Office & Den Renovation

When Pam and I bought our home in July of 2003, we quickly made plans to turn one of the bedrooms into an "Illini Room" and office.  We envisioned orange and blue walls, hardwood floors, and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.  In January of 2005, we finally got started.

Stage One: the Original Room

These pictures are from July 2003, just before we closed.  The furniture is the model home furniture used when the house was on the market.

The room was decorated with a movie poster motif.  Lots of "builder’s beige" and bland off-whites.  This is the south wall – on the right as you walk into the room.

Just a glimpse of the double-window that dominates the eastern wall of the room.

This is the northeast corner, and you can see the left edge of the window behind my beautiful bride, Pam.

This is the north wall, which is about 14′ wide.  The window is to the right.  Again, notice the vivid colors and vibrant personality of the room.

I hate the bi-fold doors on this closet, and in general. I’d like to replace them when we do the renovation, perhaps with double French doors.  The closet is on the west wall, adjacent to the room’s entrance.

Stage Two: Painting

Our goal is to have a comfortable workroom/office/den.  We’ve chosen to paint with orange and blue in honor of our Alma Mater, the University of Illinois.  However, O&B aren’t easy colors to pull off, so we wanted to soften them with a brushed, suede faux finish that greatly impressed us in our friends basement.  We headed to Lowe’s, picked out the colors we wanted (both Eddie Bauer branded, IIRC), grabbed the glaze and brushes and picked up some tips from the always-helpful staff.

Before getting started, we removed all the trim in the room.  Also, since we’re installing a new floor in Stage Three, we peeled up all the carpet in the room (leaving a little extra in the doorway) and the carpet pad and tack strips, leaving a bare sub-floor.  The carpet and pad are rolled up in the attic, in case we ever want to restore them (yuck!).

Here’s what it looked like:

Needless to say, the colors are very bright and vibrant.

Here’s a close-up.  The colors ended up being much too bright and vibrant, actually.  We were hoping that he faux finish would soften them a bit, but the glaze provided by Lowe’s, frankly, looked like shit.  So we talked more with our friends, and they recommended getting the faux finish paint pre-mixed at Sherwin-Williams.  Having never been there, we discovered that Sherwin-Williams is an amazing paint store.  They’re much more expensive than Lowe’s, and their selection of paints sometimes isn’t as good, but the quality of the stuff that they have is fantastic.  The paint we bought there was pre-mixed with the glaze and a sandy substance to give the walls a cool textured feel.  The people working there are really knowledgeable.  I can’t recommend Sherwin-Williams enough. 

We decided to put the new paint right over the old:

The Sherwin-Williams paint and faux finish called for a base coat with a special roller.  Let it dry.  Then go over the top with  a 2" or 3" brush, making Xs all over the place, in a random pattern.  The picture above is the northeast corner, with just the base coat (over the original superbright blue) on the north wall and the Xs done on the orange wall (east).

This is the entrance to the room, looking southwest, with the completed faux finish on both the orange and blue sections.  We’re very happy with it.

After the paint had dried, we cleared out the painting supplies and started moving in the hardwood and tools for the flooring portion.  Here you can see some of the flooring just laid out on the sub-floor, as well as the larger-than-normal ass of our always-cranky cat Fonzi.

One other note:  with the sub-floor exposed, I took the opportunity to install a new outlet box in the middle of the north wall (behind the sawhorse above).  This is going to be our incoming cable line (for internet), as well as an Ethernet (RJ-45?) jack (so that I can place my wireless router in the living room, centered in the house) and two speaker jacks (so that we can pipe our stereo into here).

Stage Three: Flooring

Pam and I have always loved the look of real hardwood, but we’ve never done anything like install a floor (of any type) by ourselves.  So we asked around, talked with our good friend Todd Fisk (who used to be a flooring installer) and other familial "experts," and tried to put together our plan.  Our objectives:

  • Real hardwood – we don’t want none of that sissy laminate stuff
  • Light in color – the room is small (about 14′ x 16′), with just one window, and now has significantly darker paint.  We want light colored flooring so as to not "shrink" the room visually any more than we already have.
  • Diagonally – we want to run the wood diagonally, at a 45 degree angle to the walls, rather than perpendicular.  Our thinking is that since the entryway is in the southwest corner of the room, if we lay the flooring so that it runs southwest-to-northeast, it will visually "stretch" the room, again compensating for the darker colors.  Plus, it just sounded like a fun challenge.

We purchased Bruce Hardwood America’s Best Choice 400 Series Natural, costing about $4 per square foot.  It’s 3/4" x 2 1/4" solid hardwood, designed to be either nailed or stapled.

We looked around for nailers, investigated renting one, but decided against it mostly because we had no idea how long this project was going to take, and we didn’t wnant to have to hurry and cut corners.  We shopped around a bit, and decided to buy a Stanley-Bostich MIIIFS Pneumatic Flooring Stapler on Ebay, figuring that when our project (and our friends’ projects) are done, we can sell it on Ebay and get most of our money back. We got a refurbished model for about $300, and box of 7,500 staples at Home Depot was another $50.  I borrowed a Delta Mitre Saw from my buddy, and had to buy some other little stuff, like a coping saw, a nail set and some flooring spacers.  Here’s the saw, and my setup in the room:

You can see how cool the paint looks.  I set up the saw right in the room mostly because I’m fat and lazy and didn’t want to walk all the way out to the garage every time I needed to cut some wood.

