Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wood floor tips from an expert

My admiration for wood floors has been expressed many times on this blog.   Some of my all time favorite blog posts were on floors -  light colored floors (here), and another one on French style floors (here).

We are doing wood floors throughout the new house, both on the main level and the upstairs.  My designer, Suzanne, prefers 7 inch planks on the main level for my house; she says that anything larger than that takes on more of a casual look and feel,which is not the look for my house.  We might do 5 inch planks if the budget doesn’t allow for 7 inch; my architect suggested that the finish is most important, and if we need to spend a bit more on the finish, then we will balance the budget by doing smaller planks.  Although most of the main level will be planks, we are also planning on doing a herringbone pattern in the living room and one of the halls.

One of the most beautiful floors I have ever seen, in a house with interior design by Melanie Turner, home construction by Benecki Fine Homes.  Floors were by Olde Savannah. Image via Veranda.

Last year I had the opportunity to tour the production facility of one of the finest custom flooring companies in the United States, Olde Savannah Flooring.  They are based in Atlanta, but they produce custom floors for designers and customers all over the United States and beyond.  Their beautiful floors are frequently seen in projects that are featured in Veranda, Traditional Home, House Beautiful – to name a few.  When I visited their headquarters, I was thrilled to see a floorplan of a very large house with interiors by a top New York City based designer – and all of the flooring was being done by Olde Savannah.

A beautiful home in a recent Traditional Home, with interiors by Suzanne Kasler and floors by Olde Savannah. Image via Traditional Home.

I asked Bill Riley, president and founder of Olde Savannah Flooring, and Steve Brightman, one of their top salespeople, for their thoughts on wood floors from both a architectural and design perspective.  Here is what they said.

A beautiful dining room, with interior design by Jim Howard.  No rug in this room allows for the beautiful custom floors by Olde Savannah to be a subtle but beautiful foundation for the room. Image via Veranda.
“The wood flooring in a home is a critical part of the perfect design. It should be a canvas or a place to start for the overall picture that a quality designer will create. It should not be the focal point but a back drop.”

Image via Traditional Home. Flooring by Olde Savannah.

“It would be very difficult to create a design for a beautiful French Normandy home if the house started with red oak strip flooring or an out of the box 4” short length polyurethane floor. Where a 7” wide by 5’ to 16’ lengths, lightly scraped, mix of rift and quartered and plain sawn white oak, in a warm brown color would create a place for a designer to start and be very successful.”

“When choosing a floor we recommend thinking and doing a little research of what has been used in the type of home being built or remodeled over time. Taking that information and inserting the design plan and that should be a great place to start. A good designer will almost always know. “
A beautiful wood floor in an unusual chevron pattern, by Olde Savannah.

“We like to look at the grain of the wood first. Do you like an open grain such as plain sawn oak? A tight grain such as quarter sawn maple? Walnut is a highly prized grain as well as rift and quarter sawn white oak. The main idea is get a grain pattern that you like. Color should never be an issue at this point."
Craftsmen hand waxing floors from Olde Savannah.

“Color and finish are very important. Most colors can be achieved on most species. Our favorite finish is hand applied wax. Of course most clients cannot or do not want to deal with the maintenance required for a wax floor. The alternative is a hand rubbed oil. This gives you the look of a waxed floor with the low maintenance of a polyurethane finish. We avoid poly because of the cheaper look. There is just something about pouring or spraying plastic on wood that real woodworkers avoid. We believe the floor should be treated like furniture and not a bar top.”

Image via Olde Savannah.

“We sell mostly random width floors. However single widths tend to look a little more formal.”

Image via Olde Savannah.

“We are seeing a lot of border work being done. Just low profile things like same color and species as the center of the room. Not different species and colors.”

