January 7, 2011

Coming Out Of The Closet?

Another thing we had planned on preserving that was original to the house is the terrazzo in the front entrance. I'm sure in its day it added a bit of glam when a person first came into the house. Terrazzo ain't cheap, and neither is restoring it - that is, if you can even find anybody anymore who knows how to work with it. A lost art, apparently. Unless you live in Florida where terrazzo floors are commonplace.

Our floor is two-tone, a lighter colour with darker chips in the middle and a darker colour with lighter chips around the border and in the front closet. The colours resemble what you might have found on the floors of your high school. No amount of restoring is going to fix that particular problem. Added to that is the fact that we installed 3/4" hardwood in the library/TV room which opens up through French doors from the far side of the front entrance. That much of a transition between flooring types isn't appealing. What to do, what to do?

Some sort of stone or porcelain tile seemed the obvious choice, as long as we could find something in keeping with the original intent - a little bit of 'pow' factor if you will. It turns out finding what we wanted was the easy part. Figuring out if a tile over terrazzo installation will work, that's a different story. There are of course no shortage of forums and advice boards and articles on the internet. Books, videos, and tile association publications. There are even real people you can talk to. Yup, really. And we've done it all. But you might as well ask 7 different rabbis the same question because you're likely to get 7 different answers. And I can say that because I've spoken to a few rabbis in my time.

In the end, it comes down to experimentation. Unfortunately, there is no returning from this little adventure, so you'll want to experiment someplace big enough to see results but inconspicuous enough that you don't have to get out a jackhammer if it doesn't work out. In this case the closet seemed like the best option. If it doesn't work, a piece of carpet cut to fit will hide any ugliness. Not ideal, but a viable alternative.

The theory goes like this: if you can rough up the terrazzo and get a skim coat of modified thinset to adhere without any bubbling or other bad reaction, then you can bed and tile over the skim coat. No plywood, no backerboard, no Ditra, no nothing.

Step One: (and please don't make me insert a disclaimer...but here it is: don't do this just because I said so). Make sure you have all your tools handy for the roughing up part. Mask, safety glasses, kneepads, belt sander (and 50 grit paper) or a grinder, if worse comes to worse. Actually, if worse comes to worse, I'm sure vodka will help.

Step 2: Get rough with it. Kidding. Scuff it up enough that any sealers or waxes or other finishes are removed and that there will be something for the thinset to grab. Wipe away all the dust and let it dry. Then sit down on the floor, lean back against the front door and wonder what the hell it is you've gotten yourself into. You could be in Mexico you know.

Step C: Different tools. Trowel, margin trowel, stir stick or drill and paddle attachment, mixing bucket, water, gloves, safety glasses and modified thinset mortar. It's dusty stuff, so keep the mask handy too. Oh, and lesson learned, a little water goes a long way. You can see I don't have very much in the bucket, but it still took a lot of the mortar to get to the right consistency. I didn't use it all, and it doesn't keep once it's mixed. After it's mixed, you have to let it slake for 10 minutes. I found this waiting period to be an excellent opportunity to read the instructions on the bag of mortar.

Step IV: Use the margin trowel to scoop out the mortar, and the flat side of the notched trowel to skim coat the desired area. Wait 24-48 hours and see what happens. I'll tell you, looking at these pictures, one thing that will happen for certain is a coat of paint on those walls. And some kind of organizing system instead of just a hanger rod. And new baseboard...

But floor first. I'll keep you posted.

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