From the October/November 2013 Issue:

Floor Essence

    Writer: Mary Vinnedge |

Learn what’s happening with hardwoods underfoot

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enlarge | Want something hardwearing for your kitchen? Try this maple floor—Rustic River Prairie Grove (shown in the color Portobello) from Cove Carpet One Floor & Home. It’s hand-scraped engineered wood measuring 5 inches wide. Courtesy of Cove Carpet One Floor & Home
Hardwood flooring is a home staple that, perhaps surprisingly, serves up a broad menu of colors, sizes, materials and finishes. Like a well-tailored suit, wood floors are always in style and shout quality. At any given time, however, consumers want a certain look—wood species, finish/colors and board sizes (in that suit, it translates to fabric composition, stripe vs. solid, black vs. navy, narrow vs. wide lapels).

For the latest on hardwood floors, which fall into the categories of domestic and exotic species, we checked in with Donna Dwyre of Cove Carpet One Floor & Home in Summit, John Miesegaes of J&S Designer Flooring in Morristown, Todd Waterman of Carlisle Wide Plank Floors in New York City and Vitor Pereira Jr. of Forestal America in Sparta.

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enlarge | True browns and grays make the grain pop in this wire-brushed floor from J&S Designer Flooring (“Fantasia” from the French Elegance collection of white oak designed by Louis A. Dabbieri). The planks of engineered wood are 31/2, 6 and 9 inches wide and have a low-sheen, water-based finish. Courtesy of J&S Designer Flooring
Domestic Hardwoods
Oak is by far the most-purchased domestic species. Other options include hickory, chestnut, walnut, maple and ash, which “is becoming a hidden treasure,” Waterman says. “Ash is more contemporary, lighter in color, and doesn’t go yellow or change color” through the years.

Miesegaes says his customers’ No. 1 request is an oil-finish European white oak that emphasizes the grain. “It’s almost a whitewashed look. It’s not a buttery color anymore,” he says. Waterman echoes the color assessment: “Clients are staying away from golden and orange tones and yellows.” When they want brown, they choose “true browns without red,” Waterman adds, but more often designers and homeowners are going with grays. Dwyre agrees, describing these hot tones as “taupier and driftwood colors.”

Hand-scraped floors remain very desirable, Miesegaes and Dwyre say. They’re especially terrific for homes with kids and pets. “A hand-scraped floor doesn’t show anything. The more you beat it up, the better it looks,” Miesegaes says, laughing.

Another forgiving option is the new wire-brushed flooring, in which the softer portions of the surface are brushed away, leaving behind the hardest parts of the wood as a raised texture that stands up well to abuse and also camouflages scratches and small chips.

These distressed looks dovetail nicely with another priority on consumer shopping lists: reclaimed wood that is salvaged from homes, barns and old commercial buildings. “People want that look,” Miesegaes says. “It’s a little more rustic, with nail holes and some rusty discoloration around the nails.”

Today’s consumers also prize wider; Dwyre cites widths of 3, 4 and 5 inches. Waterman explains that homeowners “want a 100-piece puzzle in their floor vs. a 1,000-piece puzzle.” At Carlisle, 6-to-10-inch widths are most common, he says, but sometimes planks exceed 1 foot.

Because wider boards are susceptible to cupping from shifts in temperature and humidity, engineered-wood techniques increase stability in wide planks (generally 5 inches or more, Pereira says). Engineered-wood flooring, available in many price points, has a face of one wood species mounted over multiple layers of other woods whose cross-graining stabilizes each piece. It’s so stable it can be installed in shore homes, in basements and over radiant heating systems, though there are still limits to maximum temperatures and how quickly the temperature can be raised so read the fine print.

Wide planks also mix it up with narrower ones in random-width installations. The mixed widths usually are reserved for casual settings, Waterman says, with formal applications being consistent-width floors.

Pricey inlays such as medallions and borders have fallen from favor, according to Miesegaes and Dwyre. However, Waterman sees “a lot of chevron, herringbone and Versailles panels [a diagonal parquet pattern that resembles lattice], which gives you the look of flooring in old European homes.” Homeowners opt for a special treatment in one room and usually have planks elsewhere, Waterman says. The special treatments add a decorative element underfoot, a stylish alternative if you can’t or won’t be using a rug—such as over radiant heating.

Topping off today’s domestic-wood floors are rugged low- and mid-luster finishes; Dwyre says consumers love high-tech coatings that mean no-fuss refinishing. “Just a screening [a gentle abrasion] and recoating are all that’s needed,” with little to no sanding, she says. Waterman says Carlisle floors have a tough, low-VOC (volatile organic compound) water-based finish and that homeowners can use Carlisle’s kit to refresh their floors themselves if they want to; the finish dries in an hour.

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enlarge | The floor in this living area is Carlisle White Oak with a charcoal stain and clear matte finish. Carlisle offers engineered custom planks up to 10 inches wide with a thick wear layer that can be refinished. Courtesy of Carlisle
Exotic Hardwoods
Dwyre reports that gray tones are trumping the red-browns and ambers of exotic hardwoods carried by Cove Carpet One. At Forestal America, however, Pereira says the strengthening U.S. economy has spurred demand for tropical woods such as deep reddish-brown Brazilian cherry. He calls it the “oak of South America,” meaning it’s the most popular exotic species. But tigerwood (muiracatiara)—with its high-contrast dark-brown and amber coloring—is an up-and-comer. “It makes a fashion statement like nothing else, like tiger stripes,” Pereira says.

Other exotic species performing well for Forestal are Brazilian teak (cumaru), which has rich, varied brown tones and a very tight grain; Brazilian walnut (lapacho), which has a chocolate-milk color and dark-brown graining, sometimes tinged with green—it’s sometimes clear-coated, sometimes stained dark; and santos mahogany, a reddish-brown.

All of these woods are “so dense, so hard, that they’re extremely difficult to scrape, and they don’t look that good hand-scraped like oak and hickory do,” Miesegaes says. (Brazilian cherry is twice as hard as typical American oak, he adds.)

Another difference between domestic and exotic woods: The exotics wear higher-sheen finishes. “They don’t look good with a matte finish,” Pereira says, so they’re given a semigloss/satin finish instead. Widths of Forestal’s exotics run from 21/4 inches up to the 5 inches that many U.S. customers request.

Consumers are sometimes concerned about sustainable harvesting, but Pereira offers reassurance that originating countries (in­clud­ing Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina) have enacted stiff restrictions, and in the United States, the Lacey Act requires documentation proving that imported woods are harvested in a sustainable manner.

When Mary Vinnedge ( purchased her home, it came with hand-scraped oak floors. They stand up beautifully under the paws of her happy-yappy dogs, Ace, Bodacious and Toby.

The Cold Hardwood Facts
Our experts wanted to set the record straight on hardwood floors:

• Engineered wood floors are real wood, says Donna Dwyre of Cove Carpet One Floor & Home in Summit.
• Most engineered wood floors can be refinished.
• American walnut is not a particularly hard wood, says John Miesegaes of J&S Designer Flooring in Morristown. Oak is harder, and the hardest woods come out of Africa and South America.
• Scratch-resistant finishes are not guaranteed against scratching. It’s just harder to scratch them, says Vitor Pereira of Forestal America in Sparta.

Pickle Craving?
Pickled-look floors may be coming back in style. However, the late-1980s staple doesn’t have the pinkish cast this time around and looks more like driftwood, says Donna Dwyre of Cove Carpet One Floor & Home in Summit. It’s too early to know whether the look will remain in demand, she says, but she’s had several requests.