We [Olde Savannah Flooring] are seeing the following in the market:
  • Never red oak (this is not really a trend)
  • Brazilian cherry is often cited as an upgrade, but it is not.  It’s also red and not a trend.
  • Environmentally responsible choices. Staying away from rain forest woods.
  • Planks are getting wider. We now see flooring in a 5” to 8: as normal with widths regularly going to 11” or even 12”.
  • Long lengths. Setting minimums such as 3 feet or in some cases 8 feet and flooring boards going to 16 feet long.
  • We are selling more hickory than ever. However wide walnut is still far out in front.
  • We are seeing less ebony floor colors, but do a bit of dark floors with brown bleeding through to black color.
  • Medium browns to dark browns tend to be our best sellers.
  • Sheens are picking up a bit from the past.
  • Versaille, herringbone, and chevron patterns tend to dominate the parquet choices.
  • Elegant light hand scraping is very popular. Most hand scraping on the market is too heavy and looks contrived.
  • Light wire brushing on oak does very well.
  • Acid washed and hand colored very light walnut is one of our most popular colors.
  • Bevels are getting very small.
  • Colors. Black, white and natural are emerging. Of course the usual cast of browns.
  • Finish. Oil. No polyurethane.
  • Types of wood. Hickory, walnut, rift & quartered white oak. Also, tight grains.
  • Widths. Wide.
  • Decision process.
  • Generally starts with an interior designer. What is the type or style of architecture and the interior. Traditional, contemporary, classical, eclectic?
  • Sometimes start with a species (walnut, oak, etc.) or grain pattern (open, tight, minimal, etc.)
  • Sometimes start with a color.

Image via Olde Savannah.

A combination wood and stone floor, by Olde Savannah.

Personally, I am partial to a wood floor with an interesting pattern, and Olde Savannah truly excels in this area.  They have worked with many designers and architects to recreate beautiful patterns originally seen in old homes all over Europe.

For more information on Olde Savannah Flooring, please visit their website:
Contact information:

Phone: 404-691-3834
Fax: 404-691-4082
Contact Steve Bright with questions: brightlines@comcast.net

Readers, anything you want to share on wood floors, any type of wood floor you particularly like, or any questions you might have for Olde Savannah? If so, please post your question or observation in the comment section (email subscribers, click here for the comment form). 

No goods or services have been exchanged for this post.

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  1. Great pictures! Thanks for all this inspiration!

  2. This rings true to me, the floor shouldn't shout: "It should not be the focal point but a back drop"

    Oh lordy I've traveled to another dimension and I feel really small for my pitiful floors: "Where a 7” wide by 5’ to 16’ lengths, lightly scraped, mix of rift and quartered and plain sawn white oak, in a warm brown color would create a place for a designer to start"

  3. Great post for me, I am currently looking at 13 samples of different widths, species, and finishes for our new home. I am leaning towards Hickory, 8" & 6" planks...but that may change by the time has come to order it. Since we do all of our floors finished on site I will want to see what is coming out of the mill when the time comes rather than being surprised with the grain when it arrives at the site.
    As far as the pattern I prefer to keep it simple and run it straight or on a diagonal in a room. I have thought about doing a inlay of herringbone in our study in the new house, but again, just another decision I need to make.
    Thank you for all of the wonderful images and also to Old Savannah for the info, but I am surprised that they didn't touch base on density of the woods, that is one aspect that we have to highly consider with 2 small boys, and boys will be boys!!

  4. Density is something I'd love to hear more about also. I know some species are harder than others. It's finding that perfect combination of beauty, durability, and design while staying in budget that's so hard.

  5. I loved this post! I really loved the herringbone with the borders....very beautiful! I live in an 1870 something victorian home and it has the origonal wood floors throughout! 5 inch wide planks ,different lengths, in a chocolatey stain! Gorgeous, and sold me right away on the house!
    Wasn't sure what kind of wood, Fir maybe? Anyways very old, and still look fantastic!It is so true what they say, about being a backdrop to everything else!

    I can't wait to see yours!!! So exciting!!!!


  6. Such an educational post. I have never had to select my wood flooring...just changed the stain. There are so many more options than I ever realized.

  7. Great post really enjoyed the 'trending' aspect by OSF.

  8. This was a really interesting post. I've never given much thought about the many decisions that need to be made selecting a wood floor. I, unfortunately, have soft wood floors, fur, which are beautiful at first but have acquired so many scratches and gouges from children and pets. They were part of the house when we bought it and I'd never do it again.

