See this picture from a few months ago? (Look at those khaki walls — egad!) Now let me direct your attention to that enormous floor return visible behind the adorable basset hound. I don’t know if you can tell from this, but it’s in a sad state. Bowed. Buckled. Rusted. A certifiable eyesore — and right in the middle of our house.
You see, when it comes to old houses, there are good original architectural details — and then there’s this, the original architectural detail that nobody likes: a massive floor return. I’m telling you, if I had a dollar for every time someone walked in and said to us, “My grandmother used to have one of these!” I’d have enough to pay someone to take it out.
And you can’t cover it up — trust me, I would know. I’ve tried.
To be fair, we knew the return was an issue when we bought the house. But we just figured we’d have it removed eventually. Problem solved, right?
Ha. It’s quaint to look back on those days of naivety. I consulted with a contractor and learned that getting rid of the monster floor return would cost approximately all of the monies, because removing it entails re-routing all of the duct-work under our house (not to mention we’d then have to patch over the hole and refinish the hardwood floors in both rooms…)
We put it on the back burner.
I’m a crazy woman and can’t let things like this alone for long, though. So a few months went by and then I corralled Manny to help me fix it. Alas, our attempts to mend the broken grille, instead of making it better, made it a whole lot worse. Suddenly, the grille wasn’t just “sort of” unstable. Thanks to our interventions, it was literally not safe to walk on.
This happened right around the time Tilly went blind. Now we had no choice but to address the issue because we couldn’t risk her stepping on it accidentally and falling through and getting hurt. (Disclaimer: We also didn’t want to risk humans stepping on it and getting hurt. Humans are important too. Maybe not quite as important as beloved blind basset hounds. But I recognize they’re still at least sort of important.)
Since we had basically ruled out re-doing the ductwork under the house, our options regarding the monster floor return were limited to finding a new grille. Of course, nothing is ever easy when it comes to old houses, and I learned pretty quickly that no one makes grilles this large anymore. Why? Because it’s ridiculous to put a 22″ x 40″ hole in someone’s floor.
(Nope, that’s not a typo. 22″ x 40″ is in fact the size of our floor return.)
Vintage options were out as well — I just couldn’t find anything that was the right size and in good condition. In a nutshell, we had to special order an industrial grade vent cover to fit the existing specs.
(View toward the dining room showing our *new* Shoemaker floor return grille. It’s a huge improvement over the old one. Which basically means: Eh, good enough.)
Enter the Shoemaker 1610 Series custom floor return grille. This ain’t no pretty, decorative vent, mind you. Bad boy is made out of heavy gauge steel and sports a “traditional slotted design” reminiscent of high school gyms and industrial spaces.
But why, you ask, if it’s so visible, didn’t we spring for a fancy custom grille with a nice lattice pattern or something?
Sigh. Because this plain, industrial, non-bent, non-warped, non-rusted grille in an inoffensive color cost nearly as much as our fridge. Prettier designs run closer in cost to fridge + dishwasher.
The other super (not-)fun part about this saga is that Shoemaker custom vents are absolutely, unequivocally non-returnable. I was *terrified* when placing the order that my measurements would be off. (You could say I “grilled” the gentleman in sales pretty hard to make sure I had measured right. Get it? I “grilled” him — about the floor grille. Ha!)
Aside from the kitchen renovation and the floor refinishing in our sunroom, this stupid return grille is among the single most expensive upgrades to the house we’ve made. And it’s not even really an upgrade, since it doesn’t change the fact that our house has a floor return in the middle of the two most oft-used rooms. It’s infuriating — and yet… so rewarding. Because when all is this said and done, it’s just nice to look at something that used to be broken and see it now fixed. Bonus: We no longer fear that our beloved blind basset will fall through a massive hole in the middle of our floor.
Anyone else have a experience with similarly annoying “original details” in an old house?