Creative staining gives new life to floors

July 18, 2005|by ROSE BENNETT GILBERT /Copley News Service

Q: The wood floor in our entry hall has seen better days. The house is old (built mid-19th century). When we brought in a floor refinisher, he said we should simply paint the floor. He said the wood might not take another sanding so it could be refinished. I really love the look of wood. Is there anything we could do besides painting?

A: Most floors made of hardwood (which comes from leaf-bearing trees like oaks and maples) can be sanded and refinished a number of times before the wood itself becomes too thin. Sounds like your floors may be pine or another "soft" wood (from needle-bearing trees that grow faster than hardwood, so the structure of the wood itself is less dense). Apparently, in their century or so of use, your floors have been sanded and refinished often enough to become a bit too fragile for another go-round.

Painting is one option, but not the only one. The entry hall we show here has been given a new lease on its decorative life through creative staining. The checkerboard pattern camouflages most surface flaws and still lets the wood grain show through. This hallway was sanded before the design was applied, but if your floors are already stained a mid-tone or lighter, you should be able to borrow the idea without resanding and restaining. This pattern is worked in three tones of Minwax stains. The base color is applied first, then the checkerboard is masked off and the darker stain applied. Finally, the third, darkest stain is run like a border around the room.


A coat or three of urethane will bring up the shine and protect the design. (Get all the details at; look under "Wood Beautiful" magazine).

Q: You once showed a living room where the walls and floor were a shiny black and all the furniture was white. I loved that look, but my husband says it would make him gloomy. Is there any way to compromise? Suppose I paint the woodwork cream or something?

A: The very reason you remember that room is that it crackled! Black and white are polar opposites. Therefore, they offer the ultimate in visual contrast. It doesn't get any sharper than that!

Without even seeing you in person, I'll bet money that you have dark hair and eyes, and light skin-tones, the personal coloring that would make you a "winter," if you remember the "seasonal color theory" that was so popular a few years back. The strong contrasts in your own skin tones makes you look your best in deep colors and sharp contrasts because your coloring - hence, your psyche - can take the competition. Your husband, on the other hand, probably has softer coloring with more subtle contrast between his skin and hair, which makes him feel more comfortable in a less visually dazzling habitat. (Have a Google at one of the several "seasonal" theories that have been floating around for decades, for example, "Color Me Beautiful," or "Color Me a Season.")

Back to your home's color scheme: to ease your husband's discomfort, you could back off the brilliant contrast of black and white, and choose colors with a more sotto voce contrast, say, charcoal and white or cream. Or, you might consider painting just one living room wall shiny black and the others a gloss white. If you soften the floor by using a white rug or very light-stained floor, he might be able to make himself at home there.

My best advice is to work up a color scheme and let him preview your plan. A number of paint companies offer computer programs that let you do exactly that. Repainting the walls is easier with a key-stroke than a paintbrush.

Rose Bennett Gilbert is the co-author of "Hampton Style" and associate editor of Country Decorating Ideas. Please send your questions to her at Copley News Service, P.O. Box 120190, San Diego, CA 92112-0190, or online at

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