    The wood and stone floor image is lovely and unusual (I like unusual). I'll file that idea away for the future.

    Thanks for such an in-depth post. Really enjoyed it!

    My best,

  9. love it, and I agree with 99% of what your experts reported...5-7" white oak lightly scraped and then finished with wax is my preference every time. great information!

  10. FABULOUS insightful post!! Totally agree with everything said here - floors should indeed be a "canvas or a place to start for the overall picture". If building or renovating then you have a choice and when I did my last renovation I did a 5" quarter sawn white oak - it's a classic timeless look that goes with any style. I would have loved to do a herringbone in the foyer which I think is such an elegant way to enter a house but the budget didn't allow. Through trial and error we found a warm medium dark brown that set off the beautiful millwork! Really such an information interesting post!!

  11. Holly, you emphasized two times that red oak was "out". Can you explain. Some of the most beautiful homes that I have been in, including both in design and decor have had beautiful red oak flooring. In most cases, the owners had custom area rugs such as in a dining or living room area. Many of these homes are older, so perhaps that is the reason red oak was used. Can you give us some reasoning?

  12. I love it when I'm unintentionally trendy! We'll have quartersawn oak floors in the new house, because that was what was growing on our lot. I just couldn't stand seeing those majestic trees hauled away to a land fill, and I'm really excited to have them coming home as flooring.

    We decided to to random width 3",4" and 5". Wider than 5" has to be glued as well as nailed, which adds a lot of expense. Another reason for the narrower boards of old is that there is less wood to shrink and swell, so the cracks in the floor aren't as big in the winter.

    I'd love to know what stains the folks at Old Savannah recommend for quartersawn white oak.

  13. Beautiful pictures Holly, (my favourite is the bedroom with the lavender walls) and understandably some really big decisions for you to take! You won't want to use this idea, but it may amuse you to know that in many old French houses like ours,the staircase to the first floor (visible from the entrance hall) is in oak, after that, it's less visible and is cut from a less noble wood, often pine.

  14. I really enjoyed reading this. When Olde Savannah says they prefer to use an "oil" finish, specifically what kind of oil products are they referring to? Danish oil? Tung oil? Brands?

  15. Which oil finish is recommended? I put Waterlox instead of poly. on my new white oak 4" floors, and it really yellowed them. Thank you.

  16. Such a great informative post! I love your blog, and it's fascinating to follow the process of your house being built! Can't wait to see it finished and buy the magazine it's featured in!

  17. Nice post! I've just been working on a remodel project where the floors were the biggest debate we had. My first recommendation to my client was that the design should not be about the floors, that they were to be the backdrop for the client's collection of antiques and that they should add the warmth to the creamy white interior I was proposing. After much shopping and research, we finally came back to the original concept and the floors are just now finished on the job. They are perfect and beautiful, 5" oak with a waxed finish in a warm brown color with boards as long as possible. I'm so glad to see the comments from Savannah and I will send this off to my client!

  18. We just put in 7" white oak in our home and it is easy to take care of but you should really think twice about putting in in your kitchen. Clients of mine, and we personally, have had lots of issues relating to water damage from a burst pot filler pipe to steam from the dishwasher, leaky under sink water filters. We have honed slate in the kitchen now and travertine is good, too.
    Mary Ann

  19. I'm having my hickory floors (currently they have a poly factory finish) stripped, sanded and refinished. What type of finish would be a good? What type of oil?

  20. What an interesting post. We have a 1940s home with wood floors throughout. The planks are only 2" wide and are in their natural color. In the next house, I would love wider wood floor and perhaps a pattern in certain rooms {i.e. entry, dining}. Love the image of the wood / stone combo.


