One of the things we knew before we ever moved in was that we had some work to do in the kitchen – new appliances, wallpaper, flooring, etc. We did start with some awesome things though: a good layout, a fabulous banquette and really nice Wood-Mode cabinets with every accessory you could want built in topped with nice Corian counters.
Over the years my Grandparents had put a few different floors down. The one at the time we moved in was linoleum, about 8-10 years old. I remember when it was being chosen, though I didn’t have a lot to do with it. I wanted to replace the kitchen floor as quickly as possible since we had a number of other projects depending on that being done (or were easier if it was done.) So off I went, to figure out how to get a floor that will look good, be durable, and be harmonious with the rest of the house.
Here are some before shots with the linoleum and room as it looked when we moved in:
As it turned out after this linoleum was installed, it clashed with everything else. It was a square pattern in a beige tone. Grandma was ok with it, but I couldn’t wait to get it out. Not only did it clash but because it had an underlayment, the floor height stepped up 1/3 of an inch higher than the foyer and dining room floors where they met. Over the years some details had been overlooked as well: for example in the pictures, you can see beige colored base coving – the original color (and one that looked best) was chocolate brown.
I was cautious heading into this because I didn’t know what I would be finding underneath. A few months after moving in I finally got ambitious one night and began pulling up sections of the linoleum to have a look at the luan underneath. As with most projects, there were some unexpected finds. Like, when they put down the luan underlayment, your flooring installers run ragged over your entire floor with a pneumatic staple gun.
Pulling the linoleum wasn’t that hard. Pull a section, cut into pieces, put at the curb for refuse. Now we’re left with the rough luan surface – not ideal but we can walk on it for a week or so and hope we don’t get any splinters. Next up: I pulled up the luan. Also not hard, except that as I get underneath, I realize that the 926 staples that they used to put each sheet down on the floor don’t pop up with the underlayment. So now I have 926 staples poking up through the floor – not cool. On to staple pulling duty I went, using a pair of vise grips and sitting on the floor for an evening pulling every. single. staple.
Turns out the original flooring was never removed, it was simply covered over. Unfortunately because of the hundreds of staples put through it, this floor is not salvageable. It is an 8 inch VCT tile. It is possible it is asbestos tile. But, I do discover that the original floor was designed to be level with the foyer and dining floors. Excellent, Smithers. Here’s the original tile floor:
Let’s talk about asbestos tile for a second since I’m sure I’ll get some comments. For those scared of asbestos – it is dangerous in certain forms, yes. I don’t know if this tile had it or not. It’s difficult to tell by looking at it, though some types of tile (like our downstairs tile) is much more obvious than others. There is a thing about asbestos tile: asbestos is dangerous if it is “friable” and can be made airborne. The small amount of fibers that are in the matrix of your tile is not going to be freed from said matrix short of you taking a belt sander to your tile. Chipping it up, even in pieces, is not a huge deal. You should follow some basic precautions per the EPA: dampen the floor (minimizes dust) and wear a dust mask. It is other types of asbestos (especially pipes wrapped with the stuff) that are extremely dangerous unless you take precautions. My disclaimer: I am only describing my experience and my research. You should always consult with a professional if you have doubts or do your own research.
Back to our story: Staple pulling duty was no fun. But the linoleum floor that I removed was not the first one put down – a fact I knew, but hadn’t thought much about. My grandparents put a linoleum floor down when they renovated the kitchen in 1986 as well. When that floor was removed in the early 2000s and there were hundreds of staples sticking up then…what do you think was done? They hammed those staples flat into the tile! Yay! So now when I went to chip up the tile, I had to remove the tile in chunks AND work around hundreds more staples. Then I had to go back (again) and pull all those staples too. Best investment of this project? A large pair of vise grips.
