Tasked to restore a damaged 140-year-old white oak parquet floor, Brendan Gillespie, owner of Gillespie Hardwood Floors in Northern New Jersey, made a discovery on-site that made the process much smoother than he had anticipated.
“This customer reached out to us via social media. He saw the type of work we were doing and messaged us via Instagram about a project he wanted us to help with,” says Gillespie. “It’s a big brownstone in uptown Manhattan with 4,000 square feet, and it was a complete gut renovation job where the general contractor was also the homeowner.”
The first time Gillespie did a walkthrough of the home, he saw that most of the floors in the residence were completely unsalvageable, minus a master bedroom that featured a beautiful parquet floor that he determined to be 140 years old.
“Any time I see an older floor, it’s something that jumps to the front of the line as far as projects that I absolutely want to do,” explains Gillespie. “If you look at the tight growth rings and the rift-and-quartered grain pattern in each piece on this floor, it’s astounding, and I just knew it would be such a special thrill to try to bring it back to life.”
Gillespie saw that the floor was in bad shape from water damage, but he recognized that there definitely was enough wood for another re-sand. A bigger challenge was going to be repairing damage to the floor’s intricate border.
“I was concerned about how I would be able to replicate that border, but one of the first things I do on any restoration is I go into any closet I can find and see what wood is salvageable for any type of repairs,” explains Gillespie. “I was very fortunate to find some of the intricate border installed in a closet. I used all of the border I found in the closet to do any repairs that were necessary. It was a stroke of luck and it worked out perfectly.”
Gillespie and his team were able to take out a section of the border that was damaged and replace it with border he discovered in the closet. This made his job substantially easier, versus trying to source new material elsewhere.
“For the rest of the home where the floor was not salvageable, we put in 5” white oak,” says Gillespie. “Even though we married new floors with the old floor, everything is still very cohesive.”
For the sanding process, Gillespie used a Lägler Hummel belt sander with 60-grit for his first run due to the thickness of the flooring and how delicate it was because of its age. After he ran it with the 60-grit at medium tension, he evaluated the progress the sander had made and then sanded it a second time to ensure he had gotten all of the old finish off. He then worked to add a bit of strength to the floor using a wood flour cement.
“On 5/16” top-nail floors like this that do not present a lot of thickness, I like to use Glitsa Wood Flour Cement. I take the sawdust from the sanding process and mix it and then trowel fill the whole floor with it, so it gets in every nook and cranny. When it gets hard, the fibers of the sawdust react with the cement and it makes the floor a lot stronger,” explains Gillespie. “Once that dries, we hit the floor with 100-grit on the big machine, followed up with an American Sanders Epoch HD planetary sander. Our grit sequence with the Epoch goes from Red Heat 80 all the way up to 120 Blue Mesh.”
Finally, Gillespie stained the floor a dark walnut color, applied universal sealer, and then three coats of DuraSeal satin.
“It’s one of my favorite restorations and I am very happy with how it came out. The customer was in awe that we were able to bring it back to life,” says Gillespie. “Treat every challenging floor as an opportunity to learn and don’t get discouraged. Keep in mind your end goal, and use all of the education you have to get there. If you run into a challenge reach out to your peers on social media and seek assistance from the NWFA.”