Ipé Inspiration

Photos courtesy of Brandon Gross | Coastwise Hardwood Flooring

Brandon Gross, the owner of Coastwise Hardwood Flooring in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, faced a unique and challenging task when he was called in to rescue a project that had taken an unexpected turn. Another flooring contractor had to step away from a massive 6,000-square-foot, three-story home overlooking Choctawhatchee Bay.

“Another flooring contractor who had done most of the installation had to step away due to a family situation,” explains Gross. “He was not going to be able to finish the project, so he asked me to meet him and the homeowner.”

“They asked me to take over, but I was very nervous about stepping into someone else’s project since I didn’t know what I would be getting into. I was in the middle of participating in the NWFA inspector school when I told them I didn’t think I wanted to take on the project,” says Gross.

The homeowner, a brilliant designer with a passion for detail, had been working on the house for several years, and meticulously planned every aspect of the house, including $200,000 worth of custom-milled 6 ¾” wide and ¾” thick Ipé wood floors.

“Ipé can be a tricky choice of wood to use when it isn’t properly acclimated to its environment. The challenge I had was dealing with gapping issues in the floor,” says Gross. “The previous contractor had started to fill the gaps in the floor using Ipé dust and a wood flour cement, but the result made the floor look very pinstriped.”

Should he choose to accept it, Gross’s task would be to remove and replace the filler and sand and refinish the Ipé.

“Frankly, the homeowner’s vision sold me. She had thought about every detail and wanted to see it through to completion,” says Gross. “The home should be in architectural magazines. It was amazing to see how she made this house a reality, and I was excited to be able to work for a client like that.”

The homeowner allowed Gross to indemnify himself completely from any issues that might come up from the previous craftsman’s work. With that concern out of the way, he painstakingly began removing the filler between each piece of gapped flooring. He then tackled the task of meticulously refilling the exposed gaps to better match the Ipé.

“I had to customize a filler using Pallmann’s filler that had fiberglass reinforcement in it. It’s typically something you’d mix with the sawdust. The problem I ran into (which is the same issue the other contractor had) is that Ipé sawdust is very yellow; it doesn’t match the general color of the wood. This led to me having to use various pigments to color it correctly,” says Gross. “Later on, I moved to walnut sawdust that I got from another job. Using that as a base made matching easier.”

With the gaps filled, Gross could begin sanding. The original plan involved sanding down to 120 grit on a multi-head sander with Bona 120-diamond discs on a Pallmann Spider, followed by a natural oil finish. However, the home’s distinctive features, such as Ipé ceilings and staircases, presented additional challenges.

“The house also features floating Ipé staircases that were installed before my arrival. I also had to finish the bottom of these staircases, which required scaffolding to sand all the undersides of the stairs and landings to match the floors and make everything uniform.”

Although most of the job was completed months ago, ongoing work in the house resulted in some unforeseen floor damage, causing Gross to have to return.

“Contractors who came in and did countertops and other projects damaged the floor. While we had covered the finished floor, the protection was removed, and uncovered areas were damaged, and even changed color due to sunlight,” explains Gross. “She had me return to completely resand and re-oil from top to bottom.”

Gross attributes his ability to navigate the complexities of this project to his education and training he received through NWFA classes and the inspector school. Understanding the material, environmental conditions, and mitigation techniques allowed him to turn what could have been a disaster into a testament to his expertise and commitment to quality.

“Had I not gone through the NWFA classes and the inspector school and truly understood what I was dealing with regarding the material, environmental conditions, and how to mitigate issues, this could have been an absolute disaster,” says Gross. “Not having that kind of education risks hurting my reputation and company. To me, a project like this reaffirms the value of continuous learning and the confidence to tackle a project of this caliber.”

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