...because home doesn't happen overnight.
10.06.11 / Floored

I would have jumped at the chance to change any and all flooring in our previous house.  I always did detest the odd Y intersection of hardwood, vinyl and carpet in the great room.  So weird.  So builder.

But we didn’t have the funds to replace 2,700 sq ft of carpet and vinyl.  Plus, even though it wasn’t aesthetically appealing, there wasn’t anything wrong with it and we couldn’t justify spending thousands of dollars to replace brand new flooring.

We’re basically starting from scratch in the Underdog and we get to choose all new flooring.  The original matted 1950’s carpet just wasn’t cutting it.  Initially, I was super, SUPER excited about getting to pick out new flooring.  {Handy Hubby is leaving most design options up to me.  I come to him with an edited list and he says ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ then we choose together from there.} But after considering all the different options – concrete, wood, laminate, tile, cork, bamboo, etc. – I started to feel a tad overwhelmed.  How in the world was I going to choose?!

I decided to take it one step at a time, rationally.  First, I was limited in my options because the Underdog has no subfloor just a concrete slab.  Solid hardwood was crossed off the list from the get-go due to problems that arise when solid hardwood is laid over moisture-retaining concrete.  I was kind of bummed.  I’d always liked the look of hardwood floors and they popped up frequently in my inspirational images.

I moved on.  The obvious solution was to polish and maybe even stain the already existing concrete slab.  But after talking with HH about this option, he mentioned that the slab had a few substantial cracks in it and would have to be totally re-leveled if we were to use it as our main flooring.  He also said that after spending a lot of time at the Underdog working, he could feel how day-to-day walking on the concrete was impacting his body.  His legs and back were sore…although I’m not sure this was entirely due to the floor.  I mean, he was demo’ing and renovating after all.  Still, I didn’t want pretty polished floors at the expense of painful bodies all the time.  Not to mention the fact that concrete isn’t very forgiving to two kids who tend to run, jump and fall on a regular basis.  I was a little concerned about the noise and echos with concrete as well.  And once I started looking at prices {since the slab would need some repairing and leveling}, it didn’t seem like refinishing the concrete was going to save us any more money than having to install new flooring.

That left me with laminate/vinyl, tile, cork, bamboo or various engineered hardwoods.  HH completely ruled out laminate and vinyl.  He said to him they seemed like placeholder flooring and that he didn’t want to spend money on something we didn’t really like to begin with and then want to replace it a few years down the road.

Tile was a viable option.  It’s pretty much a given in bathrooms and I thought it would be great for the mudroom/dining room/laundry nook area since the space gets direct traffic from the garage and backyard.  But I definitely didn’t want tile throughout the entire house due to many of the reasons we decided against the concrete.  Using it in hardworking areas {i.e. mudroom/dining room/laundry nook and bathrooms} seemed like the way to go and HH totally agreed.  {More on tile options later…today is about the majority of the house.}

I knew I wanted all the other spaces {kitchen, family room, hall and bedrooms} to have the same flooring to keep things flowing nicely and feeling cohesive.  With cork, bamboo and engineered hardwood left on the list, I kept hunting.  Right away, I scratched the bamboo idea.  I didn’t hate it but it just wasn’t the look I was going for.  Too much striation.  That left cork and engineered hardwood.  To be honest, I didn’t like most of the cork I came across.  It was a little too swirly and busy for our small house.  I did find one cork option in planks at Home Depot and thought it would be doable.

It wasn’t as busy or as orange-y as some of the other cork I had seen elsewhere.  HH liked it too. But that was our problem.  We just liked it.  We weren’t in love.  And it was ~$4/sq.ft.  We left it on the ‘maybe list.’

Then I started looking at engineered hardwood.  Unlike solid hardwood, engineered hardwood can be installed on top of a concrete slab {along with a vapor barrier} so it’s great for basements or, in our case, homes with no subfloor.  After doing some window shopping, I was shocked to discover that the engineered wood cost just as much {or even more!} than solid hardwood.  I had been wrong to think that it would be a cheaper alternative to hardwood.  Until…a reader turned me on to BuildDirect, suggesting them as an affordable vendor for engineered wood flooring.  {Thanks, Ginger!!!}

{customer submitted image from Build Direct}

Immediately I fell in love with a handscraped hickory engineered wood.  I thought the lighter color would be great for our small space but I was worried that it might contrast too much with our lower black kitchen cabinetry.  And at almost $4/sq.ft. it would have cost us over $4,500…and that wasn’t even including any underlayment or shipping.  I was determined to find another cheaper alternative to show HH along with the hickory option.

