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Proof That Wood Floors Don't Have to Be Predictable

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Wood flooring is ubiquitous in residential interiors—and for good reason. It's durable while at the same time providing a sense of warmth and timelessness. Real estate listings boast “wood flooring throughout!” as though it’s the same thing as buying a home laced with cash (and given resale values, it kind of is).

Diagonal wood flooring painted a glossy black.
Diagonal wood flooring painted a glossy black. Photo by Roman and Williams

If you love wood flooring but wouldn’t describe your style as “ubiquitous,” fear not. There are lots of options beyond just a standard "straight lay." Of course, each variation has a its pros and cons, from maintenance to sourcing and expenses.

These are three variations on standard wood flooring that open it up to a world of options (and budgets).

Parquet Patterns

Technically parquetry is defined as wood installed in a geometric pattern. Using this term might be a little dicey, however, as it can recall an image of 1970’s basketweave linoleum. But real parquetry in wood flooring bears no resemblance to this iteration, instead conveying a sense of refinement that reads as high-end. This upside, however, is also its downfall; due to the design, parquet floors are more expensive to install than traditional straight iterations.

Herringbone, meet chevron (not one and the same!). Photos by Tom Evangelidis, Leibal

Installation requires a skilled craftsman who is able to precisely plan and lay the pieces so that all fall into place seamlessly. In a traditional wood floor installation, planks run parallel to the room’s longest wall, and the only pieces that require cutting are those are laid at the ends of the space. However, because it is unlikely your desired parquet pattern would work perfectly with the size wood planks you are buying, there are many more cuts involved to achieve the pattern. This process creates a great deal of material waste, another reason for the increased cost.

Since herringbone and chevron are two of the most widely used parquet floor patterns and both create a zig-zag effect, they're often confused or mistaken to be the same. But here's how they differ:

Photos by Data Couch, Du Chateau
  • Above left: In a herringbone pattern, the wood pieces are applied end-to-end for a staggered zig-zag look.
  • Above right: Chevron patterns are a more streamlined zig-zag with mitered edges that fit together. (Think Charlie Brown!) It's a little more time-intensive and costly than the herringbone.
Photos by Tabarka, A+B Design

Another parquet variations is basket weave, which has a thatched look to it. Basket weave wood floors can range from very straightforward to highly complex—as seen in the hexagonal variation above left. Less conventional patterns can also be a good solution for tricky flooring transitions, as seen in the transition above right.

Painted Wood

If your desire is to truly stand out—or if your existing wood floors don't look as riveting as you wish they would but you're not ready to rip them up—painting them is an option! You can achieve any of the patterns mentioned above (and more) in any color you desire, just with a few buckets of paint. Painting is also less costly than sanding and staining wood, and, as you would guess, also less than a custom pattern installation.

Two very dramatic painted wood floors. Photos by A Beautiful Habitat, Simon Upton (via Elle Decor)

Painted wood floors are one of designer Miles Redd’s trademarks (that and emerald green paint). The above right example of his work in a Manhattan foyer was inspired by a chateau in France.

Painted floors can still be understated, of course, while providing a color saturation and sheen not possible with stain. The only catch is that they'll chip and peel over time. If the worn look is not for you (though it can be very pretty!), painted floors will require frequent maintenance to keep up. Another thing to keep in mind with paint is that you lose the texture of the wood grain, as paint is thicker than stain.

Wood floors painted a blushing white.
Wood floors painted a blushing white. Photo by Bjufors (via Gravity Home)

Reclaimed Wood

Last but not least is perhaps the biggest wood flooring trend of all: reclaimed wood, which, due to its existing patina, feels both distinguished and already comfortably broken-in. But like a child-actor who shot to fame too soon, its popularity has been to its detriment; recent years have seen been a sharp increase in mislabeled products and copy-cats.

So if you're going to spring for it, be sure to do your homework: Where did the wood come from? How old is it? What species? Perhaps most importantly, are you working with a reputable source?

Just look at that patina.
Just look at that patina. Photo by X Surfaces

If you are able to source enough quality reclaimed wood to lay a whole floor, hooray! It's sustainable, of course: Far better to repurpose wood off the side of a barn than to cut down living trees. Additionally, reclaimed wood tends to be from old-growth trees and is more durable than planks recently cut from new-growth trees.

Reclaimed wood: not just for floors.
Reclaimed wood: not just for floors. Photo by Benjamin Benschneider for Architectural Digest

The truth is, fake wood is becoming commonplace as well. If you walk into any high rise, you’re likely to find engineered hardwood or wood vinyl (which is essentially a picture of wood covered by a plastic layer).

These fakes are cheaper, but don’t have near the amount of durability or flexibility of a solid hardwood. The real deal will last decades and look better over time. If it’s solid, you can sand down and re-finish a wood surface multiple times throughout its lifespan. No matter what installation method you go with, be it a crazy pattern or plain old straight lay, real wood floors are always a good decision.

What are your favorite treatments and finishes for hard wood floors? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: Kitchen Design, Home Renovation