When Color Plays Tricks On You

Hardwood floor stain colors can take on color influences by surroundings.

Talk about a hiccup, or a skip in our step, this job was going like clockwork (or so we thought!)

Out of the blue (literally), the wood floor stain color was thrown off badly, causing an interruption we did not welcome. And obviously we had to stop and deal with it in one way or another.

Our client was referred to us by a neighbor, who raved about our work.

Kim was a great referral from another Lumberton client and homeowner. Preferring to trust the integrity and confidence having received a referral from a friend, we hit it off with her. And Kim placed great faith in our guidance and promise of masterful workmanship. You see, along with refinishing her red oak hardwood floors, steps and railings, as a retirement present from her husband, she was transforming her home. Updating her kitchen cabinets, counters, hardwood floors, walls, a chandelier and some furniture, this is a makeover of her forever home, long overdue and much awaited and deserved!

Kim’s vision was pretty easy.

She wanted to get rid of the old, yellowed, badly sun faded and scratched floors, and replace them with a more updated look favoring gray tones. As we looked at the rooms she has a beachy type vibe with grays, blacks, whites, blues and cream colors. Accessorizing with beach decor’ I asked her if she would favor drift wood tones for the hardwood stain color. Her answer, a resounding YES!

The second issue she brought up was that the back of the house (kitchen, breakfast nook area) was one color (lighter), while the rest was darker. It bothered her a bit that the floors were stained different, and she questioned why someone would do that (not sure we know either, except perhaps a budget issue.) So when there was a major difference in the color she wanted that “to go away!”

Kim mentioned that another floor refinisher told her that no matter what, when the floors were resanded they would never look the same. (Hmm scratch our head!) Well if he mentioned it would never look the same, or closer to being the same, he should have tested each section of the floor to determine if there was a difference in the floors, i.e. white oak vs. red oak. It would be correct that if it were 2 different oaks, the color would be different.

But he never tested it and put a negative in her mind that was unnecessary.

A clear vision of a remodel.

Recently retired, Kim dove in deep and immersed herself in making design, color and element choices. Her newly acquired free time allowed for the perfect indulgence at the right time.

Hitting it off well, we prepared some options for the hardwood floor, stairs and railings projects.

First was a comparison of tearing out the carpets in the living room and dining room, and either

a. replacing with wood to match her existing wood in the foyer or kitchen, or

b. incorporating the foyer and kitchen by replacing all the wood with a wider plank version throughout and then refinishing it.

Liking the idea of a wider plank, she wanted a cost comparison.

We measured and inspected the existing wood installation.

Our hunch would prove right as we suspected that the wood was installed under the cabinets, making it more difficult and costly to rip out and install a wider plank floor. But before dissuading Kim, we wanted to get the numbers together first.

We reconvened with our stair-railing team, and presented options to update them to Kim.

In addition to the floor decision, we also explained that we would bring in our carpenter /stair railing “duo” to price out the conversion of the railing system. As is popular today, people are converting their design preferences from rounded scrolling railings, newel posts and stairs to squared off varieties. And with the conversion carpentry, we cautioned that this part of the project was likely to be costly.

At first the preference was to reconfigure the rounded landing stair tread to a square one, which would necessitate board replacement in the living room and the foyer. Next the treads, newel posts, spindles and railing materials would be totally scrapped and replaced.

Cheap stair install- carpet over plywood with 3" tread reveal
See the shortcut, the builder put carpet over plywood, with just a 3″ reveal of a hardwood tread (that has to be torn out)

It was revealed that during the original construction, the builders cheated the stairs. They installed cut treads that presented a ‘reveal’ on one side of each tread, but the carpet “runner”  is merely carpet over plywood. To explain further, there was not a solid stair tread under the carpet runner on the stair, a cheap shortcut. At a closer look you can easily see it. Why was that done (to save money by not having to install expensive solid oak stair treads.) This is a cheap  builders’ shoddy shortcut.

Again, with so much going on we advised Kim that all the components should be scrapped and replaced with new.

So while we waited for those numbers to come in, we quickly settled on the final plan for the floors.

The most cost effective decision was to replace the two rooms with the existing sized and grade of wood, and refinish them all to a newer, more updated style!

So with our marching orders in place we started the job.

First was the tear out of the carpet. Then after the wood arrived and acclimated our wood guy quickly installed it. Next we would sand the first room (the living room), and refinish it separately. You see there was an opposing wood border, recessed in to the floor outlining the edges of the foyer up against each of the newly laid wood floors in the dining room and living room.

This gave us the opportunity to isolate the refinishing process, as opposed to having to refinish the entire first floor footprint all at once. The advantage of doing so is we can isolate the living room, finish it first, and use it to store the furniture while doing the dining room.

