Your wood floors are looking tired, but the idea of refinishing them is just too daunting. Not to worry: There are a number of ways to bring dated, dull or damaged floors back to life – without the long and arduous process of sanding, restaining and resealing.
THE PROBLEM You like the color of your floors, but the finish is scratched and worn.
THE SOLUTION Screen and recoat.
Screening, also known as buffing, is a quick, relatively inexpensive method of shining wood floors, which involves lightly abrading the top coat of polyurethane, then applying a new coat of finish. This works best when the finish has been damaged, but the wood hasn’t. “It’s a fast way to revive a floor that is in decent condition,” said Oliver Keeley, the owner of Woodlawn Floor Supplies in the Bronx.
Screening and recoating a 700-square-foot living room floor, he said, typically takes a day and starts at about $1,000. (By contrast, refinishing a floor of the same size can cost double that amount and take two or three days for the same size area.)
One caveat: If your floor has been waxed, screening won’t work. In that case, your best bet is to hire a handyman to rewax and polish the floors using a buffing machine with a steel wool pad, which will cost about $300 or $400. A reputable floor refinisher will be able to determine your floor’s finish. Or, if you want to experiment, Mr. Keeley said, clean an inconspicuous spot, like behind a door, then apply a small amount of paint thinner or mineral spirits to a white rag and wipe the floor. If the rag turns yellow or brown, the finish is likely wax.
THE PROBLEM Your floors are too dinged up for waxing or a screen and recoat.
THE SOLUTION Paint.
“It’s a relatively quick and inexpensive way to completely change the room,” said William McLure, an artist and interior designer, who used paint to transform the living room and kitchen of his one-bedroom rental in a 1920s house in Birmingham, Ala. When he moved in a few years ago, he ripped up a dingy wall-to-wall carpet and found pine floors that had turned an unbecoming shade of orange. Without consulting his landlord, he decided to paint them white.
“I like to ask for forgiveness after the fact,” said Mr. McLure, who cut up the carpet into short rolls that he sneaked out to the garbage at 2 a.m., to avoid questions from neighbors. (His landlord, he said, still hasn’t noticed.)
After painting the living room floors with Decorator’s White from Benjamin Moore, he used painter’s tape to create a turquoise border around the perimeter. In the kitchen, to give the dated linoleum floors a new look, he skimmed the surface with a pole sander to ensure the paint would stick, then primed the floor and used a yardstick and painter’s tape to create thick blue-and-white stripes. Since then, he has redone the living room floor in alternating stripes of gray, black and white.
If you’re painting your floors for the first time, it’s best not to try anything too fancy. When converting her den into a playroom last year, Emily Cisz, a 32-year-old stay-at-home mother in Hilton, N.Y., decided to whitewash the dated parquet floors. Although she rented an orbital sander from Home Depot (for about $40) to remove the existing finish, the result still “turned out yellowish,” said Ms. Cisz, who chronicled the project on Elizabeth Joan Designs, a blog she started with her sister, Erin Cole, using their two middle names.
To fix the problem, Ms. Cisz sanded the floor again and, after wiping away the dust, applied a coat of primer followed by two coats of gray paint mixed from leftovers she had. Then she topped that with three coats of Minwax water-based polyurethane, to give it a durable finish. A year later, she said, the floor is “holding up great.”
Just remember that in order for the paint to stick, most floors will require some level of roughing up to remove any wax or sealant. And while solid hardwood floors can generally be sanded and refinished repeatedly, engineered floors (made of plywood layers with a hardwood top) can be sanded down only so many times. So consider the thickness of the wood before scuffing it up.
“I had a client several years ago who wanted to stain and finish his existing parquet flooring in order to save on the cost of installing new flooring,” said Logan Yost, an interior designer and consultant for Mirador Real Estate in Manhattan. “Against both my advice and the advice of the contractor, he refinished the floors. We hadn’t even finished our furniture deliveries when the floors started splintering and falling apart.” For that reason, he said, “I recommend either replacing parquet floors with a good quality hardwood or leaving them as is and doing what you can to make them work.”
THE PROBLEM Your floors are too thin to sand.
THE SOLUTION Decorate strategically.
Painting your walls a dark neutral, rather than a light color, can help tame those honey-colored parquet floors often found in 1960s and 1970s New York apartment buildings, Mr. Yost said. And large area rugs are not only a cost-effective way to hide your floors, he added, they can also help “soften and define a space.”
Alyssa Kapito, who founded the Manhattan interior design firm Kapito Muller with Vivian Muller, suggested using sisal: The tone of the material blends well with the color of most parquet floors, and it’s easy to layer a decorative rug on top. Then “throw in some accents to your scheme with a strong visual pop, like white lacquer furniture or shiny brass hardware,” she said, pointing out options like the curvilinear midcentury table lamp from West Elm ($119) or the odyssey white dining table from CB2 ($199). That will not only “grab your eye’s attention away from your floors,” she said, but it will also “make your space feel a little more contemporary.”
THE PROBLEM Your floors are just too ugly to bear another minute.
THE SOLUTION Install a floating floor.
“As long as the floor is level and down solid, you could just float another engineered wood floor over it,” said Rick Holden, the chief operating officer at Derr Flooring, a wood-floor distributor based in Willow Grove, Pa., and a former chairman of the National Wood Flooring Association.
Unlike traditional solid-wood strips, a floating floor isn’t nailed down. Instead, a foam layer goes down over the existing floor and the planks are snapped together on top. The average cost, including labor and materials, ranges from $5 a square foot for a laminate floor to $10 a square foot for engineered planks, said Mr. Keeley at Woodlawn Floor Supplies. But “you need a pretty level existing floor,” he said, “so you don’t get hollow spots and movement.”
And when it comes to maintenance, Mr. Keeley added, don’t overdo it. “Mopping every week is totally unnecessary,” he said, noting that most people oversaturate their floors, which can damage the finish. “If people vacuum and dust-mop their floors on a regular basis, the floors will last for numerous years.”