Renovation & Design

Obvious solution not always the best one


kitchen tile inlay design layout, water-damaged hardwood was removed and replaced with slate tile

a pattern of differently sized holes cut into the face of Marc’s favorite acoustic guitar to remove blemishes and damage caused when the guitar nearly fell completely out of its case.

A pattern of differently sized holes cut into the face of Marc’s favorite acoustic guitar to remove blemishes and damage caused when the guitar nearly fell completely out of its case

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Photos by Marc LaBossiere / Winnipeg Free Press

Instead of fixing water-damaged hardwood by replacing or sanding down, re-staining and varnishing the entire floor, the problem section was removed and replaced with a slate tile design.

When something is in need of repair, there is usually an obvious solution — a clogged drain can be unclogged, chipped paint can be filled in, a broken tile can be replaced.

It is sometimes the less obvious fix that may, however, produce a better and unexpected result. I have benefited from the repair path less travelled on more than a few occasions.

Old hardwood floors — full of gaps, scratches and patches of discolouration — can drive a homeowner to explore a realm of costly repair possibilities. Either the entire flooring area can be uprooted and replaced with new flooring, or the existing flooring can be sanded down, re-stained and varnished. Neither choice pleases the wallet.

The walnut hardwood floors on the main floor of my home awaited just such a fate. I elected for the cheapest option: to not address any of the unsightly issues from the onset, until such time that my budget would allow. And soon after moving into my house, it became apparent there is solace in eliminating the worry of removing shoes and boots in a country home for fear of ruining an expensive floor. I’ve grown to enjoy the way it looks — the lived-in, rustic look.

There were two main areas of greater concern, where the hardwood had very noticeably been subjected to water damage and years of neglect — a small area nearest the fridge in the kitchen and an area at the living room front door, at the base of the stairs to the second floor.

As it would never have been an option for me to replace the main-floor hardwood with new flooring, and sanding down the flooring of the entire main floor seemed too big a task at the time, a third option came to mind: strategically cutting out affected areas and filling the void with tile that matched the slate tile flooring in the foyer and main-floor bathroom.

To do this, I first marked out the intended areas of hardwood removal with an outline of green painter’s tape, and allowed myself to live with the idea for a few days. By doing this, slight adjustments were made to the impending areas in both size and shape before breaching the hardwood — after all, I only had one shot at doing it cleanly. With the areas confirmed, a circular saw, with the blade set to a depth just beyond the hardwood depth, allowed the blade to cut completely through the flooring, only slightly scoring the sub-floor below. A hammer and chisel were then used to remove any remaining hardwood that could not be completely cut out, at each corner specifically. The layout conformed to the exact dimensions of the slate tile, in both length and width, providing for grout lines within the tile layout, as well as around the entire perimeter of the design layout.

To ensure that the tile, once installed, was either flush or slightly higher than the adjacent and remaining hardwood, three-eighths plywood was first secured to the exposed sub-floor within the design layout. Then, the tiles were installed using thinset. The following day, dark charcoal-coloured grout was used to fill in every grout line within and around the perimeter of the tile layout. The tile inlay approach solved the issue of the isolated hardwood decay, by first eliminating the problematic hardwood altogether and then by creating an aesthetic area that draws your attention away from other, less unsightly worn areas of hardwood that remain. This may not have been a solution for everyone, but it worked just fine for me.

This process allowed me to tackle another, unrelated issue that had plagued me for many years. While in the studio recording my first record in 1989, a variety of electric guitars were used to track a plethora of guitar parts for the record. I did, however, only use one acoustic guitar for all acoustic tracks, my favourite one — a full-bodied, Takamine six-string acoustic I had purchased primarily for studio use. Once the record was completed and we began a regimen of weekly performances (which still continues today), that very acoustic graduated from "studio only" use to my primary live-performance acoustic as well. Following a show, and once we had torn down the stage gear, it was time to load my gear into the truck. Unfortunately, when I grabbed the handle of the hard-shell case for my acoustic guitar I had not realized that the clasps had not yet been secured. The case opened the moment I lifted it off the ground. Despite a quick reaction to prevent the acoustic from falling completely out of the case and onto the concrete floor of the backstage area, this response caused me to squeeze firmly against the top of the case — two of the clasps punched through the top of my acoustic guitar, scarring it forever. It was a heartbreaking event, which I had lived with until quite recently.

Throughout the years, I had promised myself that, in the spirit of commemorating the recording of the acoustic tracks for my debut record, this Takamine acoustic should and would be repaired... at some point. The repair, no matter how good, would likely always remain visible unless the entire face of the body of the guitar was sanded and stained with an opaque stain to properly hide the blemishes. This was the obvious manner of repair.

Shortly after creating the tile inlays of the hardwood floors, which isolated specific areas, I began to ponder whether a similar approach could produce a desired outcome with my acoustic. And although it was an invasive approach, there was indeed a way to achieve what it was I so desired. Instead of filling in the breaches of the acoustic guitar face and refinishing the entire thing, I decided to simply isolate the areas of damage, as I had done with the hardwood.

A design consisting of circles of different sizes was created. The pattern was transferred onto the acoustic guitar face, ensuring that each blemish on the guitar face was completely within one of the circles. Hole saw blades, matching the diameters of every circle size, were then used to carefully cut into the guitar face, from largest to smallest based on the design of the circles layout. Once the holes were cut, the inside edges of the holes were sanded and stained with a dark, cherry-coloured stain. With the new pattern of holes established and the damage removed, the acoustic regained its display status. It now sits proudly in the hallway of my second-floor reading room.

Some would say they could never cut into their hardwood the way I did, but they like the results. Similar comments have been made regarding the approach taken to repair/restore my favorite acoustic.

For me, the tile inlay is simply an extension of the rustic feel apparent throughout my home — this approach worked for me. And as for my favorite acoustic, it was retired long ago. Since the repair, this acoustic can once again be displayed, and represents persistence and longevity, my devotion to the craft of music… and no longer reminds of the night I dropped my favorite acoustic out of its case.

The less obvious fix can sometimes offer the greatest result.


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