Because we’re laying the floor diagonally, there are some interesting consequences.  The first is deciding where to start, as one would normally begin about 2′ away, parallel, to an outside wall (presumably the outside walls are straighter than an interior wall), lay the floor to the wall and then lay the floor across the rest of the room.  Laying diagonally, I didn’t want to start in the middle of the floor, for fear of my angles being incorrect and having to start over, wasting a bunch of wood.  So I started all the way in the southeast corner, face nailing (with pilot holes) the first two rows of wood:

Working from the corner out was very easy – everything went very smoothly.

The cat bed is my cushion for kneeling.  Like I said, I’m fat and lazy.

On the right is the Pneumatic Stapler, which is a fantastic tool.  It’s pre-set for 3/4" hardwood flooring, and the lip fits right over the edge of the board.  You give it a good whack with the mallet (seen leaning against the wall) and this thing perfectly sets and drives a 2" long staple into the plank.  Works like a charm, hasn’t jammed yet, and it will straighten warped boards as you go – the force of pounding with the mallet actually aligns the warped board perfectly just as the staple is being set.

One other interesting consequence of laying the floor diagonally is this sucker:

My heating register, as you can see, isn’t exactly diagonal, which means that I’m going to have to lay the floor around it.  Of course, I’m replacing the ugly white metal register cover.  Lowe’s, unfortunately, only carries hardwood floor registers that sit on top of the flooring, sticking up like a tumor over my perfectly laid, beautiful new floor.  That was unacceptable, so I talked to some flooring suppliers and even some builders to find a model that sits flush with the floor and is integrated into the layout.  Discovering that these are a special order item, I found them several places online and bought this one in white oak.  Not cheap, but just what I envisioned.  Anxious to continue laying the floor, I asked the fine people at Reggio Registers (where I bought the register) about installation and whether I should wait for the register to arrive before continuing.  No worries, they said, recommending leaving an opening in the floor just smaller than the register would be when it arrived, and using a router to custom-cut the hole to fit the register.  Here’s how that looked:

But alas, the mistakes I have made trying to accommodate this register!  First, when I laid the flooring above, for some reason, when I got all the way around it, the planks weren’t aligned, with about a 1/2" gap between the first continuous board and the previous plank on this side of the register.  So I ripped up some boards and laid it again, more carefully this time, and that solved the spacing problem. 

Second, a coping saw is damn near worthless if you don’t have any hand-eye coordination.  And since I’m so picky about how this floor looks, I decided that I don’t want any hand-cut edges showing because I think they look like crap, mostly because I can’t cut straight.  So I used my bench grinder to cut perfect corners in the boards where the register’s corners would be. 

Third, if you don’t have any hand-eye coordination, don’t expect to use a router to hand-adjust the hole in the floor for the register.  Despite repeated practice (and repeated practice swearing), I couldn’t get the router to go in a straight line, so my edges were all FUBARed.  And I couldn’t exactly nail a guide to the floor, either, because that would have ruined the flooring already laid.  I gave up on the router. 

So I ripped up more floor (about eight rows altogether) to lay the register so that I can lay the floor right up to it.

One note about ripping up this kind of flooring.  I’d been told to staple the floor every 12" or so, but I’d also been told that more frequent stapling can make the floor less likely to squeak or groan later.  Since the pneumatic stapler does a fantastic job and is so easy to use, and since there’s no way I’m ever going to use all 7,500 staples, I’ve been very promiscuous with my stapling – dropping them bad boys every 4" or so.  Well, ripping up this hardwood after it’s been power-stapled every four inches destroys – absolutely destroys – the wood.  So in making all these adjustments, I’ve wasted about 25 square feet of flooring, which broke into about 42,000 pieces. 

Back to the register:  it arrived promptly, just a few days after ordering, and it was unfinished (as expected).  We took it and a sample of the hardwood to our good friends at Sherwin-Williams, and they custom-tinted a stain to match our floor.  We stained it and polyurethaned it in preparation for installation:

And then I installed the frame into the floor:

Above is with the insert.  Here’s a close-up of the frame – notice the fantastic face-nailing job?

Also notice the lip on the hardwood flooring to the top right?  Yes, the second huge (HUGE!) mistake I made was nailing down the frame before having that next, notched piece of hardwood laid.  With the frame already nailed down, despite much swearing and grinding and adjusting and begging, I just couldn’t squeeze that piece into the space between the floor and the frame.  So I had to pull up the frame, bending it all out of square in the process.  Like I said, I was looking for a challenge anyway, right?

Meanwhile, while I’m slaving over this floor, my beautiful bride and cats are always very helpful:

I laid and stapled down the plank with the notch for the frame, then laid the frame into the notch, squaring it and nailing it all the way around.  I double-checked to make sure the insert fit before I finished driving the nails into the frame.  And then I laid the flooring all the way up to and around the register:

Pam’s shirt says, "Cancer sucks."  Here’s a close-up:

The tight, uniform fit is exactly what I was looking for when I gave up on the router.  And with the register completely surrounded by flooring:

With the insert above, and removed, below.

The next part contains further pictures of flooring, along with the carpet-to-flooring transition at the doorway, and Part Three covers the finished floor and adjustments made for the closet.

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