{customer submitted image from Build Direct}

That’s when I found a rich Texas Brown birch.  It was a lot different from the hickory I had originally fallen in love with but much cheaper as well.  Nearly $2/sq.ft.!!  It would save us well over $1,500.  I ordered a FREE sample of each engineered hardwood and showed them to HH.  He liked them both.  But when I told him the price difference, he was sold on the birch.

We know that birch is a softer wood but many of the reviews we’ve read say that has more to do with dings and dents than scratches.  I’m fine with dings and dents.  Heck, if I wasn’t then I wouldn’t even consider any wood surface in our home with two rowdy boys in tow! We’re pretty adamant about not wearing shoes indoors so that should help to keep the birch looking as good as possible.  And we have no pets which means no claws or paws to damage the floor.  Plus, since the birch is already handscraped and has a ‘bumpy’ texture to it to begin with, I think some dings will probably blend right in and the ones that don’t will just show signs of life.

I also know that some people don’t like darker floors because they show dirt and dust more easily. With a ‘no shoes on inside’ rule at our house and weekly cleanings {I’m sorry, I like to clean}, I think I’ll be able to keep them looking pretty good.  I heard the same thing about keeping white kitchen cabinets clean, but it didn’t stop us from painting our builder cabinets white in our previous home and they ended up looking great and were no harder to keep clean than before.  Sometimes you just have to go with what you like.

To keep things feeling light and airy, I plan to add lots of area rugs.  They’ll also help define seating areas in the open great room and cozy up the bedrooms.

The darker wood goes along with the more masculine aesthetic I’m liking nowadays too.  Many of my inspirational images include dark floors with lighter wall colors.  I think that’s where we’re headed.

So I did it.  I bit the bullet and placed an order for our Texas Brown birch.  It’s costing us less than $3,500 for flooring and underlayment {which includes a vapor barrier} for the kitchen, family room, hall and all three bedrooms.  That price includes shipping.

With a few finishes chosen {bathroom tile, main flooring, etc.}, I’m starting to get a good feel for the overall look of our future Underdog.  Are you?

images:  1 & 2) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking  3) Amy Butler via Apartment Therapy  4) Art & Decoration  5) Amy Butler’s entryway via Apartment Therapy  6) Dana Miller for House*Tweaking  7 & 8 ) Build Direct  9 & 10) Jessica Helgerson Interior Design



Gorgeous! And I am deeply in love with the penny round tile in your last post. I love your taste!


Dana, I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying your updates. It’s been so much fun to watch you go through all the different stages of design- literally from the ground up.

We have a little condo by the beach that has a lot of the same elements as the Underdog. Our (1) tiny bathroom has almost the exact same layout at yours, we are on the bottom floor of our building so all the floors are concrete, and it’s a small space (1100 sq/ft!!) that is in its original and untouched 80s glory (trash compactor, blue bathroom tile, and all). However, we aren’t doing any renovations until we bounce back from the pain of buying in Santa Monica- but man are you giving me some unbelievable inspiration!

Thanks for allowing us to come on this ride with you!


Great choice! Beautiful flooring!


LOVE your choice!! The birch is going to look stunning with your high ceilings! Can’t wait to see them installed.


We recently replaced our wood laminate floors and went with wood plank porcelain tiles and we LOVE IT!!!
We went with a deep espresso and everyone thinks they are hardwood floors! So we get the look of hardwood, at a lower price and with the benefits of tile. Easy clean up and durability!!!
I never knew this stuff existed until I went out and did some searching.
I cannot wait to see how your new home will look…thanks for sharing!!!


i’m getting such a kick out of reading your plans … we just moved into a house two weeks ago that we designed from scratch and had built over the summer. your style and many of your choices are represented in our house – the hickory scraped floor, the barn lights, marble, industrial vibe, cheap mixed with sleek, etc. i have to say … i like how *ours* came together, and i can’t wait to see the underdog when its finished!!


