Several weeks ago, I shared some initial thoughts and photos on putting down a brown paper bag floor. Today, I have some updates! While I still have a lot more of this project ahead of me, I’ve been super pleased with the results and I’ve learned a lot along the way.
I’m grateful for friends who planted this idea in my head years ago when I first began blogging. I’m even more grateful that after many years of hazy memories I could google the words “brown paper floor” and find every tutorial and answer known to man! However, even the best tutorials didn’t address some questions and information I later learned through experience.
All you need is a desire and a few supplies to get started. You can use any type of paper, for the leather look using a brown paper is best. I ordered a roll from Amazon for about $16. It covered well over 700 square feet. The only other product required for application is a glue for wetting and adhering the paper to the floor. Once the floor is dry you need to protect and strengthen it with several coats of polyurethane. This is the brown paper floor in a nut shell. It’s an incredibly inexpensive flooring option that looks great.
Application is a simple process of tearing the paper into whatever size pieces you desire and like the look of. You crumple the paper into a ball, let it absorb glue and then smooth it out flat on the floor. You overlap the pieces as you go and let it dry.
This is what it looks like when it’s wet, and the same area when it’s dry:
There is a BIG difference in putting down this floor on wood versus concrete. Both work, but there are definite differences. Concrete requires a stronger adhesive to stick and the paper doesn’t dry as smooth or flat. I couldn’t find a way to avoid this, you can work and work each piece to lay flat while putting it down but as it dries there are just places where it will wrinkle and lift a little. The good news is that the look you’re going for is worn leather so wrinkles fit in just great!
Both of these photos are from the basement where I put this floor down. The one on the left is a direct look down, the one on the right is a distance shot across the floor. Both pictures have the same dried coats of top coat (polyurethane), the lighting and angle are what explain the different look. The color variations in the paper are a natural process of the way the crumpled paper absorbs the glue and how it dries. You can see from the picture on the right how the gloss sheen adds to the finished look of the floor, if you prefer a less glossy finish you simply use a satin version of polyurethane. I read many recommendations to lightly sand in between each coat for a smooth finish. I found this impossible on the concrete floor because there are some seams and wrinkles that already interfered with the completely smooth finish. At this point, I’ve simply paid more attention to these areas when applying the sealant coats giving those spots a little extra. Honestly, I can’t see that not sanding between coats has had any negative impact on my flooring. Additionally, it’s flooring that will eventually be covered with area rugs and furniture. To date, I’ve put down three coats of polyurethane, I plan to do one or two more. One great advantage to this floor is it’s flexibility. Additional coats of polyurethane could be added at any time during the life of the floor for added endurance and shine. It is also extremely forgiving! If you don’t like the look of a section or if you have a scratch or trouble spot you simple glue more paper over the top. I’ve already had a few touch up spots.
You can see what it looks like to put new paper over old. The picture on the right is this same spot, looking down, after it’s dried. The “fix” fits in perfectly. You can also see how a floor imperfection will show through your work. This seam of two concrete pads is significant. I thought I had enough floor leveler over the seam to hide it. But you can still see perfectly where the seam is. Paper is very thin so imperfections in the floor they’re covering will show through. Prep work pays!
Paper on concrete also looks differently when dried. On a concrete floor I found the paper dried very light compared to that on wood. You also can clearly see the paper sections and seams. The wood floor finish is more even and camouflaged. It’s not hard to see why people like working with it on wood better than concrete. However, that said I still think both look beautiful!
So this is where a little control comes in with color. These photos show the natural color, or the look with the paper, unaltered dried. Again, there’s a difference between concrete and wood. Because the only adhesive strong enough to glue the paper to concrete is polyurethane, there is already a coat of protectant on the paper once it’s dried. This means putting any stain for color will be problematic. I did try one small area with a combination polyurethane and stain. It glides on the same way a coat of polyurethane does.
The stained floor is a darker brown. Ironically it’s the same walnut stain as you’ll see on the stairs although it clearly doesn’t look anywhere near that dark on the concrete. For this small space, I used a brush to apply the stained polyurethane. On the rest of the floor I used a paint roller and brushed in the edges to apply the top coats.
On a wood floor you can control color by applying stain directly onto the dried paper and then applying the polyurethane top coats. I found it helpful to run a dry paper towel over the top of the stain to absorb excess stain and better control the look I wanted. I also found the stain remains quite tacky even after drying. I wrapped my feet with some press and seal plastic wrap when applying the first coat of polyurethane, which dried in about four hours. This removed the tacky finish and started the gloss look.
One of the things I’ve loved the most about working with paper is how easy it is. All you need to do is fold over the wet paper to make a straight edge. This was very helpful when applying it to the stairs as there were a lot of straight edges. It was wonderful to see the ugly wood transformed into a picture of perfect edges and beautiful finish.
You can see from the earlier pictures how I used a plastic garbage sack over a small dish to work with the polyurethane to glue the paper down. On the wood it was a simple plastic bowl with a mixture of one part water to one part Elmer’s white glue. One thing I think would be important is to use a water based polyurethane for applying paper to concrete. I think an oil based product would make it harder for the paper to absorb the mixture as well as dry. The paper doesn’t get wet as fast in the polyurethane as it does in the elmer’s glue mixture. I found it much easier to get the paper too wet with the elmer’s glue. When this happens the paper tears, but you quickly learn what the balance is. As long as the paper is adequately wet with glue you won’t need to put additional glue on the floor. You smooth out any air bubbles as you go and let the paper dry.
Here’s the stair’s transformation:
The upstairs hard floors will match the color and look of the stairs. It’s a lot of work left but the results are wonderful. It’s the most inexpensive and deeply satisfying DIY project I’ve ever undertaken. It’s been really fun to see this project come together.
I’m looking forward to some finished pictures when everything’s done but for now this is a wonderful start!