At this point I had everything down to the subfloor. The original tile ran underneath the cabinets, so I just removed the tile up to the cabinet edges. Now it was time to begin searching and decision making for a new floor. What do we want? It had to be mid-century compatible, for starters. We started with linoleum since it seemed the go-to. But I had a vision for the floor that, if it was linoleum (or any sheet flooring), I would want a non-patterned monolithic look. We came up no dice there in spite of a few weeks of effort. I also kept poking around on vinyl tile flooring since it was the most compatible – our foyer floor has beautiful 8 inch vinyl tile. But I wanted something a little more snappy than Armstrong Excelon 12×12 tile, which is easily the standard go-to tile for mid-century remodeling. This is Excelon, a tile you know well because it, quite literally, is everywhere in commercial buildings:
I eventually came across two new tile series from Armstrong: Raffia and Striations. Both are awesome. Raffia is a traditional vinyl composite tile but made in a 12×24 rectangular length instead of square, and the pattern on the tile is similar to Exelon, but has more continuous lines instead of flecks. I picked up a sample board from a really great local vendor, Warehouse Carpet in Johnson City, and had a look. They also ordered a sample box (there are no sample boards, to reduce wast (supposedly)) of the Striations tile. Here are Raffia (top) and Striations (bottom):
Raffia looked good. But once I got my hands on the Striations sample, Mary and I were both sold. It was spectacular. Armstrong Striations tile is a commercial tile (like Raffia), but in a new formula they call “Bio-Based Tile” – it is 80% limestone and is “rapidly renewable.” It’s heavy, too. But it installs just like VCT tile. This tile comes in 12 x 24 rectangular size, like the Raffia, but it has these very unique grain lines running the length of the tile. There are a lot of great colors to choose from; we ultimately decided to go for a darker grey with a touch of brown called “stardust.” I ordered them up and a few weeks later they came in and I began experimenting with sample layouts:
Looking at the rest of the house, I already knew that we wanted the grain lines to go the same direction as the lines in the wood flooring. If you look at the overall foyer area from the balcony, you will notice that all flooring except the foyer floor has grain going in one direction. The foyer, being the central area of the house, has its flooring on a 45 degree bias. A nice touch that sets it apart from the rest of the flooring.
With that, I prepared everything for tile installation. Because I had an old plywood subfloor, there were joints that needed to be patched up. That was taken care of with some thinset compound, spread in a very thin (1/16 of an inch mostly) layer across the floor, paying particular attention to the joints. Once this dried I got out the adhesive and troweled it down. Cool thing about VCT adhesive? You can lay tile on it for about 8 hours after putting it on the floor. So you spread your entire floor with adhesive, then lay your first tile near the door and work your way in – as soon as you lay a tile you can stand on it. The adhesive takes weeks to cure, and always retains some stickiness. Here are the some tile installation progress shots:
Once you lay out your full size pieces you go back and do the pieces that require cuts. It’s easy: You measure off what you want, score the line with a utility knife, then bend the tile. It will snap on the score mark. For corners and such you need to heat the tile with a blow dryer or heat gun and you can tear the piece along the score mark.
Lastly, I had to focus on the details such as base coving. I chose a standard chocolate brown for two reasons: first, it’s what was there originally. Second it was a much better match. The dark brown cabinets, when paired with the previous light beige coving, appeared to “float” visually. New dark base coving took care of that. In addition, the coving between the foyer (same stuff) and the kitchen lined up – something that hadn’t happened in 25 years.
We had a lot of other things to take care of in here. Some were already done by the time I did the floor. The list includes:
- Replace the pendant light above the table (we really liked the Astron line from Rejuvenation.)
- Reupholster the bench (already done – we chose Rialto from CF Stinson.)
- New appliances (done)
- Alter Wood-Mode cabinetry over peninsula to raise it up and put in range-hood microwave
- Remove the wallpaper and paint the room the same color as the rest of that level of the house (neutral taupe)
- Add new under-cabinet lighting
- New pulls and hardware
To see the whole thing start to finish, here is the entire gallery: