How to upcycle a plywood floor at a bargain

Eugene Vargas

If you want a classy-looking home but can't afford to dig up your old floor and put in the hardwood or stone flooring you dream of, there are ways to turn any house into a mansion without breaking the bank. The methods below are also environmentally-friendly, as they can be achieved with renewable or recycled materials:

The brown bag look

Start off with a basic floor of structural plywood. This material is used in many homes, and may well be what's hiding under your carpet. It doesn't look a million dollars, but it has a million benefits: soundproof, hard-wearing, insulating against cold or heat, and treatable against decay. In short, it's an ideal basis for your floor project, and making it look like a high-end hardwood is surprisingly easy. All it takes is some DIY, brown paper, and glue.

After sanding down your plywood floor and filling in any nail dents to make it smooth, gather some old brown paper bags or rolls from a craft shop. Rip this up into small pieces and scrunch it into balls, keeping pieces from the edges of the paper separate from ones taken from the middle. Leave the balls to soak in a glue-and-water mix for a moment, then arrange the pieces in random, organic patters. Use the straight-edged pieces for the edges of the room, and the rest for the centre.

After the room has dried, it's just a matter of creating a durable finish with a few coats of polyurethane. The project may take a couple of days, but the result looks like the luxurious and trendy leather floors, at a sliver of the price.

Cork tiles

Another, less labour-intensive option is to lay cork tiles over your plywood base. Cork shares many of plywood's great properties: soft and insulating, with the added bonus that it's incredibly Eco-friendly. It's harvested by removing bark from a living cork tree; this grows back every three years, so no trees are cut down in the process.

Installing cork tiles in your home is as easy as gluing them down to a plywood base. Some tiles are now being made to snap together, doing away with the glue altogether. Before getting down to business, it's advisable to buy some graph paper and map out your floor to get an idea of how many tiles you'll need, and where to start laying them.

Thin slices of tile look less good than thicker ones, so think about where you want to place the inevitable cut-offs. The result is a natural-looking floor that can be stained to suit your colour scheme.