 1919 four square was previously owned by a hoarder and there are stains throughout which couldn’t be removed by sanding, but I love it. No way would we replace century-old quartersawn oak!ReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 21, 2017 - 9:34 AM

      Give us all the knicks and scratches! :DReplyCancel

  • Lori - December 21, 2017 - 9:27 AM

    That looks amazing! The continuity between rooms plus the lighter color really makes the space look huge and airy. So happy for you guys!

    Do you plan to leave the loft floor as-is, or will you be lightening that up too, sometime down the road?ReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 21, 2017 - 9:35 AM

      Oh, man. We debated asking Dean about those floors, but the truth is, they’re in such great shape. I don’t even think they’re Doug fir, and it looks like they were stained a dark walnut color. We wish they were lighter, but they’re even in tone and were too nice to mess with.ReplyCancel

  • aussiebushgirl - December 22, 2017 - 12:06 AM

    I’ve loved and admired this blog from the sidelines for a very long time. It’s your genuine love of preserving the old with the new that works for me. I admire the ‘quiet’ dignity of your blog, and the creative energy you bring to your homes. 2018 is going to be an amazing year for you, and I am looking forward to following you on your journey. Wishing you both a beautiful, healthy and happy Christmas! heather xReplyCancel

    • Kim - December 22, 2017 - 8:49 AM

      We can’t thank you enough for these kind words. Your encouragement does more for us than we can ever express! A warm, happy Christmas to you and your family! xxReplyCancel

      • aussiebushgirl - December 22, 2017 - 8:55 PM

        Thank you so much, Kim! xoReplyCancel

  • Julie P - December 23, 2017 - 12:23 PM

    Wow! Those new floors etc look SO darn expensive and BEAUTIFUL. Congrats!!!

    Question, what species is the huge plant you have styled in the master bedroom?ReplyCancel

  • Geraldine - December 24, 2017 - 4:24 AM

    Loving this article! I will refinish my own hardwood floors myself in the spring. This makes me eager to be at the end of this project and enjoy the result! =DReplyCancel

  • R. Pyper - December 31, 2017 - 5:14 PM

    I loved reading this post because this year we also “saved” our fir floors, including uncovering the original wood in the kitchen. It was worth every cent and second, and your floors and mine could be twins.

    For readers who are interested in DIYing this kind of project, we used Loba to finish the floors–matte finish, commercial grade, no stain, natural color, and smells like heaven. Pics are on my blog for those who want to see.ReplyCancel

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