Let's dive into the details of our rental-friendly, DIY flooring upgrade!
My partner and I live in a beautiful, bright, and mostly-original 1920s apartment in Portland. We have huge South-facing windows with wavy glass, original french doors in the living room, wood trim and floors, and a very 1970s kitchen. This is the case with so many old homes, as wood floors and doors and trim have a much longer lifespan than kitchens and bathrooms (the general rule is that a middle-of-the-road kitchen will last 15-20 years). Where most original features only get more beautiful with time, kitchens take a lot of wear and tear and need to be renovated, so we see tons of old homes with [bad] middle-of-the-century kitchens. This is so important to consider when you're thinking about your own renovation -- we can all spot a 1970s kitchen in a second, will you be able to spot your 2020's kitchen in 15 years? Keep it in mind :)
(The kitchen before move-in)
Less than a month into living in this place (we moved in in March 2021) I asked the landlords if we could renovate the kitchen on our own dime. It would've been a budget project, but a coat of paint on those cabinets, a new sink and faucet, and ripping up that vinyl to expose the inevitable hardwood under there would make this place really dreamy. New appliances would be ideal, but it's a rental and we're....young :). To my surprise, it was an immediate no--we were given permission to paint the walls and that's it. Bummer. So we lived with it for a year and a half, hoping that I'd get used to it and learn to even mildly appreciate the 70s charm, but actually I only started to hate it more and more. As our place came together everywhere else, this kitchen stood out more and more as the armpit of our beautiful home.
There are egregious parts of the kitchen and there are livable ones. Obviously the cabinets are quite rustic, the laminate countertops are less than ideal, the windows are beautiful, and the floors are HORRIBLE. They're dirty, peeling up, and truly the least ASI color scheme and pattern anyone could have ever possibly come up with. Making those floors livable was my top priority, but the only option given our rental restrictions was peel and stick tile, which can be equally ugly in my opinion. I refused to buy a brightly colored medallion-style peel and stick tile, so we held off and lived with it until recently when Chris Loves Julia dropped their revolutionary checkerboard peel-and-stick tile. Believe me when I say I have never purchased anything faster.
This checkerboard "marble" peel and stick is unique for a few reasons.
They actually varied the "veining" on the tiles, which is wildly different than most mass-produced peel and stick. Each tile genuinely looks different, as a marble floor wood. It's really impressive actually.
The tile is thick, about 2mm. To install partial pieces you have to cut it with a box cutter. This makes installation easier (imagine covering 50 year old floors with a paper sticker--eek), it makes the seams and edges look cleaner, and it is quite substantial and durable.
There is some subtlety and nuance to their appearance. Instead of a stark black and white checkerboard, the soft tones and texture of this product really do make it feel authentic. I certainly don't think they're indistinguishable from real marble, but the tones and pattern do not scream "FAKE MARBLE" to me, and that matters a lot.
The installation took a whole weekend but was straightforward and pretty easy! We grabbed some fuel, turned on some tunes, and got to work peeling and sticking. A few tips we learned along the way:
Absolutely do a dry lay first. These things are pretty sticky and not meant to be easily removed!
Start from the middle and work out. It feels easier to start at the border and work your way in, but you can end up boxing yourself in to the incorrect pattern or a partial piece in the middle. Find the center of the room, lay your first two pieces, and work outwards.
We started by trying to cut with the edge of our box cutter along a level to keep things straight, but we found that it was actually easier to freehand your cuts. You need to apply quite a bit of pressure to get a straight, deep-enough cut, so trying to apply pressure with a level blocking our hand on one side side actually made our hands wobble more than when we cut along a pencil line without support.
Order a lot more than you think you need. I ordered 20sf (15%) more than we needed and we actually ran out and had to get two more boxes. We had to work around two appliances, a radiator, an exposed pipe, lots of non-straight edges, etc. and because of all the cuts we needed to make we ended up wasting a lot of material. Of course we used remnants wherever we could, but often we needed 2/3 or 3/4 of a tile and the rest didn't fit anywhere. If you don't have an easy floor, I'd add 30% to your order.
Grab your fuel, dry lay your pieces, and start from the middle!
Be precise with your cuts & order lots of extra!
There were some tough areas to work around, and it's not all perfect!
Gotta love a good before & after. The whole process took us one weekend and 12 cups of coffee. :)
Checked & Balanced
I will forever daydream about this kitchen with those cabinets painted a creamy white, an unlacquered brass faucet, white fireclay sink, and original hardwood floors. But as this is about the extent of what we can do for now, my goal was to take the wood cabinets from "1970s Americana rustic" to "French countryside rustic" and these floors were a huge step towards that. We also painted our island legs a dark inky blue -super classic and beautiful- and added this floating shelf in front of the sink window. Vintage bentwood chairs, some traditional styling, and these checkerboard floors take these wood cabinets and old laminate counters to a totally different place. For us and for now, it's perfect.