Household Drudgery

Although I’ve made a career of convincing others to spend a lot of money on nice floors, I have seldom had the luxury to do so on my own, and have thus developed a few alternatives, all of which involve, sadly, a whole lot of labor.  CHNN World Headquarters was built in 1950, with about the crappiest parquet I’d ever seen.  Unlike normal parquet, the pieces don’t lock together, they’re just individual wafers with beveled edges meant to be tossed hither and yon, at occasionally varying distances, from each other.  The tiles are even thinner than the cheesiest Home Depot stuff you could find today: think of a wood graham cracker, and they’re scored top and bottom almost the same way, so you can snap off pieces rather than cut at the walls.  Hence, the pattern can be abandoned here and there when you’re too lazy to get out the saw.

Of course there are more advantages than just price and ease of installation to such an ingeniously crummy product; when the concrete subfloors are poured sloppily, as they generally are, it’s handy that your flooring bends like a tortilla.  Unfortunately, it only bends one way, so sometimes they had to abandon the pattern in the middle of the floor to make the parquet roll better.

But yet, having lived here before back in the 80′s, I had hope for these floors.  I knew that they had been carpeted for 40 years, the building until very recently hadn’t allowed pets, and that they had an old-fashioned wax finish that could be refreshed from almost any condition.  When I decided to move here ten years ago, a unit on the 13th floor with a balcony was available, facing Mt. Hood, and I took it sight unseen.  Friends from Seattle were here the weekend I moved in, and when they thought of the giant, light-filled Victorian apartment I had left they felt sorry for me.  White walls, lumpy white carpet, fluorescent lights, eight foot ceilings.  But I knew I at least had floors, and I did know a bit about paint, lighting, and whatnot.

Aside from the white vinyl flooring in the entry hall, which I had to very gingerly strip, the floors were bad but salvageable.   Though splattered with a lot of paint and damaged here and there by carpet stripping, a week or so of cleaning and chipping in my spare time, and a few extra tiles from the maintenance people to replace the unfixable, and I had them ready to wax.

Back in the old days, all oak floors were stained, the great majority of them the kind of caramel/amber you see here.  It was just enough color to soften the heavy grain and color variation without making the floors too dark; oak was chosen for its hardness rather than its beauty, and was thought to need a little stage makeup, so this was the choice.  The color was once so ubiquitous that Trewax has made a paste wax called “Indian Sand,” that mimics it perfectly, and I’ve been using it for twenty years.  With a little steel wool in the most damaged areas, and perhaps a second application, it can recolor, moisten, and make even the shabbiest floor convey at least a sort of genteel poverty, a look to which I always aspire.

Of course, the pesky part of all this is that although the floor might last without refinishing, forever, part of the deal is that once a year, somebody has to crawl around and rub each square with noxious-smelling, greasy paste, and then buff for hours.  Last year I hired it out.  This year, like the 99%, I did it myself.  Long live #OWS.


  1. Annice says:

    It was worth doing! They look beautiful 99%!!!
    I am jealous, I have the crummy carpet and fake wood!

  2. Pedinska says:

    You must have been getting vibes from the midwest. A few weeks ago my husband, in a fit of something-or-other, finally began to tear up the carpeting that has covered our hardwood floors for more than 20 years. The carpet’s only about half gone – because, like so many of the rest of the 99% we are now working 60+ hours per week – and it will likely take a whole lot longer to get the rest ripped up, and do everything else that needs done to make it nice, but we now know for sure that there are lovely hardwood floors under those dust-accumulators, and that’s nice.

    Here’s to hoping that we can make it as beautiful as what you have, even if it takes until out third year of retirement to get it done. ;-}

    • cocktailhag says:

      Aw, it won’t be that bad. And it is kind of like getting something for free, which isn’t usually part of the 99% experience. My floors look better every year, but that could just be the eyesight fading. You could call me a cock-eyed optimist, with some very sore joints to boot, and you’d be right.

  3. consuela says:

    Hopefully you were able to do a wash, dry and fold putting pants in the pantalones drawer, shirts in the camisetas drawer and… all at the same time. Perhaps even with a feather duster sticking out of your back pocket.
    Ah, those were the days.
    But wait a minute, did you ever bother to fix that friggin’ dining room chair?

    • cocktailhag says:

      Of course not. Speaking of the old days, I ran into BJ’s/$5 at Home Depot the other day. He’s turned into a geezer; I think I’d have to charge $10.

  4. Amanda Whittier says:

    So shiny! Your knees must be killing you. I trust you had a hanky at the ready, either to wipe the sweat off your delicate brow or to summon a kind stranger who might be passing by.