Refinishing a Parquet Floor
January 9, 2004 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Mrs MattR and myself have long wanted a hard wood floor to replace the carpet in our house...after some research and pricing, I decided to go for a light oak or beech coloured hardwood panel system - and discovered that an important aspect is the base.

On peeling back my carpet to check - I found a beautifully laid, but in bad condition Parquet very dark I'm torn, cover this up? Or use the floor which is the wrong colour?

Or is there a third way - someone tells me that parquet flooring can be bleached to different colours and reconditioned...anyone seen this done? Anyone had it done? Whats your experiences of parquet floors?
posted by mattr to Home & Garden (8 answers total)
i say go with the parquet. if it's old it should be decent quality - you can fix up loose blocks, sand it down, seal it, and have a beautiful floor that's much better quality than any panel system.

i wouldn't worry about the colour until it's been sanded down - removing the old varnish will lighten it quite a bit, probably. and frankly i wouldn't worry about the shade anyway. wood tends to look good any shade and different shades go together better than you'd expect (i think it's because we associate certain colours of wood with certain syles of furniture - for example, you tend to associate dark wood with traditional, heavy furniture and the associated style, but it can look excellent in a modern setting too, and you get the extra edge of being a bit different).

also, wood tends (again imho) to look better as it ages. you want it slightly less than perfect, or it looks like plastic (and you get a richer range of tones too). and i'm a firm believer in letting lucky chance guide you in unexpected directions - it's always worked for me :o)

answering your question more directly - yes, they can certainly be reconditioned (we're having ours done in a few weeks, once various walls have come down). don't know about bleaching though.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:43 AM on January 9, 2004

What Andrew Cooke said.

or, to be more helpful -- I'm wondering what you mean by the 'wrong' color? You just don't like it? It doesn't match the paint? A intact (or even mostly intact) Parquet floor is a great, amazing find that will add a great deal to the value of your home. Do a little research and find a skilled and reputable floor refinisher in your area (make sure he's done parquet before and not just straight-grained hardwoods -- its a different process) and have him come in and give the floor a complete review.

I've never heard of 'bleaching' a wooden floor of any kind, despite a lot of experience in renovating historic homes, but AC is right in that a good professional sanding and removal of the old varnish will lighten the floor color quite a bit. A well made parquet floor should have many variations in color between the multiple pieces of wood. I frankly wouldn't want to even try to 'bleach' a floor - the wood is the color it is, and was meant to be. To try to make it into something else will, essentially, destroy it. Plus, parquet is typically made from several different kinds of wood, and each wood will react to any kind of 'bleaching' process in its own way, so you might end up with something really ugly.

In short (although I know this isn't very helpful) think hard about why you think the floor is the 'wrong' color. It might just be a case of reimagining the room in terms you haven't thought of before. As I said above, you've found something that makes your home special, significant, and more valuable -- it would be a shame to rip it up or destroy it.
posted by anastasiav at 12:00 PM on January 9, 2004

Is bleaching the same as Pickling the wood. I have seen that, and thought it pretty. Not something I would want for myself tho.
posted by thirteen at 12:36 PM on January 9, 2004

We've already seen and AskMeFi thread about bleaching existing wood floors. I asked to see photos (being the reticent to give advice architect without seeing things first that I am) but both Andrew and Ms. Ana make very good points.

About wood though: white oak (maybe all oaks, memory is a bit fuzzy on that) do turn very dark when wet. Permanently dark. If there was a catastrophic flooding of that floor at some point in its life it will not come back to its original color and the only thorough way to lighten it would be to treat it with ammonia -- vapor to be exact -- a highly toxic and probably near impossible proposition for an already installed floor. Even then, the color would not be necessarily what you are looking for.

And therein lies the rub: color. When I was putting together color boards for clients I invariably would guide them to using as many natural colors as possible. Have you ever looked out the window and though "Good God man! The sky really clashes with the lawn today!". Yet, if you were to look at the sky and grass on a color board, you would be hesitant to choose those for your ceiling and carpeting. Okay maybe not and I really have no point.

Another option: paint/stain the wood an interesting shade. Even white. This may sound crazy but I have seen it executed with stunning results. The paint/stain will wear over time, giving a fine old-world beauty to your floor. (Some folks will immediately balk at painting hardwoods. I don't.)

The floor under my chair now is a surprisingly delightful stained plywood -- it was gray but a flood and the polyurethane on top has given it a strange and wonderful character.

My advice to any client is always to work with as much existing material as possible. Good for the soul.
posted by Dick Paris at 12:44 PM on January 9, 2004

As a not so reticent to give advice architect, go with the parquet.
We had a similar situation at an office I worked at. Ripped up the carpet, sanded the hell out of the floor, put a layer of polyurethane on top of it. Marvelous.
What do you mean by " in bad condition"? Are any of the tiles broken? Missing? If it's just cosmetic damage, after the sanding and polyurethane, it'll be part of the character of the floor. Trust me, after you finish sprucing it up, you won't believe you ever thought of covering it up.
posted by signal at 1:28 PM on January 9, 2004

Some folks will immediately balk at painting hardwoods. I don't.

I think it depends on the hardwood. Some hardwood fixtures - especially in Victorian era homes - were clearly meant to be painted and stay painted. Others made explicit use of interesting natural grains (or were fake grained) and were pretty clearly not meant to be covered up.

I wonder, though, how much of the 'parquet look' you'd lose from painting such a floor ... most good parquets I've seen derive their beauty from the variation in color and grain that are in the layout pattern. Painting those floors would be a little like hanging a quilt on your wall with the pattern toward the wall and the solid backing facing out.
posted by anastasiav at 1:36 PM on January 9, 2004

Ana, I was only trying to crack open the world of possibilities available if Mr and Mrs Mattr had serious objections to the existing color or indeed their was irreparable damage deep in the grain of the wood.

But you raise an interesting point about the use of the word "parquet". In France, the word is used to refer to any wood floor, whether it be laid in strips or the so-called "Versailles" pattern.

That brings to mind a question about this "Parquet"™ floor. Is it possibly one of those cheesy parquets laid down in the 50's-60's? By Mattr's first description I would say no, but... maybe I should start staying away from these threads and leave them to the less reticent Signal. :-)
posted by Dick Paris at 5:16 AM on January 10, 2004

Is bleaching the same as Pickling the wood.

That's a good link on pickling, 13, but its explanation is a little complex.

Pickling is especially popular with oak, and was very trendy in the States about 10 - 15 yrs ago. Just take some white enamel, thin it to a watery stain, and apply it just like stain (either ragging off the excess or leaving it as-is, depending on the effect you want.) Very easy to do, inexpensive, and you can practice on some cheap scrap wood. Your site is right, though, that you must make sure the wood is not varnished or poly'ed.

I think bleaching parquet is a different process...

Anyone else here ever fiddle with faux-finishes? I've been interested in the art applications. Might make a good AxMe thread, itself.
posted by Shane at 9:44 AM on January 11, 2004

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