Bringing It Back
Matte rather than shiny, mellow rather than bright, wood floors in Arts & Crafts-era homes often fade into the woodwork.
The period’s wood floors are mellow and low key.
Gustav stickley himself decreed that such avantgarde techniques as fuming with ammonia as well as strong grey-green or black stains were out of place on an Arts & Crafts floor. Floors, he said, should be conventionally finished —meaning multiple coats of oil-based varnish—until the surface was “entirely smooth and nonabsorbent.”
As for color, a medium tone somewhere between dark honey and light coffee was the preference during the first decades of the 20th century. Achieving the desired degree of smooth, mellow brown was a simple matter for a flooring professional back in the day, but it’s more challenging for modern do-it-yourselfers.
For starters, different woods take stain differently. While many Arts & Crafts floors in formal rooms like parlors and dining rooms are oak (a hardwood), others are fir or pine (softwoods). Softwoods take stain more readily but tend to have an uneven grain and in some cases will stain unevenly, resulting in patterns or blotches.
Hardwoods, especially those cut to reveal fine or dense grain, such as quarter-sawn oak, may need multiple coats of stain to reach the same depth of color that’s achieved with one or two coats on a softwood like Eastern fir.
For that reason, test a small, hidden area first. Not sure which stain will produce the color you want? Do a trial of different stains or stain combinations on sample boards that closely match the existing floor. (More on pp. 36–37.) a
a Prepare the flooring to accept the stain. If the floors are in rough condition, you may need to make two or even three passes with a sander, using progressively finer grit sandpaper, in order to end up with a smooth, stain-ready surface. Floors in good condition may need only a single scuffing with 220-grit sandpaper—just be sure you’ve removed any evidence of wax. a Clean the floor. Vacuum the floor thoroughly and wipe down just as thoroughly with tack cloths, changing them as they become coated with dust or debris. a Dampen the floor with a new wet mop, working from one side of the room to the other. Adding water to the wood raises the grain which makes it easier for the wood to absorb the stain, but don’t allow pools of water to form on the wood. Wring out the mop frequently.
If you are working with a softwood a like fir, or suspect the finish might be irregular, apply a pre-stain wood conditioner before staining. Sold under several brands, these conditioners reduce the likelihood of blotchiness. a Apply the stain liberally, using a sponge or rag, working with the grain. Again, work from one side of the floor to the other. For the most consistent look, try to apply the same amount of stain to each board. After applying, allow about 5 to 10 minutes resting time, then wipe off any excess stain so that the color penetrates evenly. a Allow the stained wood to dry fully—at least overnight. If it’s not fully dry before finishing, it can smear or smudge when disturbed. a Apply the top coat, which can be water- or oil-based polyurethane, tung oil, or a natural finish.
Floors more than a century old, like those in this Shingle Style cottage, tend to mellow over time to a desirable medium tone.