Upstairs Renovation Reveal Part 1: Refinishing The Floors for Teddy’s Big-Boy Room

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This post is made possible by a partnership with Sutherlands.

toddler room with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

“It’s just a little paint,” I said. “And some poly on the floor.”

“It will only take few weeks,” I said.

Those were just some of the things I told my husband IN JANUARY to convince him that we absolutely needed to do the cosmetic renovations to the second floor of our 103-year-old Arts & Crafts bungalow that would allow us to fully move into the home we’d owned for nearly six years. We were long overdue; there were three bedrooms and a half bath just sitting (and storing some junk, of course) while we, our toddler, our two rowdy rescue mutts, and my roving home “office” were crammed into two tiny bedrooms on the main floor.

And you know what? If I wouldn’t have discovered — by momentum-killing accident reminiscent of that scene in Black Swan where Natalie Portman starts to pick at a hangnail then ends up pulling all the skin off her arm — that most of the walls up there were basically made of decades of paint atop wallpaper (layered over plaster, because of course) then I really would have finished in a couple of weeks. With just a little paint. And some poly on the floor.

But today we’re not talking about paint; I’m not emotionally ready, and to be honest, I haven’t finished painting yet. No, today, we’re here to talk about refinishing the floors — the part I thought would be the scariest and most time consuming, but was actually the quickest and easiest (given the wallpaper situation).

I have to admit this ease was due in large part to Shawn, who did the sanding for me, as well as my new favorite product, Varathane’s idiot-proof water-based floor finish.

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

Where We Started

The floors weren’t in terrible shape to begin with, but of all the things that needed work up there, they needed the most. I didn’t feel safe walking on them in bare feet, so I sure as shit wasn’t going to let my toddler play on them.

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed
(Yes, the roof was leaking, too. That’s since been fixed.)

When we bought the house, the second floor was carpeted. But even behind a closed door (there’s a door in the dining room that conceals the stairway to our second floor), the smell of that old, cheap wall-to-wall carpeting was giving me headaches, so I had it ripped out. Plus, I knew there was hardwood underneath and I wanted to see what it looked like. It turned out to be scratched, dented, and covered in staples and paint splatters, but even with some weird patching and holes and bumps, I knew it wasn’t beyond repair. It just wasn’t a repair we were ready to make at the time, so our upstairs sat mostly unused for years.

For a time, this room was where all my vintage chairs that Kyle hated went to die.

As Teddy got bigger, we found we were quickly outgrowing the first floor of our house, so I reached out to my neighborhood hardware store, Sutherlands, to ask if they’d be interested in partnering on a little cosmetic renovation. To my surprise, they said “yes,” and I was ready to get to work. And also to put some other people to work because I’m a busy woman.

The Plan

Before we even started, I knew I wanted to just seal (versus stain and seal) whatever wood we’d uncover with the sander. I came to this decision mostly because I’m lazy and impatient and was working with a budget, but also because it was 100-year-old hardwood and I figured there was no way it could be ugly. I knew that even just sanding and sealing the floors would completely transform the space, and I was right.

Here’s a closeup of the southeast corner of Teddy’s room before we started sanding.

Here it is after one coat of poly.

And here’s the same corner after we finished the work in his room.

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

The Product

If left to my own devices, I can’t even tell you what floor finish I would have purchased. Whatever was cheaper? (Floor finish is not cheap.) Something oil-based because it’s supposed to be more durable? Whatever came in the biggest bucket? Whatever had the coolest label?

Luckily, we’ll never have to know because I had the experts at Sutherlands to guide me. “This is what you want,” more than one person assured me while helping me load multiple cans of Verathane’s fast-drying, water-based floor finish into my cart.

Maybe it was obvious I had no clue what I was doing. Or maybe they could tell that I’m the kind of person who has never fully followed the directions on a can of anything in my entire life. Or maybe it was all the rollers I already had in my cart. (The instructions on the back of the can clearly state: “To prevent bubbles in the finish, DO NOT SHAKE, do not over-brush or apply with a roller.”)

Whatever it was, I’m glad I listened to them because I’ll never use another floor finish. This stuff is magic.

The Process

After a day of ripping out the quarter round on the entire second floor (which uncovered a dead snake — a discovery I narrated with all the appropriate expletives in my IG stories), and pulling up staples and tacks, it was time to sand. I’d tell you more about that, except I gave Shawn the honor of that job. But it looked pretty easy, if super dusty. And if I had to do it myself, I’m sure I could have (though I’m glad I didn’t have t0).

Since Shawn is a busy man, I told him I could handle applying the polyurethane myself, even though I was secretly scared to. After all the horror stories I’d heard, and warnings I’d been given (most notably, “Do not apply the poly with a roller!”), I knew there was a good chance of me screwing it up.

So did I finally slow down and follow the directions exactly? No, of course not. Who do you think I am? Still, sealing the floor turned out to be a shockingly easy, and even somewhat satisfying, process. And YES I used a roller. I attached it to a broom handle and rolled every two hours (as per the directions on the can, thank you very much) until it seemed like I didn’t need to roll anymore. And then I rolled some more in a few spots, just for good measure.

I’m pretty sure I over-brushed, er over-rolled, a few times, too. And you know what? I just sanded out those spots and they’re so damn smooth my son sometimes slips on the floors. See? I told you. This stuff is idiot-proof.

AND IT’S FINE. EVERYTHING IS FINE.

In fact, it’s better than fine. I think it looks fabulous.

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed
Teddy insisted on applying some of those stars himself, hence the not-so-perfect placement.

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

toddler room renovation reveal with wood floors, wool rug, and yellow metal bed

When I — EVENTUALLY — finish painting the hallway, the other two bedrooms, and the half bath, I’ll be back with another post all about paint, paint colors, and product sourcing. So stay tuned!

Like what you see? Follow me on Instagram!

Sutherlands provided me with a supplies budget in exchange for a blog post, photos, and social media posts related to this renovation. All words and opinions are my own.

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2 Responses

  1. Amy Wu
    | Reply

    Emily, you are so talented! Can you take your show on the road? Love you!

    • Emily
      | Reply

      That would be the dream! I’ve come a long way from Ribsy, huh?

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