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Focus on Design: Hardwood Floors

From Brazilian cherry to Canadian maple, from untreated oak to recycled barn wood with a raw, rustic finish, today’s underfoot aesthetic is a mélange of long-term sustainability and natural elegance. The ebonized stains and dark-red mahogany finishing that was de rigueur in the '80s (as well as extremely high-maintenance) is giving way to lighter, sunnier woods with a softer finish that recall freshly harvested trees and promise a lifetime of durability.

Absolutely Floored

Hardwood flooring is still a popular choice for a modern interior look.
Cost can be an issue. One solution is to reserve one room for hardwood and carpet the rest.

One of the fastest growing trends in wood flooring is a move toward reducing one’s carbon footprint, notes Mally Skok, the Boston-area interior and fabric designer and founder of Mally Skok Design.

“A lot of people now want to know the origin of the wood and where the material is coming from,” Skok said. “They want to make sure that it’s not coming from the old growth of a forest [that’s in danger of disappearing], and that it’s sustainably harvested. That’s one of the reasons people choose bamboo. It’s hard-wearing, it’s fast-growing and it’s eco-friendly.”

Recycled wood is also a popular choice among environment-conscious design consumers, according to Skok. “It’s more expensive,” said the designer, “but it’s a very beautiful look. Old barn wood, for example, has a much more dense knot to it because wood growth was so much slower in the old days due to a lack of fertilizer and nutrients in the ground. Old wood has a wonderful patina to it and looks really amazing in contemporary situations.”

Because recycled wood tends to come in a variety of different board lengths, the end result appears far more organic than wood planks of the same cut and size. “There’s definitely a trend toward wider planks,” Skok said. “Wood manufacturing companies are cutting planks that look like recycled wood, applying to it a very soft, wax-like finish so that it doesn’t look fake.”

To achieve an au naturel look, Katie Rosenfeld, Massachusetts-based interior designer and founder of Katie Rosenfeld Design, suggests seeking out unstained oak wood. “My favorite wood floors are made with natural oak that absorbs and takes color really nicely,” Rosenfeld said. “With this type of wood, you can be really accurate with the color you’re trying to achieve.”

A fan of “doing whatever you want in your floor,” Rosenfeld favors the newly revived “pickled” wood style that rose to popularity in the 1970s. “Pickled wood means they’ve taken almost all the color out of it, so that it ends up being lined and whitewash-y, or very pale gray,” Rosenfeld explained. “It’s very pretty and looks really great in warm, beachy climates. Pickled wood is making a big comeback in design circles.”

How much you pay for wood, says Rosenfeld, depends on a few key factors. For example, “Salvaged wood can either be a really economic option or an exorbitantly expensive one,” she said. “If your wood comes from a historic place, it’s likely going to be really pricey, but if you’re getting old wood from a building that was going to be demolished, you can get it for a song.”

Sometimes digging around for beautiful but humbly priced wood is a matter of scouring mainstream hardware supply stores. “Home Depot has stylists that are in tune with what’s going on in the design world,” Skok said. “It’s about finding cool materials and making good choices.”

To keep remodeling costs down, Rosenfeld suggests choosing one room in your home in which to feature wood flooring. “If only doing one room, I would put wood flooring in the space where you’re going to enjoy it the most, like the kitchen or family room,” she said, suggesting putting down throw rugs in winter, but only in heavy foot-traffic areas. “Throw rugs on wood floors are great for cold-weather climates like New England,” she said. “Just take them up in the summer.”

Whichever wood you do choose, Rosenfeld strongly advises to steer clear of “retreated” wood with a synthetic urethane coating. “Always buy raw wood that you need to install and then stain it,” Rosenfeld said. “Wood that comes already coated is slippery and looks really fake.”

Whatever you do, leave the installation process to the experts. “Use local labor,” Skok suggested. “Use somebody around town who’s a friend or a friend of a friend and known for doing a top-notch job, someone who has his reputation to uphold.”

“Absolutely, always, have a professional,” agreed Rosenfeld. “There are all kinds of companies that specialize in floor restoration and finishes that can sell you the flooring and install it for you. Measure your space and decide whether you want narrow or wide planks of wood. Then, have them help you find a way to create your own styled look.”

About the Author

Malina Saval is the author of "The Secret Lives of Boys: Inside the Raw Emotional World of Male Teens," published by Basic Books in 2009. She has been a featured guest on NPR's "Talk of the Nation," Fox News, the Patt Morrison show and Tavis Smiley.Her work has been published in the "Los Angeles Times," "Glamour," "LA Weekly," "Jerusalem Post," "Premiere" and "Variety."

Photo Credits

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