Here’s where the color trouble begins!

Most of the house has lighter cream or subtle muted blue walls. But, the living room, inherently dark and closed in, originally had a cream carpet, and dark slate blue walls. Incorporating her decor, the palate of whites, steel greys and cream colors, the room popped with the dark walls and light carpet.

With that said, Kim settled on a gray stain for the floor, in fact “dark gray.”

Without giving her too many choices, and wanting a gray variation, she liked the gray stain color as it complimented the furniture and beach vibe. So a mock up on her floor, in that room was done, giving her an example to see it on her floor with her light, paint, etc.

Marvin did his final touches, which included opening the grain (by water popping the floor), just as he had done with the sample. Then quietly, as he worked, he set about staining the wood boards by hand, as he does all the time. But, as he did he didn’t like the way it was looking. It looked almost as if the dark gray appeared more like a painted battleship gray paint on the floor. Not stain, revealing the grain of the wood, this looked like it was painted. He called me, and asked me to come look at it and talk to Kim about it.

Not happy with the stain appearance on the wood (at all) we had to plow through the hiccup and make it right for Kim!

Now every step of the way Kim was completely happy with our work. She was confident, excited and trusting that she was going to get a fantastic revival of her floors as the focal point of the entire updating project. So, as she peeked at the color on the floor in the living room she too gulped and kept her thoughts and disappointment to herself.

Just at the very moment she was expecting to be elated and in love with her floors she was quietly disappointed at what she saw, (and so were we)!

Looking at the picture of her stain sample in that room, it looked radically different, much lighter on that small patch compared to the room!

So while she was busy running kids around, I got on the phone with the stain manufacturer. I asked if the stain we used could have been mislabeled (which has happened to us in the past with carpet samples). Firm in their explanation that no, in no way could that be the reason, they kept referring the wall color interference. Regardless, there were very apologetic and wanted to offer help.

I further grilled Marvin, our wood tech, and reached out to colleagues, and a supportive wood consultant- namely a certified wood floor inspector (4th generation in the industry) available for troubleshooting.

You see, with wood and stone (which we also work with), being natural elements, mother nature holds some surprises unlike man made materials. There is a constant learning curve, and adaptation required to produce consistent, preferred and professional results. When we as technicians “get into the weeds,”  we have to ride it out, and plow through it until we adapt or modify as need be.

I did confirm that the stain sample was the correctly chosen stain (from the can, and from the fan deck sample and brochure). I confirmed that Marvin did water pop the sample, like he did the floor, exactly the same way so there would be no deviation there. (Not doing the precise procedures will produce different color variation in the results.) He assured me the test samples were water popped as was the entire floor.

Simultaneously I discussed procedures with the stain manufacturer expert, also a hardwood floor inspector, who along with our hunch, confirmed the issue and offered solutions.

Convinced the colored walls was throwing the shading off I did as I was instructed, and performed a “shadow box” test. Not quite sure at first, but much easier than expected, we isolated the color of the stain on the floor with a shadow box. At worst, we would have to sand the dark gray stain off, and start over. Or, at best we might have to suggest that Kim change the wall color, flipping the light vs dark in the opposite direction.

I approached Kim and told her we would make the stain color right for her floors, and not “stick her” with something she wouldn’t be absolutely in love with. I affirmed we owed her that and would make it right!

I could see she was placing faith in me. She agreed something was off, and appreciated that we would “have her back” and make it right. I explained that we may have to sand the stain off and start over, and we would spare at nothing—we weren’t going to stick her with floors she does not love!

I also explained what explanations I was getting from experts, and that we would work through a process of elimination to get this under control.

So I constructed a “shadow box” and set it on top of the worst, darkest area of stain on her floor.

Basically we took a cardboard box and cut the bottom and top of it out. It was about 1 foot wide, by 2 foot long, and about 9″ high. Then, as told, we got a high intensity light and shined in down into the box. The sides of the box and the intense light removed the shadows from the walls that were overshadowing the stain on the floor.

Miraculously, the stain was much lighter and resembled the stain sample that we prepared the two days before. It was spot on! Seeing the difference (Marvin and myself,) I asked Kim to take a look. She agreed! That was the color she chose and dreamed about for her floors!

With a sigh of relief we confirmed the dark wall color was throwing off the floor color.

Our choices were to either lighten the wall color with new paint, or chose a new stain color for the floor.

For Kim it was an easy fix and a no-brainer! Wall paint is easy compared to re-sanding and staining the floor. She had no strong tie to the wall color. Given the beautiful color of the floor she’d happily lighten the walls. With the opposite contrast it would enhance the beauty and ‘driftwood like’ beachy vibe to the floor.

