Wood Flooring Demystified II

Top interior designer and designer mentor, Lisa Kahn, is principal of Kahn Design Group in Naples, Florida. Lisa is a pro at knowing her products and attention to details. >>

Wondering how adding a wood floor to your room or your home will affect the overall look?  Seemingly small decisions can make a very big impact so read on to find the answers you’ve been seeking…

Floor board width and layout:   Choosing the right layout and board width for your flooring is the first big decision that must be made.  As a rule, random plank flooring is more casual and can give a more relaxed overall feel.  Interestingly, all wood floors up to the latter part of the 19th century were made of random planks.  Therefore these floors can also evoke a feeling that is reminiscent of an era gone by, one that speaks of a time when materials were used honestly and not mass-produced like they are today.  Random plank floors are typically made up of boards in three sizes, ranging anywhere from 3” to 10”, although there are variations depending on the manufacturer and also the wood species chosen. In this kitchen, a random width plank floor in walnut plays into the rustic atmosphere 

On the opposite end of the spectrum, consistent width plank floors can can create a more organized, formal feeling in a room.  In earlier times, having same-width floor planks meant extra labor and extra waste, so these floors were reserved for the more formal spaces in the homes of only the wealthiest sector of the population.  That notion remains with us today and can be seen pictured below.

In this stunning living room, the matte finished flooring with planks all the same size lend a more sophisticated, precise effect

Certainly there are other, interesting products like end grain, parquet, herringbone patterns and even wood borders and medallions.  The number of materials out there is astounding.  There is no limit on products available that allow you to express yourself in unique, fabulous ways.

Fabulous end grain flooring

Finish:  Unblemished, glossy wood floors are beautiful to be sure, but if you are seeking a more forgiving surface that will not show every speck of lint and every scrape and scuff, there are a variety of beautiful, distressed finishes available today will answer your need.  100 years ago wood floors were installed looking perfect and became distressed over years of wear and tear.  The beauty of these floors is unmistakable.  In our desire for instant-gratification today, and given the popularity of reproduced, antiqued looks, manufacturers have risen to the occasion.  They have developed techniques of “aging” the boards using methods like hand-scrapping, hand-planing and even wire brushing to raise the grain of the wood.  The effect is wonderful, providing a flooring surface that unlike its shinier, more perfect-looking counterpart does not mind an extra scrape or scratch.  In fact, additional wear can just add to the patina.

TIP:  Keep a couple of wood stain markers in the color of your distressed wood floor in your drawer so that an unexpected scrape or gash can be quickly colored to blend with the rest of the floor.  It’s almost like magic!

This hand-scraped floor not only looks beautiful but makes sense for families with kids and pets or for areas that will see higher usage  

This wire-brushed oak floor is stunning, showing the effect of raising the grain

This photo shows the beauty and natural patina of flooring made of actual reclaimed boards.  There is a warmth and honesty to these floors that even the best reproductions are hard pressed to match

Wood Species:  The last big decision to be made is wood species.  With floor boards available from all over the world, we have unprecedented access to everything from woods that are indigenous to our local geographical area to exotics from places like Brazil, Africa, India and the Philippines.  As we make a continued effort to be more responsible and “green” with our design decisions, some of these truly exotic, endangered woods like Ebony from West Africa or Brazilian Rosewood from the rainforest, are not nearly as sought after as they once were, fortunately.  I encourage you to respect the guidelines put forth by the Rainforest Relief organization.  Check out their “Guidelines for Avoiding Wood from Endangered Forests” at http://www.rainforestrelief.org/documents/Guidelines.pdf

When choosing a wood species, it’s important to consider the application, traffic and usage, as well as environmental factors like humidity.  Sheer traffic volume over your floor is usually and understandably one of the most pressing concerns.  With a higher traffic volume, a harder floor will generally hold up better than a floor made of a softer wood.  Oak flooring is considered to be the one of the hardest wearing wood floor surfaces and it does take a variety of stain colors well.  However, it turns out that there are actually several wood choices that are harder, and in my experience, not everyone likes the grain of the oak boards.  It is quite specific and recognizable.  It generally fits a more casual interior space like a family room.  Maple is harder than oak and has a less obvious grain pattern.  As a flooring product, it takes light and medium-colored stains well but dark stains can be unattractive and blotchy.  Maple transitions more gracefully than oak into formal spaces like living or dining rooms and does well in hallways and even kitchens.

Maple flooring

Cherry, on the opposite end of the spectrum, is quite soft but it takes stain colors beautifully and has a natural color to the wood that adds depth and richness.  The grain of cherry is elegant and lovely, lending it to a master bedroom suite or a library.  I have used cherry throughout several homes and have noticed that main traffic areas like hallways and foyers do best when protected by area rugs.  It’s hard to beat the gorgeous look of a cherry floor.

Cherry flooring  

See below for a list of some of the most common woods used for flooring, ranked from hardest to softest:

  • Santos Mahogany
  • Hickory
  • Hard Maple
  • White Oak
  • Red Oak
  • Heartpine
  • Black Walnut
  • Teak
  • Black Cherry
  • Pine

Hickory flooring

Walnut flooring

Armed with the information in this article, you are ready to hit your local wood flooring stores and look at samples.  If you have questions about your application, remember that an interior design professional can save you money and heartache by helping you make the best choices and avoid costly mistakes.  Wood floors are a beautiful addition to almost every home, bringing warmth and vibrancy and life to your space.  Please share your wood flooring experiences with me and comment below!  I look forward to hearing from you.

Note:  A special thank you to Carlisle Wide Plank Floors for the images shown in this post.  Truly an industry standard, they supply a superior product in a responsible manner that respects the planet and other businesses.  www.wideplankflooring.com

See Part I of Wood Flooring Demystified

Lisa Kahn, author of this feature, is principal of  Kahn Design Group,  an Interior Design firm in naples, Florida. Lisa is top in class and would love to talk to you about designing a space perfect for you.

A full list of all our global mentors [ who are top professional interior designers ] on our Mentors Page.



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One Response to “Wood Flooring Demystified II”

  1. recycled lumber Says:

    The upcycled one from Oddee is genius with a quirk, I am inspired to create something similar!


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