Love the flooring choice! And I totally agree with you about using tile in a kitchen or anywhere other than a bathroom or laundry room. Whenever I see a tiled floor in a kitchen, I immediately assume the homeowners don’t cook!

Thanks for the inspiration!

We ordered our flooring from Builddirect.com too. Great prices and good customer service. The delivery was a bit of a hassle as the boxes were way heavy and the truck didn’t have a lift gate, but definitely worth it to get a better price.


I love the dark engineered hardwood. It’s going to look wonderful when everything comes together. The penny tile was also my favorite part of your bathroom post. I guess I like your floor choices :) Have you installed tile like that before yourselves? I’ve always wondered how hard it is to install small, round tile like that, even if it does come on a sheet.

Handy Hubby may be right about the concrete floors, too. We have acid stained concrete in our kitchen/eating area (the previous owners put it in) and while I love what it looks like, it is hard on your feet and legs. I’m definitely a shoes off in the house kind of person, but if I’m going to spend a lot of time cooking or cleaning in the kitchen, I have to put on some shoes with good support after a while, otherwise my feet and legs ache.

I love your choice…I would have picked it myself!


That dark brown color is going to give you so many options on color choices for the rest of the house. A really light color or an orangey or red tint really limits you. It’s going to be exciting once the floor goes in.


LOVE the flooring and the direction you’re going. So many of my inspiration photos on Pinterest have that same look – dark floors to “ground”, rugs to add more texture or color, and then light walls. Actually, I don’t know if I have any pins that aren’t dark wood floors! And we have them now, and they are a cinch to keep clean. We do “no shoes” in the house too, and all I have to do is a light sweep. My Mom has whitewashed Scandinavian style floors and they are terrible to clean, so I don’t know why the dark floors get such a bad rap. And I love the dents and dings in our floor (white oak) – they give it character in my opinion! Can’t wait to see more posts!


Love the flooring you picked out. And, I have to ask, is one of your inspiration photos from Amy Butler’s house? That is my DREAM HOUSE and I’ve been in love with it ever since I saw it. :)


GORGEOUS! I love that choice and it’s very similar to what we want to do in our home. I can’t believe the amazing price!


You will not regret your decision to get a dark wood floor. We moved from a house with ugly beige carpet and I swore I would never have carpet again. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my dark wood.

We don’t do the no shoes in our house and I have four kids and two dogs. I have a White Golden Retriever, and yes it is more work, but I still don’t regret my decision. Everyone tried to talk me out of putting it in the kitchen, near the washer and dryer, but I stuck to my initial vision. I love the dark wood against my white cabinets and I love the way they look even after they have been walked on.

No, you will not regret choosing dark wood!


Alecia – Yes, in fact 2 of the inspiration photos are from Amy Butler’s house. Love her and her home!


Brian – We will have delivery with a lift gate, so hopefully it shouldn’t be too bad. They were running a shipping special at the time of our purchase and it saved us a few hundred dollars just on the shipping. We’ve been happy with the customer service so far.


Hi Dana,

I’m wondering if it’s possible to install a subfloor on top of the concrete? (so you could install hardwood.) Or will it raise the floor level too much? What about getting rid of the top half of concrete… or perhaps I’m just talking rubbish. :P


I think these floors are going to look so great! Dark wood is what I think I would have chosen and it really does go well with all the other elements you’ve pointed out (light walls, simple and clean (or masculine aesthetic, woven elements, etc.). We almost bought an “underdog” this year (under $100K!, instead or the more builder boring foreclosure we recently purchased), and I was almost over losing the freedom of a super low mortgage and a home I could afford to customize a lot, until this post…thanks Dana! j/k I’ll just continue to live vicariously…I can see it now.


i love reading your blog! although you already ordered your engineered flooring
just wanted to share that my husband and i recently had solid wood (reclaimed 100 yr old) installed over our concrete subfloor…and it is awesome and definitely possible! our installer has many years of experience particularly with custom homes and he used a moisture barrier product over the concrete, then glued the wood planks- the key is using a breathable topcoat such as tung oil so that if by chance moisture did make it through from below it has a way of escape to avoid buckling or warping. just thought you might want to know for future projects!


