Hardwood Floors: Making New Look Old

Are you partial to the vintage look? Then get busy and start beating up your hardwood floors.

Across America, as countless homeowners restore well-worn hardwood floors to their originalluster, others are hard at work making their new floors look very, very old. That has some homeowners or their handymen grinding, pummeling, notching, and
even taking an ice pick to brand-new hardwood floor boards.

Not to worry: they can take it, according to Susan Regan of the Hardwood Information Center. She said, “I can’t think of another floor material that’s so appealing when it’s old that people go out of their way to distress it ahead of time. Since a hardwood floor can last 100 years or more, this is a way to enjoy that old-world character and patina now.”

The trend toward vintage isn’t just a California thing. Manhasset, N.Y.,
interior designer Doreen Rose Stempien is among East Coast homeowners who are adding old-world style to hardwood floors. The stained designs on her plank floors are distressed to look decades – even centuries – older.

Use stain to create faux inlays

When friends step into Stempien’s 72-year-old Georgian colonial, they assume the gorgeous oak floor in the foyer has a geometric inlay. They’re wrong. The diamond pattern trimmed by a simple border actually is stained.

“The look is very soft and pretty and old,” Stempien says. “I
love it. Many of the old, historical homes had diamond patterns on the

Stempien’s floor refinisher sanded the floor and applied a coat of stain mixed to match the color of the wood floors in the adjacent dining and living rooms. Next, he carefully laid out the 7-inch diamonds, taping around those that would be darker and then staining them in a walnut finish.

A day later, he drew the lines for the 2 1/4-inch border, taped the edges and stained it in an even darker tone. Two coats of a fast-drying semigloss polyurethane were added to seal in the design and give the floor lasting protection.

Stained designs like Stempien’s create the look of a much more expensive inlaid floor, notes Dominick Pisciotta, marketing vice president of Minwax. “You get a very dramatic, show-stopping look,” he says. “You’re creating the look of a custom floor.”

If you want to try staining a pattern yourself, consider a basic design.
Look for ideas in other floor coverings like rugs, tile, or marble, Pisciotta says. Use tape designed to remove easily, and apply the stain sparingly so it doesn’t seep under the adhesive.

More elaborate stained designs, like medallions and fancy borders, can be especially beautiful, but these projects may be best left to a professional or homeowner accustomed to working with stencils.

Distressing wood for ‘instant’ aging

Distressed hardwood floors also add character and a sense of instant history to a room. These floors, often cut into 5-inch-wide planks, can be found in solid hardwoods or engineered, made of several layers of wood stacked and glued together under pressure. They can be distressed and finished in a factory or in your home.

Mannington’s American Rustics line of engineered hardwood plank floors has been a big hit since it was introduced two years ago. The line’s Chesapeake hickory floor features the look of wormholes and saw marks, while Brandywine oak boasts of screw marks. Both come with “the handsome patina of age that one might expect to find in a grand house with a century of history,” according to company literature.

“The rustic trend is very hot in home furnishings, including furniture
and cabinetry,” says John Himes, Mannington’s director of wood marketing. “This allows you to tie into that.”

The top layer of Mannington’s floors run underneath a large metal roller that distresses the floor before the stain and finish are applied in thefactory.

Chesapeake hickory, the most popular choice, retails for about $8 per square foot, Himes says.

Floors that are distressed by hand, often called hand-scraped floors,
typically sell for about $14 a square foot, Himes says. Hand-scraped floors offer a more undulated surface, like the look of floors that were installed as rough planks and then scraped smooth centuries ago.

Distressed floors began growing more popular when some leading retailers began installing them in malls across the country, says Bill Clossin, vice president of marketing at Harris Tarkett.

“People want their wood floors to be different, and you get an old-home, cozy feeling with distressing,” he says.

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