But to make double sure, actually triple sure, we decided to mockup a sample in her dining room, and again in her kitchen.

We decided to add the two extra samples just to make sure that our eyes saw what we expected we would see.

stain sample
See the stain sample inside the blue tape. Again, we could isolate and refinish the dining room from the foyer hall if we needed to

dining room had a subtle cream tan vibe, so doing a sample there would directly show us that the shadows were the culprit in the living room. It would be an unlikely chance that the cream would jack up the color of the dark gray stain. And to ‘three peat’ the idea we did the same thing in the kitchen, smack dab in the middle of the room. While the kitchen did have a lighter blue vibe, the room was open with lots of light, and high ceilings so it was unlikely that the lighter blue wall color would trick the eye there either.

Bingo, we had ‘three’s a charm’! The stained sample in both rooms looks awesome, and exactly what Kim wanted!

These two test areas in the other rooms confirmed that the wall color was responsible.

The samples tipped off what the floors would look like once they too were stained dark gray. And since the walls would be repainted different but similar colors the floors would look as intended and expected. And finally, to repaint the living room wall color it would eliminate the problem all together.

We got this! For our purposes we knew we didn’t have to sand off the stain in the living room and we could keep moving forward.

Now completely at ease Kim was entirely confident we had the best solution for our somewhat major, somewhat minor hiccup, and resolved it completely.

The proof in the pudding, next would be to prepare the dining room, foyer, hall and kitchen exactly the way we prepared the living room so it would replicate the living room completely. Then eventually we would change the wall paint, and case closed.

So while we were marching on with our project, Kim’s husband, about to fly south for a baseball tournament, got caught up to speed. Realizing he had no role in the color selection whatsoever (as most husband’s say), he did agree that the stain in the living room looked dark, really dark. Kim assured him it would be fine when everything got done.

With him gone Kim would watch the progress and await the real reveal (when the entire footprint of the floor would be stained).

Although no outward concern (from any of us really), there remained a quiet holding of our breath until the floor stain was on the entire floor. And because the way the dining room was isolated with borders recessed like the living room we had another chance to see how the stain would behave before we saw it applied to the foyer, hallway and kitchen.

Being betting people with good consultation and testing ahead of the process, we were delighted with the outcome. Now because Kim had to stay off the floors for the drying period she planned to be out until about 9 pm. And with everyone else gone, even the dog shipped out, it would be her alone tip-toeing back in after 9.

Marvin calls to report the dining room looks great, and he proceeded to stain the rest of the floor.

By day’s end he was really happy with the way the floor looked (and glad to be out from under “the gun” about the color.) No step was missed, not a corner was cut. And with everything exactly to the “tee,” he was happy and knew she would be happy. Frankly it was a relief for sure.

Closing the door and calling it a day, we locked up and left. And eventually after 9 we might get feedback from her.

Now being a way too early to rise person, and way too early to bed person as well, I was snoring away when she got home to see the floors stained. However, early the next morning I saw her text:

WOW! ♥♥♥♥♥♥

What Kim said next, once we met the next day, made us giggle. But beyond giggling and relief, we again were so happy that we had nailed it!

Her words were as follows: “Wendy I am not gonna lie, I did come home with some trepidation about what I was gonna see. In fact, all by myself I found my way in with my eyes closed and hands across them until I got into the kitchen to turn the lights on. When I did my heart started pounding and I was blown away at how beautiful all the floors are! I couldn’t believe it! They look gorgeous and exactly what I dreamed them to be. You guys were right and we got them spot on for my beachy vibe! In fact, everyone I show says the same thing. You guys are awesome! Thank you so much, I love my floors!”

Well when Marvin was hearing all this he was very, very, very happy! (And he admitted too, he was relieved. You can’t imagine when things are going good, really good and then you get tripped up with a major interruption, you probably would agree it puts the heat on, and it did!)

Now with a sigh of relief and satisfaction we had another ‘over the moon’ thrilled client, (and new friend too)!

And now with the heat off, being able to focus on the end game, applying the seal coat, two finish coats, and then installing the trim it was a home run we would button up as intended. That is, until the railing and stairs are replaced and stained to match. Marvin will be back reporting for duty on that one too!

PS- We have booked the first client- referral Kim threw our way. We will see them in a matter of weeks. And, her best friend is on the radar to get her wood floors done too!

When you do impressive work and provide good customer service word catches on! This is our best way we get new hardwood floor refinishing clients!

Have hardwood floors that are a “red hot mess?”  Really unsure of who to trust, or in need of an honest, competent professional who cares about their work, then give us a call. Call 609.953.0472 or Contact Us on line and we will reach out to you!