Radiant Replication

Photos courtesy of Joe Avila, Huggins Wood Floors.

Replacing a severely water-damaged floor can be a challenge under ideal conditions, but when you combine a unique location, exacting client, humidity concerns, rare wood, and a complex pattern, the difficulty increases by magnitudes. Such was the case for Joe Avila, of Huggins Wood Floors in Westfield, New Jersey.

“We work in Manhattan and previously had done some re-sanding work for an extremely wealthy client who had an apartment located within Trump International Hotel that was exceptionally ornate,” says Avila.

“We received a call from the client’s caretaker, who explained the floors and subfloor were severely water damaged due to a leak in another apartment.”

Rather than attempt a repair on cupped wenge and padauk, the client was adamant about completely replacing the floor, using the repair as an opportunity to extend the floor’s pinwheel effect, made of rare yellowheart wood, into an adjoining bedroom.

“It’s a very unique pinwheel pattern that he was looking to exactly replicate, along with the original color scheme, which featured padauk, wenge, and yellowheart,” explains Avila. “The 500-square foot floor featured a very unique radius, so we used huge sheets of tracing paper to trace the floor, and then took the tracings back to the shop to make templates.”

With the pattern captured on paper, Avila’s next step was to procure wood that matched what he would be replacing.

“I had wenge and padauk in my shop to do this project, but unfortunately, it’s very difficult to get clear-grade yellowheart. It’s just not a commonly used wood, and when it is used, it’s normally only used for veneers. I needed to buy it all from one distributor so that it would be very uniform,” says Avila. “I called more than 50 wood brokers before I could find it.”

Replacing a severely water-damaged floor can be a challenge, but not for Joe Avila, of Huggins Wood Floors. The client was adamant about completely replacing the floor, using the repair as an opportunity to extend the floor’s pinwheel effect, made of rare yellowheart wood, into an adjoining bedroom.

With the wood procured, job prep became a pressing concern, due to the ornateness of the apartment and strict rules regarding construction within the building.

“Prep for the job was unlike anything we had done before and took one week. The walls were Venetian plaster and gold leaf, done by an Italian artist that the owner had flown in,” explains Avila. “We had to line the walls and trim with a special paper that sticks to the walls without tape. If we touched the wall, the gold leaf would tarnish, and we’d have to replace the entire wall. That would have been a disaster.”

An additional hurdle involved the removal of the damaged flooring. The building forbid the use of power tools, meaning that to remove the old floor, Avila and his team used a chisel to remove pieces individually.

“We had to replace the subfloor, but due to soundproofing requirements in the building, we had to bring in a special soundproofing system. We had to bring in a special subfloor that was a gravity system,” says Avila. “We got two sheets of 3/8” plywood, put them on top of each other, glued them together, and rolled them with a weighted roller so that they’d stick to the concrete. We then had to use extra glue for the edges.”

“We did the install in the middle of the fall and the relative humidity wasn’t very low, but by December, when we began to sand the floor, the relative humidity had dropped to 15 percent, requiring us to bring in humidifiers. Eventually the owner installed a permanent system,” explains Avila. “This is necessary because the forced hot air really dries out the air way below the recommended minimum of 30 percent, and when you’re dealing with exotics like wenge and padauk and yellowheart, they need consistent humidity.”

Avila’s focus on humidity carried over into the finishing phase of the project.

“We finished the floor with a Lägler Trio followed by hand sanding the entire floor to ensure there were no marks. Due to humidity issues, we then coated the floor with Woca oil, as natural oils tend to let the wood breathe more,” says Avila. “Getting the floor finished, and seeing the end result was very rewarding for us, and the apartment owner was thrilled with our attention to detail and our ability to replicate and add to a floor that he loved and considered a highlight of his living space.”

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