Rhune & Christine – We had read that it was possible to lay hardwood on a concrete slab {although not directly on it} but the work and cost involved would have put us way over the energy/$ amount we were wiling to spend on flooring. From what we found, you can install a plywood subfloor on a concrete slab after installing a vapor barrier of some sort first. The con is this will raise the height of your floor somewhat. Another method we read about was to use ‘sleepers’ or thin lengths of pretreated 2″ x 4″s on top of a vapor barrier. Another vapor barrier is placed on top of the 2″ x 4″s and then the wood flooring can be nailed directly into the sleepers. Again, this will raise the height of your floor. So, yes, if installed properly solid hardwood can be placed on top of a concrete slab…but not directly.

We were happy to find an engineered hardwood that would be easier for our DIY install over the concrete slab {with thin vapor barrier} at nearly $2/sq.ft. We wouldn’t need to worry about extra installation materials {i.e. plywood or 2″ x 4″s} or raising the height of the floor. Plus, with its numerous core layers, engineered hardwood is less likely to expand/contract as a result of humidity and temperature changes. It was the way to go for us!


Ooh! I LOVE the choice of the birch floors! That’s totally what I would have picked, too.
I just love your asthetic- everything you’ve chosen so far is beautiful! I can’t wait to see it grow into completion. :)

I can’t wait to see everything together!

I love the dark floor choice! The floors at the Little House are the original honey oak, but I would love to strip them someday in favor of a nice, dark stain.


Hi Dana! I’ve been hooked on your blog ever since I found out about you! Just got a new place and I’m trying to do as much research as I can. I am planning on changing out the laminate flooring to wood so this was an exciting post for me as far as financials. Would you have any info on Build Direct vs. Lumber Liquidators? I am totally new to all of this so any feedback and comments would be very helpful. Thanks so much!


I love the dark floors. I also agree w/ you on the white Kitchen. I love that you can see all the dirt to clean it up. I REALLY don’t like hiding dirt…….especially in the kitchen.

It is so much fun to read your posts. We just moved into our home in July and have a list of things we would like to do as well.


Emily P – I do have a local LL’s store nearby and I made sure to check them out frequently over the last four months. While there were several engineered hardwoods to choose from, I found them to be more expensive than similar ones sold via Build Direct. I even waited for LL’s annual inventory sale {which was the end of Sept} to catch a good deal but I found {at least in my area on the engineered hardwoods I was looking at} that they just hiked their regular prices up and offered special financing. I didn’t discover the huge savings I was hoping for. That being said, I’ve heard great things about LL’s and their products. It just wasn’t in the cards for us.

We found a much better deal on high quality flooring {I made sure to check all the specs} at Build Direct and since we’re trying to save pennies wherever we can, Build Direct ended up being the way to go for us. I scored our flooring, underlayment with vapor barrier and shipping for less than $3,500 {that’s for about 1300 sq ft}. LL’s would have cost me at least $6,000 for similar products. I would definitely suggest shopping around to find the best deal for the particular type and style of flooring you’re looking for!


Love the dark wood floors!! My hubby and I are remodeling an older home. It was my grandparents home. We had 2 of those picture windows like I see in your living room. So glad those windows are history. You could literally feel the cold air coming in through them in the winter. Our home had hardwood for the majority of the house and we were able to rearrange in such a way that we were able to leave the wood in all 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, the hallway, and dining room. Now we are just matching it in the living room that joins that dining room. The new kitchen is an addition so we are using Old Chicago brick. Can’t wait to see everything finished. Isn’t it fun picking out all this stuff and designing your home??


Katie – It really is fun! It’s been our dream to ‘make’ a house our home from the ground up and we’re doing it. The old Chicago brick floor that you’ll be using in your kitchen sounds wonderful!


After some time, how are the floors holding up? We want to do something similar but any wood product in the kitchen concerns us…