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The Older Home: Restoring decorative trim on hardwood flooring

SATURDAY AUGUST 18, 2012, 12:00 PM

Through the years, your decorative hardwood floors may have taken a beating from sliding furniture, rambunctious children or unhousebroken pets. The scratches and stains left behind can detract from the majestic, wooden artistry crafted perhaps more than a century ago.

Local hardwood professionals who repair and refinish floors say homeowners who are fortunate enough to have parquet or inlay trim can have the wood and design elements restored to their original glory - even if, at the moment, very little of those decorative features remain.

Hand-laid by Artists

Decorative hardwood flooring began to appear in American households in the late 18th century, said Robert Civiletti, owner of Robert Amadeus Civiletti Hardwood Floors and Interiors (amadeushardwoodfloors .com).

• Parquet, which originated in France in the 17th century, refers to a patterned design of laying hardwood. The designs can look squared or resemble a zigzag pattern.

• Inlay basically refers to a decorative design implanted in the floor pattern, such as a border or even a medallion in the center of the floor.

Civiletti explained that installing parquet, borders and other ornate designs lost favor in the 1920s and '30s - "Once the Depression hit, there were a lot of cutbacks, and homes were being turned into places with a lot of little rooms to rent out and make money."

Gary Horvath has worked on many older homes in North Jersey through his firm A.T.C. Hardwood Flooring, Bergenfield (atchardwoodflooring.com). He said some have featured beautiful borders around the perimeter of a room, with decorative blocks in the corners having Celtic knots, Greek keys, crosses or something else "artsy."

"Sometimes the floors have the entire inlay like a ribbon pattern or a Greek-key pattern," Horvath said. "The inlays are typically 5/16-inch in thickness and the widths vary from ï¾¾ of an inch up to 1ï¾½ inches or as small as 1/8 inch pieces. They were pretty much done back in the day by an artist, a true craftsman of that era."


As today's homeowners begin to see the value and craftsmanship in their older hardwood floors, professionals such as Civiletti and Horvath are being called upon to restore and repair decades of wear and tear, and even to duplicate designs that have been almost destroyed.

The wood that made up the inlays often featured species such as walnut, cherry, rosewood and maple. While the beauty and contrasting colors of different woods made the designs pop, today hard-to-find species can make restoration difficult.

"The biggest challenge is finding the wood and matching the species and age of the wood," Civiletti said. "There's American Walnut, there's American cherry. Chestnut, in particular, is all but extinct in this country, so you have to go to reclaimed wood. It really comes down to finding antique wood to match the existing."

Horvath said he'll stain or dye new pieces to make them look old and to match the existing coloring.

"It takes years of experience to make the border look like it did in the past," he said. "It's a challenge, but we're saving the border, so why not take the time to make it look original? Typically, the borders will last as long as the house is still standing. "

Both Civiletti and Horvath said that, if portions of a floor need restoring, the entire floor will be worked on so everything matches seamlessly.

"You cannot do patchwork when it comes to floors," Civiletti said. "The finish on the wood is the first to oxidize and age. As it ages, it turns a different color. If I was to sand into a spot of the floor and try to do a repair to the finish, it's a night-and-day difference."

Common Problems

The biggest issue that Horvath sees affecting decorative elements of hardwood floors is water damage from old radiators. Valves on the radiators often leaked, and if homeowners had carpet laid around the unit, they might not even have been aware of the problem.

The damage to the borders near the radiators can even penetrate to the subfloors, Horvath said. When he comes across damaged wood floors around radiators, he recommended this process:

• A plumber must come to disconnect the radiator

• The damaged wood will be removed and the subfloor repaired

• The new border will be hand-cut and installed.

Horvath said he charges about $50 an hour, plus materials, to make border repairs.

"It's basically a one-man job, because you can't have too many cooks around the damaged area," he said. "It may run several hundred dollars, but it also depends on the extent of the damage - whether it's water damage from the radiators or termites."

"We'll do the patch by the hour, plus material," he continued. "The rest of the flooring is by the square foot. We typically sand it and finish it with three coats of oil-based polyurethane. This costs approximately $2.75 a square foot for natural wood and a dollar a square foot extra for the staining. So, that's about $3.75 a square foot to do a beautiful job."

Civiletti said he often comes across problems created by inexperienced sanders and finishers. Many people, he said, don't understand how to use a sander or what grits of paper to use, and don't comprehend that a lot of the wood on floors is just ï¾¼-inch thick, face nailed.

"So when someone doesn't know what he's doing, and puts a sander to the floor, he can destroy the work in one sanding," he said. "If I can repair it, I match the woods with antique and reclaimed woods, and we go in and duplicate what's there and fix the existing design. When it's too far gone, we duplicate it entirely."



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