Refinishing Hardwood Floors

refinishing hardwood floors for beginners

Did you see Tuesday’s post with our fall bucket list? I can’t wait to start crossing items off that list! Fall might just be my favorite season. Maybe.

Anyways, we are officially more than halfway through on our last big project before move in: refinishing the hardwood floors. I hope to compile a big “before” post to show you the condition that our house was in when we bought it soon, but for now I will say that the hardwood floors were hidden under cat pee soaked carpet – not kidding – and were so damaged that we had to replace approximately 1/3 of the hardwoods and even a good amount of the subfloor underneath.  It was quite a project and, let me tell you, not one we were anticipating! Fortunately, my husband found some brand new hardwoods on Craigslist for a steal and threaded the old hardwoods that were salvageable with the new. I am so thankful that we were able to save some of the original hardwoods and didn’t have to put down carpet. I’m pretty sure genuine hardwood will always be my favorite flooring material. As my dad says, “there’s nothing like the real stuff.”

After finishing all the painting and other major projects, we were finally able to start on the refinishing process last weekend. Now, my husband had never sanded flooring before, and of IMG_4115course we heard all the horror stories of ruined, wavy floors. He consulted with several people before attempting it himself, and he also opted not to rent the oversized drum sander.  First he sanded the steps with a hand sander (we just have two sets of 5 steps- it’s a bi-level) and then he rented an edger to sand around the room edges and hallway. Then he began the process of sanding the main flooring. And guess what? It wasn’t hard. Just incredibly labor-intensive. His verdict is that if you have any inclination to work with your hands at all, you can probably do it well. And in my opinion the floors look like a professional did them – smooth and even! Not to mention it saves us almost $8,000 by the time we stain…ridiculous.

hardwood floor refinishing
Raw floors after one rough sand
hardwood floors refinish
Raw floors after second rough sand









I got so excited when I walked in the house and saw the floors as pictured above. I can’t believe that after all that damage, they look so good (and that’s not the finished product). I am a true believer that before replacing floors, you need to SAND THEM OUT! anyways, they were almost in good enough shape to go natural, but there are two species of wood (red & white oak) and you can unfortunately pick out the new wood. So, we experimented with stains. We wanted something not too dark to show every speck of dust and pet hair,but not at all yellow-y/orange-y like the lighter stains tend to appear.  And let me tell you -the process of selecting a stain is much more fun than that of selecting a paint color! You can buy little jars of stain to test.


top half: miniwax provencial bottom half: miniwax honey









The image on the right (Miniwax provencial) is the current stain color we are LOVING. However, it is oil based and Solomon wanted to find a water-based stain so it won’t yellow or develop rings over time. We might try to match the stain exactly if possible! It doesn’t have a yellow cast, is the perfect balance between light & dark, and disguises the difference in woods so well. It gives me an instant cozy feeling and makes me think of reading under blankets with rain beating on the windows.

I can’t wait to reveal the final product. Oh, and Solomon just reminded me that we bought the new wood for $250. We combined it with the old wood that we could save and covered about 600 sq. feet. The only additional cost will be the sander rentals, stain, and sealer, all of which are minimal. So worth it. Don’t rip out your old hardwoods! 😉

Our Fixer Upper + Our Lives

2015-05-17 17.09.21
moving the header, mid-progress (we consulted with a carpenter)

First off

     I’m aware that I haven’t written about our house yet here, like- at all- aside from little mentions of the work & our life around it.  It’s in part because I’m personally more excited about the design aspects of the reno. & about the ways it’s been impacting us, lifestyle-wise and
relationally.  But it’s also, quite honestly, because we’ve been total overdocumenters & organizing the photos to prepare posts at this stage is overwhelming to me.  I’d rather wait until we move & I have the space to collect my thoughts on it all, not to mention the time.  I’ve decided that while it certainty will have its place here on the blog, the actual WORK part of it won’t be the main feature.

     Because let’s be real : we’re not experts.  We’re a husband and wife team who decided to take on the crazy project of buying and fixing a home to live in.  I’d LOVE to share about what motivated that decision and what it means to make a home. I’d even love to share about the level of grit and perfectionism it took to subway tile the shower ourselves & perhaps even where we bought that tile, but I don’t want to tell you HOW to do it.  Because the internet is already ripe with information and professionals who are better able to handle that than myself.  [Plus, frankly, it’s not all that interesting to read about. #sorrynotsorry].

     *So please, bear with me a little while longer on that subject & I promise I will come through in the near future.  Of course, there are some sneak peaks on my Instagram & Facebook page already!

anyways, some thoughts on the process for now…

     We’re in this complete in-between season of our lives & it’s starting to catch up with us.  I just chatted with a friend this morning who has been teaching in Ecuador.  She finally made the decision to return the US rather than teach or travel the following school year.  Her flight has been booked & she is READY emotionally & mentally, but has to finish her classes.  She said it’s taking everything in her not to pack.  That even seeing her home address is making her anxious to be there.

     I completely understand.  When we moved last, I felt that my home was being taken from me.  My husband & I had just settled in a cozy, 2-bedroom duplex.  The decor was finally how we wanted it to be, our boxes were all unpacked, & we were spending our evenings walking our dog in the neighborhood park.  I loved the place.  It was a total downsize from the 4-bedroom cape cod we had previously rented, but it fit our needs perfectly.  We had moved just following my college graduation, so it was a complete whirlwind, emotional summer that was finally winding down.

