Q: My husband and I have just read on the Web your response to a question about how to finish fir floors in houses built in the 1920s. We have a 1926 Georgian house and have just removed the finish from the oak stair treads and fir landings. Both stairs and landings had been covered with broadloom when we bought the house, apparently installed in the 1970s. Our intention was to put a runner up the stairs and on the landings.
You noted that although fir can be beautiful when finished, it is very soft. For that reason, we are questioning our decision to use a runner on both the stairs and landings. It seems that our only option is to have a runner on the stairs and wall-to-wall broadloom on the landings.
Do you agree? How does one expose the beauty of the fir yet protect it from damage from walking and moving furniture?
A: If the answer in our previous column led you to believe that vertical-grain Douglas fir is too soft for flooring, we apologize.
Let’s set the record straight. Although Douglas fir is a conifer and categorized as a soft wood, 80-year-old Douglas fir is anything but soft. We can attest that we have bent many a finish nail in an attempt to install reclaimed fir door casings and baseboard.
The reason builders in the first quarter of the past century used fir for flooring is simple: it was comparatively cheap and widely available. Remember that in the 1920s, plywood did not exist, forests and old-growth trees were plentiful and local, and regional mills provided builders with lumber. This is a far cry from the mega-forest products companies of today that provide engineered lumber for the modern housing industry.
Your Georgian staircase sounds charming. We would hate to see you cover it up with carpet. Finely finished wood with a carpet runner is both elegant and utilitarian. In our minds, it’s the best of both worlds.
Runners are designed to take the brunt of the foot traffic on a stair, landing or hallway. On stairs, runners usually cover all but about 6-to-12 inches on each side of the tread. Wood borders on a landing should mirror this reveal.
Because people tend to walk toward the center of the staircase, the landing won’t get a lot of wear and tear. As far as furniture goes, we can’t imagine much furniture on a landing. Rubber or felt casters are readily available and should be installed on the legs of a table or chair to protect the floor’s finish.
The current condition of the landings is not surprising. If, as you say, the broadloom was installed in the ’70s, there’s a good chance that it was done to cover the wear and tear of the previous 50 years.
The fir on the landing can be sanded and filled. It won’t look the way it did the day it was installed in 1926, but the defects that remain are part of the character of an old house.
So we say, go with your first instinct. Forget the wall-to-wall carpet and go with the runner. We think you’ll be glad you did.
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