Sorting Out the Wood from the Trees — the Best Woods for Hardwood Flooring

The American love affair with hardwood flooring has never been stronger — after hundreds of years, this traditional flooring choice for American homes is more popular than ever. Traditional wood flooring — exemplified by styles like wide plank flooring, rustic or antique flooring, deliberately distressed floors, even reclaimed wood floors — is appearing in homes across the country. As ‘green’ construction becomes more significant, wood floors are one of the most renewable, environmentally-conscious choices for builders and homeowners.

So, let’s say you’ve decided to install an antique-looking, wide plank floor, in your living room. Perhaps you are remodeling, perhaps you just bought your house and need to get rid of a stained, ugly, yellow shag carpet that looks like it was installed around the time that John Travolta was making Saturday Night Fever. But what kind of wood floor should you get? The choices, with so many wood species on the market, may seem overwhelming. Here are some guidelines to help you pick the right kind of wood for your project.

First, there are no set rules. It’s your floor, in your house or condo, and the most important thing is that you be happy with your choice. With that in mind, consider the common ways that different woods have been used in the past. Over time, it has become traditional to use certain types of wood flooring in certain architectural styles. For example, wide plank white pine is very closely associated with a “country” look. It was the wood most widely available to our ancestors. Most of the homes of that era, by necessity, were rustic, and the style has remained. In contrast, classic white oak, another perfect choice for wide plank flooring, is often associated with elegant, or more formal wood floors.

The use of different hardwood species in different settings is perhaps easiest viewed by home type. But remember, these are just guidelines. Wood is a very versatile material, and the same wood can often work in a variety of settings. Most of the woods listed below can be ordered in one of several grades, adding to its flexibility. Select grade is the smoothest, often resulting in an elegant look. Country, and rustic grades, are more rough, sometimes more distressed looking grades, giving an antique or country look to the floor.

Wood Floors for Traditional Style Homes

Warm, elegant floors are often found in traditional American homes, such as Colonial and Georgian style houses. Suggested woods for a traditional architecture include:

– Eastern White Pine. It is a fine, smooth-grained, knotty wood, with a very soft texture. It is very authentic for older homes, creating a warm, classic tone.

– Cherry. A subtle, tight grain, medium hardness, and a deep red color are the hallmarks of cherry flooring. The red color of cherry continues to deepen over the years, resulting in a warmth of tone that is almost unmatched. A cherry wood floor works well in formal or country settings.

– White Oak. A tight-grained, dense, hard wood. A white oak wood floor is seen in many classic American homes. The select grade gives a more traditional look, while country grade white oak, more knotty in appearance, can be used to create a more rustic looking wood floor.

– Heart Pine. One of the best-loved of all American woods. A heart pine wood floor is another time-tested American look. It is a very hard wood, with a dramatic, flame-like grain, and an orange pumpkin color. It works beautifully in a country or a traditional setting.

Wood Floors for Modern or Contemporary Homes

– Hard Maple. This durable wood has a tight, close grain, and is one of the hardest woods available. Hard maple flooring has a clear, light look, and is perfect for light, contemporary rooms with plenty of windows. You will see hard maple used in settings that require an extremely hard-wearing surface, such as a gymnasium.

– Birch. Another hard-wearing, dense wood, birch has a tight grain, and a subtle, sometimes swirling pattern. Birch is the perfect wood for a modern, light floor.

– Hickory. A very hard, tight grain, usually with some knots, and sometimes the grain can be dramatic. A hickory floor can work just as well in a country setting as in a modern one.

– Walnut. A popular choice, walnut is medium-hard, with marbleized coloring, and well-suited to natural finishes. Walnut flooring is a very versatile wood, suitable for many architectural styles.

Wood Floors for Country Style Homes

– Heart Pine. The classic heart pine wood floor looks as good in a country setting as it does in a traditional one. For a country, or rustic wood floor, wide plank heart pine is a perfect choice, with its flame-like grain and color like a pumpkin.

– Eastern White Pine. The smooth-grained, knotty, eastern white pine creates a wood floor that will look right at home in a country style house. It has been the wood of choice in American country homes for generations.

– Character Grade White Oak. For a more rustic looking wood floor, the flecked pattern of character grade white oak, very suitable for quarter-sawn flooring, is an excellent choice.

– Red Oak. Coarse-grained, quarter-sawn, wide plank red oak flooring creates a timeless country look that will enhance any country style home.

Wood Floors for Every Style of Home

Home styles and architecture are not limited to a few classic looks. There is an infinite variety of decors, and wood floors complement them all. From a heart pine wood floor in a French country farmhouse, to eastern white pine flooring in a log home, to a rich, red, Santos mahogany floor in a classic, 19th century style library, the choices are almost limitless. Do some research on the internet, perhaps look at some image galleries of hardwood flooring, and let your imagination take wing. Then go out to some showrooms and see, and most importantly, touch, the wood. Genuine hardwood is a material you’re almost bound to fall in love with. And when you find the right wood for your project, you will simply know it.

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