Light oak plank warms this modern kitchen and gives it a quiet beauty
When we bought our house, we had the same issues so many new homeowners have, and that's very little time and very little money left over to make it as you want. Considering that so many newly purchased homes need total overhauls to erase decades-old decorating, we were lucky to have found a house that was essentially a blank canvas in terms of primed-only walls, re-sodded gardens, and all floors, carpeting, appliances and cabinetry were new. But I had one 'must-have', I wanted to replace the grey carpet that was put down in the living room with a wood floor. Actually, I wanted to rip that (so very thin) carpet out of the bedrooms, upstairs hallways and stairs as well, but there was that aforementioned too little time/too little money issue. The living room was a small but lovely space with high ceilings, crown molding, a modern fireplace and bay windows, so once that rug was out I could make it my own; the living room became my pet project. We were also first-time homeowners (not counting the condo we bought in Toronto which took so long to complete that we ended up in the UK before it closed), and so we were essentially rookies. Boy do I hate being a rookie at anything because you know that most of your decisions will end in some level of regret, and when it comes to homes, every decision has significant financial implications.
As well as painting the house, our decorator was also able to install the new living room floor. What luck! I thought, we really had no idea where to start with such things and were relieved he could take care of it. I'd always liked my mother-in-law's floor and so I asked for maple. I gave no specs and I wasn't asked for any either. He sourced some generic maple, probably from one of his buddies in the business, in all likelihood the cheapest he could find, and to this day I have no clue if what we paid was in line with what we got. What I do know is that it wasn't nearly as nice as my mother-in-law's floor but it would do, and it was far better than the grey carpet we started with. The installation seemed sound but it wasn't finished properly - where was the shine? - and I still resent the fact that he rushed me on the choice because he had other jobs to get onto. Many lessons were learned here and next time I will have done my homework and not compromise.
So I'm doing a little research now. According to the National Wood Flooring Association there are 33 species of wood for flooring - yes, really! - many I wasn't even aware of such as Cumaru and Bubinga, until I read the list. (It's worth noting that the NWFA is the American body and their recognised species used for flooring may differ from those in other countries. The British Wood Floor Association doesn't give a list on their site.) That's a lot of wood to cover so I referred to Posh Flooring for some of the most popular solid wood choices that we're likely to consider for our homes.
Here are the main features to be aware of with an example of what a floor in this species may look like - bearing in mind the various grades, quality, tonal variations in the grain, stain colours available, and that there are big differences between engineered wood and solid - so it pays to be thorough with your homework so you can make an informed decision:
This stained oak plank features beautiful light and dark contrasts throughout. Design by MGS Architecture.
There are so many looks when it comes to oak. Typically a heavily grained wood, it can look rich and rustic at one end of the spectrum and light and airy at the other. There's white oak, black oak, red oak (the name of the tree which has nothing to do with the colour), smoked oak, whitewash finishes, you get the idea. It stains evenly and one of its best qualities is that it is dent resistent, so if you're prone to dropping the remote at least once a day like I do, you might want to go for oak.
Wide maple planks warm this stark, minimalist kitchen. Design by Nicole Hollis.
Maple is a light-coloured hardwood that comes in two varieties. Heartwood is creamy white to light reddish brown while sapwood is pale to creamy white. It's dense and strong, offering excellent shock resistance and endures wear very well. It is typically seen in its natural state as it doesn't stain evenly, so what you see is what you get. But it will take a neutral finish.
Rich walnut floors anchor this colourful open plan home. Design by Portal Design.
Walnut is an ideal choice if you want a naturally rich, chocolately wood, and the finishing process will only enhance its beauty. The grain is fairly consistent and it's one of the woods that will look even better as the years go by. It is highly light-sensitive and will darken over time if exposed, which can be a desirable effect, but best to be aware of this characteristic beforehand. It's also a softer wood than hard-wearing oak, for example, so you may want to keep it to areas with less traffic, kids and pets.
The tonal variations makes this acacia floor particularly stunning. Design by Maza Design.
Acacia is an exotic hardwood, originating from Africa and Australia. It's becoming an increasingly popular choice for its rich beauty and unbeatable durability, making it ideal for high traffic areas that need to take wear and tear while retaining its looks. It's one of the best investments if you're looking for a floor that will last a lifetime.
Bamboo is perfect for creating a serene, harmonious space. Design by David Nieman Architects.
Technically, bamboo is a grass, although flooring made from it shares many characteristics with hardwood. It can be a more eco-friendly choice and it comes in that lovely, calming wheat colour we associate with natural bamboo. It's also available in dark shades that are more similar to walnut, but the process that achieves the darkening of the wood also softens it, so the natural colour is the best option if you're looking for durability. It also holds up well in humid environments and is less expensive than traditional hardwood. And of course it boasts that lovely fine grain!