Sunday, September 13, 2009

Slow and Steady

It’s funny how when I finished the walls and got the paint on I seemed so close to being finished with the dining room. I mean, once the paint was on, for the first time in 8 years it looked like a real room. Who knew I would still be months away from being finished.

I finished stripping the paint off the windows and got the “new” hardware on. The curtain rods have been installed and the roller shades have been hung. I’ve finished buying all of the material for the drapes and found someone to sew them. Thank you Craig’s List.

Before I could get the roller shades on I needed to get the floor stripped and sanded. The floor has been a point of contention for years among friends of mine. The argument has been about what was the original floor covering in 1896. I insist that the room did not have wall-to-wall carpeting and everyone else insists I’m wrong.

Good friends of mine, whom I genuinely respect, will stand in the middle of the room with the floor completely exposed. They will look me in the eye, and without ever looking down at the floor, say to me, “Your house would have had wall-to-wall carpeting in 1896”. They say it like wall-to-wall carpeting was a universal constant in 1896 when the Petch Family moved in. Even though we all know there were other things to chose from, for some reason they seem to believe that wall-to-wall carpeting was the only choice for The Petch Family.

Am I saying that most houses did not have wall-to-wall carpeting. No. How would I know what most houses had or didn’t have in Eureka in 1896. To date, I have seen only 1 or 2 interior photos of Eureka homes from that period and neither had a good view of the floor. What I have seen though, are dozens of photos of New York Interiors at the Turn of the Century in a book of the same name. In that book, few of the homes have wall-to-wall carpeting. Most have large carpets that cover most of the floor, leaving the wood perimeter exposed. While others have smaller rugs in the room, which are sometimes strewn about at odd angles to the walls.

Of course, the argument can be made that those homes had hardwood floors and not redwood floors. Only a few wealthy individuals in town had anything but redwood or fir floors, or any other part of the house, for that matter. So that begs the question: If hardwood floors with carpets were a trend at the time, why don’t you see many hardwood floors from that period in Eureka homes. Is it possible that everyone in Eureka was out of fashion and had wall-to-wall carpet in 1896? I don’t think so.

I would think that the lack of hardwood floors in Eureka in 1896 would be because there are no native hardwood forests in the area, and Humboldt County had no rail service in 1896, and we were a bazillion miles away from any place. So now the question is, if we couldn’t get hardwood floors then how did we get acres of the finest wool carpeting to Humboldt County. Hell, none of the homes in the Victorian town of Ferndale even had plaster on the walls in 1896, and lime for plaster was being produced in the Santa Cruz mountains, which was a 1 day boat ride away.

My claims to the flooring in the dining room are evidence based. What I see is a perimeter of tinted shellac with a bare wood center that was most likely covered with a large rug, or stitched together runs of 27-inch wide carpet. While it is true that the tinted shellac could have been put down at a later date, I can’t ignore the tack hole patterns. Wall-to-wall carpets would have been installed with carpet tacks.

Many, many, many carpet tacks would have been used around the perimeter of the room to securely tack the carpet in place. I don’t find carpet tack holes around the perimeter of the room. What I do find are carpet tack holes, and even a few left over carpet tacks {see above}, around the perimeter of where the tinted shellac ends and the bare wood begins. This is where the rug would have been. Further more, there is evidence of a base molding that was installed at the baseboard. If you have wall-to-wall carpeting that goes all the way up to the baseboard, why would have base molding?

The construction of the house is such that I have a wide, rough plank sub-floor made of B-grade lumber. On top of that is a clear-heart, blind-nailed, 1X6 T&G redwood floor. While it is true that redwood is a soft wood and normally not suitable for a finish floor, I think they were making the best use of the material that they had at the time. While this house is no mansion, it is a nice, roomy house with a well thought out floor-plan that was obviously designed by an accomplished architect and built by a master builder. If this house had been built east of the Rockies I have no doubt that the wood selection would have been much different. As it is, every last stick of wood in the house is redwood, including the finish floor.


St. Blogwen said...

Makes sense to me. Sounds like what John encountered at the Devil Queen, with the perimeter finished and the area in the middle bare.

I've got softwood (fir or pine) finish floors here at the Sow's Ear and they were shellacked. No wall-to-wall carpet until the 1980s. My neighbors next door have the same, with no carpet ever. So no hardwood flooring does not equal wall-to-wall carpet. Get thee some nice rugs!

Kate H.

Mick said...

Greg, I'm in total agreement with your assessment from the evidence. Its much like many of the houses here in New England. Also I would speculate that the reason that tongue and groove was used was precisely that the floor was for show. If it were to be carpeted then they would not have bothered with T&G but just used regular wood. My bet is one of the reasons its redwood is to match the redwood trim.

kathy said...

I live in a circa 1870 house on the east coast. Previous residents had installed wall-to-wall over the wide-plank pine floors. When I removed this, I found that only the perimeters of the floors had been finished, so I suspect you're correct about how your floors were handled originally.

Pandora said...

I think you are right on with your assessment of your floors. Now the fun part - finding a great rug! There are some wonderful ones to be found on ebay. I had a huge, 11 foot by 17 foot 1920s Wilton rug shipped to me by an ebay seller and the rug and the shipping only came to $300. There are some good deals out there!

Greg said...

Yes, it is hard to ignore facts.

Speaking of rugs, the final two for the room just arrived today. If there wasn't hearth tile spread out all of the floor I would lay them out and post a picture.


Tarr said...

Where did you find those lovely roller shades?

Greg said...


I ordered them on-line and Smith & Noble.

Paul Wilham said...

Wall to wall carpeting was almost excusively the province of the extremely,extremely, wealthy.

Barring some sort of evidence to the contrary like a period photograph, you are spot on in your assumption of wood floors with an area rug. Orientals would have been very much a status symbol in that era and in that part of the country.

Victorians were very paranoid about cleanliness and germs and wall to wall carpeting would have required a large servants staff to keep clean.

I've also seen a lot of photos of some of the grand west coast mansions in San Francisco and they didnt have wall to wall carpets, but rather wood floors with orientals.

I am totally confortable with your decision and rational.

Alan said...

Our place (also in Eureka) is the same. Every stick of original wood is full dimensional redwood. We have 1x12 redwood plank subflooring and at 90 degrees to that is a 1x6 tongue and groove clear redwood finish floor. About a foot around the perimeters of the rooms is painted, the center is unfinished. (Other than the linoleum tiles and wall to wall that have been layered on top of that over the years. :P )

Greg said...


I suspect this is a lot more common for this area than some would want to believe.