     Then I got sick.  And it turned out to be environmentally related (story for another post) and we had to move. Just like that.

     Fast forward to today.  We are temporarily living with my parents in a home that is not ours.  We are building our own home.  We are homeowners.  We bought a place with potential for some permanence. We are about to submit our second mortgage payment.  And we are not living there yet.

     The home is weeks away from being livable.  Until then, however, it feels like we’re working two jobs or even leading two split lives.  It will all be worth it.  I know that.  But this is the hard part of owning a fixer upper.  I don’t want to pretend that it’s all been easy.  It hasn’t.  It’s been incredibly hard work, demanding, draining, & patience-trying.  But it’s also something I would do all over again in a heartbeat.  It’s a dream actualized.  It’s OURS.

     This in-between season is making us a bit crazy.  But that’s exactly the thing.  It’s a season.  I don’t pretend to understand the unexpected string of circumstances that brought us here.  I hope that the next season of our lives will be a bit quieter and stable, but I don’t want to presume that it’s owed to us.  I don’t have control over it. But we rest in the promise that “the one who calls you is faithful.”

the god who called you is faithful

First Time Home Buyer Budget [How to Determine]

Being first time homebuyers, we had very little knowledge of the process and only a broad understanding of the home buying market in our area.  Fortunately, my mom has a background selling real estate and we were able to work with a reputable, highly experienced relator she had personally worked with in the past.

One of the very first things we did was determine our budget.  Our relator showed us homes that went up in price by 10k so we would get an idea of the pricing differences and what our budget would actually get us.  I highly recommended asking your relator to do this for you if he or she doesn’t suggest it.  It was so insightful and allowed us to understand that while we still wanted to keep our budget well below our means, a small price increase in the listing price might make little difference on our monthly payment and get us a nicer house. Additionally, our relator told us also that looking at homes 5-10k over our budget was totally acceptable as it gave room for negotiations (so long as we might be willing to let go of the house if need be).

Our initial budget was broad as we weren’t sure what condition the home we might purchase would be in.  That being said, while we could afford our max, we really didn’t want to spend that much.  The first for this reason was that our circumstances didn’t leave us more time to save for a sizable down payment [read: we didn’t want to be house poor due to PMI payments], and the second being that we simply didn’t feel that our first house needed to cost that much.  The rule of thumb is for your home payments to be 1/4 your monthly income. But ours will be even less than that.Now, I know that might not seem to make sense.  But with a major purchase like a home, you have to have a firm grip on what your values are as far as money goes.

Why wouldn’t we buy a nicer house if we could afford it/ could be approved for it?  Simply put: 

1. We wanted to reasonably pay it off in 10 or so years. We aren’t planning that this will be our forever house. Buying a lower priced house with low monthly payments allows us to pay it off at a reasonable rate and frees up cash for savings for the next house (we’d love to actually PAY cash for it!)

2. We wanted a fixer. My husband was fairly adamant about this. Not only would it allow us to afford a better house, but it would allow us to truly make it our own. We are both creative people who love projects and getting our hands dirty, so a fixer is a great fit for us. We needed leftover cash for renovations to make this happen. [more on how/why we decided to do this later!]

3. We wanted a house that fit our needs now & for the near future. As I said above, this won’t be our forever house, but the house we did buy will allow us to have several kids in it (if it so happens that way!).  BUT, it’s not way too big for our needs now. We will be able to maintain it easily.  Since it is a fixer, we can do nicer renovations for less because there is simply less square footage to price out.

4. We just didn’t need to spend more. Simply put. We will have more money in the long run to give charitably, take trips, reach saving goals, etc. Plus, our monthly payments are so low that if one of us loses our job, we can still easily make them.  As mentioned, this is where your values come into play. We would rather have the financial freedom to travel or live on one income if needed, but you may value a turn key, forever home more (&/or be confident in job security). That’s okay, it just depends on your preferences.

Ultimately, your home budget is a personal, sensitive decision.  The 4 criteria above reveal our values, but if you are planning to purchase a home it is worth putting together your own list before even looking.  If you start the home search and find that your cannot meet your top values, it may be worth renting for a little while longer.  I don’t regret the time we spend renting at all.  Though we lost the money we put into rent, it allowed us to be in a better financial position for when we did buy a house.  We saved money, learned what we liked/didn’t like, built credit for a better interest rate, and didn’t have to worry about home repairs during a busy season of our lives.

While these were our budget preferences, I will post our initial wish list and the revisions we made to it + how the house we ended up buying fit into the picture.

Our Fixer Upper


Coming Soon!

I can’t wait to share about the fixer upper we just purchased for our first home- a 70s bi-level nestled in a wooded lot. We will be doing all of the work ourselves, so I will feature:

-the homebuying process incl. our wish lists compared to what we purchased, our surprises, unexpected fees

-budget information

-thrifting/salvage finds

-stages of the fixing process (making the home livable and the work that progresses from there)

-bathroom & flooring redos + general house fixes

-style choices–we are aiming for a sort of mid century mod/eclectic/boho feel with timeless fixtures