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Exposed wooden floors have made a comeback. I find my clients to be attracted by the visual warmth and simplicity. Such flooring expresses a clean and uncluttered sensibility.
There are a myriad of options involving solid wood or engineered wood. Solid wood is as it sounds solid - real wood through and through. Engineered wood floors are veneers pressed onto dimensionally stable plywood backing.
The advantage of engineered wood is the endless choices of species available because engineered wood is a veneer backed with dimensional dimensionally stable plywood. The veneer is about ¼ inch thick making it possible to produce less costly floors of unusual species to suit every taste. These include domestic wood species such as oak, walnut,birch cherry, hickory, pecan and maple, and exotic wood species such as Brazilian cherry, tigerwood, sapele, santos mahogany, acacia and cabreuva. Engineered floors look like solid wood, are faster to install, and less prone to moisture damage because their plywood backing is dimensionally stable. This means that they do not expand and contract.
Solid wood floors have less variety than exotic woods. However, you will find a lot of choice, including white oak, red oak, walnut, mahogany, ash, maple, birch, teak and wenge.
An engineered wood floor can be installed immediately upon delivery, while solid wood floor planks must first acclimate to the environment in which they will be installed. This is so the moisture level of the boards adjust to the relative humidity of the room. Usually this takes 3 to 4 weeks. If installed too soon the floor boards may shrink leaving gaps between the boards.
The big advantage of a real wood floor is that it can be refinished as needed when it takes a lot of wear. An engineered wood floor, because it is a thin veneer of wood cannot be refinished. They can be only be sanded a couple times before the plywood backing becomes exposed. It is for this reason that I prefer real wood in most applications. In small spaces or rooms with very little traffic, the impact of an unusual species in engineered wood may well be worth the risk for the drama created.
There are other considerations when deciding on a wood floor. The plank size will help set the mood of the room. A wider plank denotes a bit more informality whereas a thinner plank expresses more formality. I never specify a floor less than 2 ¾” however. Planks thinner than these loose the qualities of the wood grain. The exception to this rule is patterned floors such as herringbone and parquet. In these cases the drama comes from the pattern and a simple species in a plank no more than 1-3/4”wide works best.
The inherent color of the species and color of the stain used also impacts the feeling of a room. Always look at stained samples of wood planks, choosing at least 4 samples.
Generally I find that darker colors recede and make a room feel larger. This may be a good trick to utilize in a room with low ceiling heights. The amount of light in the room must be considered, however, and the stain adjusted accordingly. A light floor such as ash or bleached oak can be dramatic in a large space such as a loft, especially with walls painted white.
It is also important to think about furnishings. If your taste tends towards modern furniture with simple lines and materials or industrial materials, a plank with an active, rich wood grain will provide a sophisticated counterpoint. If your furniture is mainly wood and it’s design is intricate, a simple wood species such as walnut or oak would better suit. In this case, I always choose a very neutral mid- range tone and avoid red tones such as cherry.
Wood floors can be easily cleaned with a mop and bucket of warm water - never use anything stronger than a drop of dish detergent.
Well chosen occasional rugs can define spaces and add some sophistication or fun. You can send them out to be cleaned if you need to. This practicality also makes for a healthier environment, as full carpeting of a room requires a religious avoidance of spillage and can be very dusty even after vacuuming, while employing a carpet cleaner is an extra expense, especially if you have children or entertain a lot.
A great place to start is to visit a few showrooms in your area. Take photos and get samples. Most showrooms will be glad to supply samples at least on loan. Look at the samples on the floor both during the daylight and at night. Take confidence in your own taste but don't be afraid to be open to new possibilities.
Below is a helpful link to the National Wood Flooring Association