We have a new dining room floor, and it's made out of papier-mâché!
(Or, if you prefer words without fun marks and unamerican spellings: paper mache. Either way, that term means "chewed paper." Delicious.)
Ingredients: paper, Elmer's glue, water, polyurethane, two participants game enough to spend a couple of weeks on their hands and knees. Total cost of this floor: around $150.
What was wrong with our dining room floor? It was covered with a greige carpet that had seen one too many special-needs cats named Bun, and believe us, it had to go. We've hated it so much that we avoided photographing it at all costs, and we've spent over a year trying to figure out what to do with it. One option: tiles, but that would have been very expensive and time-consuming on such a big area.
We were stumped until Jeff came across this blog written by a woman who had given her craft room floor a makeover using glue, dye, water, and paper bags. Please click that link and take a look at her amazing floor--it looks like leather! We wanted to do something similar with our 300 square foot dining room.
So we did a test run on a scrap board following her instructions. Instead of paper bags, we used a roll of something called builder's paper, which has a similar texture and color. I spotted it at Walmart when we were looking for brown liquid Rit dye (which they had) and glue (which they had in small bottles but not gallons). You can see the paper here.
Jeff tore a few irregular pieces, wadded them up, and dipped them in a 50-50 mixture of glue and water and a small amount of brown dye.
The mixture looked purple when the dye was added--the blog assured us that it would dry brown.
Here's a close-up of the veining action.
Since the dye was only a couple of dollars per bottle, we experimented with black, too.
We stripped the floor of its carpet, and Jeff patched the cracks between the floor boards with Durham's Rock Hard Water Putty. Looking back, he wishes that he would have put down luan for a smoother result, but I still think our end product looks fantastic and very natural.
After thinking it over for a few days, Jeff and I decided to go with the brown dye option, and we spent over an hour tearing the builder's paper into irregular shapes, each about a foot across. We sorted them out and wadded them up: some had straight edges, which we would use for the perimeter of the floor, and others were 100 percent irregular, which we'd use for the middle.
The cats were, of course, intrigued by the piles of paper, and Quixote dove into them with gusto.
We began working the next morning. I handled the perimeter, and Jeff took on the heavy traffic area near the kitchen. It was certainly looking purple and a lot darker/sloppier than we thought, but we soldiered on into the early afternoon. Realizing that we needed more paper, latex gloves, and perhaps a couple more gallons of glue (which we found at Lowe's), we did a quick supply run. Once home, we worked for a few more hours before calling it a day.
(Photo explanation: do you watch Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel? We're crazy about the show, and I like to call it "But There's A Problem" because those poor guys are always hitting snags. Apparently mining for gold is not as easy as you might think!
Jeff has this to say: Yes, gold mining is hard, but, ack, these guys need someone with project management experience. If once again I have to watch Todd--shown above--force them to make a choice between option A and option B when both options could be done in parallel, I'm gonna 'splode!)
Back to our floor. BUT THERE WAS A PROBLEM. The border between the morning stuff and the afternoon stuff was majorly noticeable thanks to overlapping dye. The blog we had read dealt with a tiny floor that could be covered within a few hours. We needed at least a few days. I could just barely live with the line of demarcation, but Jeff didn't like it, and we went to bed feeling kind of bad. How to solve this?
Knowing that the dye was the problem, we tried a test patch using just paper, glue, and water. And we concluded--joyfully--that it looked a lot better than the dyed areas and worked beautifully with our walls. It was also easier to do and wouldn't stain our hands and clothing! We started over.
This is Jeff's traffic area. As he covered the original purple-brown layer, he loved the way it was shaping up. Those veins and little capillaries made the paper resemble stone. Here's Jeff demonstrating the process.
As you can see, a certain amount of wringing-out happens after the paper is dipped in the water-glue. Each new piece overlaps the previous ones by at least a half-inch. Then, using the side of his hand, Jeff attempts to smooth out the paper as much as possible, eliminating any air pockets. Then he takes a paper towel and gently blots the excess glue.
A certain amount of creativity and problem-solving is also involved. What kind of shape will work best in the space? Jeff and I even attempted to create follow-throughs with the paper, where one edge would blend into another, or corners would meet in a pleasing way, but this isn't necessary. No matter what you do, this will look inexplicably random and natural, and you will feel like you deserve an honorary M.F.A. degree in papier-mâché.
We allowed the floor to dry for a few days--probably longer than was necessary, but we didn't want to take any chances. Our cats were confused: why was half of the house inaccessible? Why was the giant screen blocking the dining room entrance? UNFAIR.
Finally, to protect and seal the floor, we applied six coats of water-based polyurethane using paint brushes, one coat per day. This became increasingly easy and fast with each new layer of poly, and by the time the final one was dry, we felt like we could roller-skate on it. Then we moved all of our furniture back once we were certain that it was completely dry (that dining room table is no joke). Once again, here's the finished papier-mâché floor!