  21. A testament to what a difference a beautiful floor makes! Thank you for introducing me to Olde Savannah.



  22. After seeing all of these beautiful images of wood floors, I wanted to share with you another true craftsman of wood floors. I was chair of a fundraiser that was held at an $18,000,000 spec home. YES, I did mean 18 million dollars. Since the home was still being finished, I spent a great deal of time visiting with the craftsmen working on the home. John Yarema and his work crew were installing the wood floors, and I was truly fascinated with their attention to detail and the old world craftsmanship. John recently installed a wooden mosaic map made up of 20,000 pieces at the SC Johnson complex. In addition, he just finished a big project at Robert Kennedy Jr.'s home in New York. Robert called John "The Michelangelo of Wood Floors". You have to visit John's website www.johnyarema.com (sorry couldn't get a link to work). He is a very talented artist and has created some of the most beautiful wood floors around the world.

    On another subject, I am also a big fan of paste wax for wood floors. When we moved into our old farmhouse nine years ago, the floors looked dull and had a grey cast to them. One day, I decided to take my Mylands Wax that I used to polish my antiques and hand polish my wood floors. Applying the polish was the easy part, the buffing was a whole other story. While it took me a few days to finish, the floors look beautiful and have a great patina. I buff them weekly with my Orkin Orbiter now which takes me about ten minutes a week. It was well worth all the time and effort.

  23. How did you know that I have a thing for gorgeous dark wood floors? Impressive! Enjoy the beautiful weekend, Kellie xx

  24. These floors are gorgeous! If you want exceptional-looking floors you absolutely must use an excellent professional.

    One important consideration when deciding on flooring is the type of application that is best suited for the type of flooring that is to be used... as well as the flooring that will be used for adjoining spaces. Variations in thicknesses of materials... say from wood to ceramic... can cause some headaches if not thought out before hand.

    When installing wood floors... particularly with reclaimed wood... the subfloor and the method of installation are very important. With some wood flooring, it is best to install it on screeds. However, this raises the finished floor level. Reclaimed wood is usually much thicker than currently manufactured planks... so that raises it even further. If type of flooring is selected prior to pouring a slab, the difference is material thickness can be taken into consideration with the slab... especially if you have flooring of different thickness.

    An improperly installed wood floor can literally push the walls off their sill plate if the wood swells from too much moisture.

    The herringbone pattern is one of my favorites...

  25. Thanks for the comments, everyone - and just to clarify, these are the words of the folks at Olde Savannah, not advice coming from me. I personally don't have any opinion on red oak!

    I will make sure that Steve from Olde Savannah sees the questions, and try to get answers for you.

  26. Very interesting! I will say that my parents have waxed floors in their house, built in the late 70s. They are traditionalists and wax was not the thing to do back then! I don't remember them being a maintenance issue at all - they have a guy that comes and waxes them once a year or so - they are very durable! You can of course touch up if you need to in between the real wax/buff sessions! Having said that, they put satin poly in their kitchen about 5 or 6 years ago because the wax didn't really protect from the inevitable moisture in a kitchen, and you would really have to look closely to see where the poly ends and the wax begins (the kitchen is open through a cased opening to the den) . . .

    We have red oak in this house because I was told by the floor guy that it was "better" than white oak - also it was more expensive! Ours is not at ALL red - but we have a duraseal coffee brown stain on them. I wonder too about the oil finish and the durability - we have 3 boys and have decided on white oak, 5" wide, longer lengths over other options for durability reasons!

  27. I know it's not cheap, but nothing compares to hardwood. If I had to renovate a space, I'd save money and do it right, with wooden floors.

    Very informative post, as always.


    Luciane at HomeBunch.com

    PS: If you have a moment, come see my post today about a Cottage On The Sand..." Just in case you're missing Summer.

  28. Nice post Holly, very informative. Love the chevron pattern in the bedroom!

  29. You would not believe the crazy conversations about wood flooring we had last year while building our home. I did not get what I wanted:( I asked for wide planks and my builder said he could not do that because they would buckle???? I am just going to be thankful for what I have. I think this will be a subject I shall not forget for a long time.

    Great post!

    Amy R.

  30. Holly,

    Loved the article and of course the cover of Veranda!!!! Bill & Dick at Olde Savannah are the best. They work well with designers builders and homeowners and can match anyone's pricing and exceed everyones expectations. Their finishes are second to no one in the industry.

  31. Gorgeous flooring! Love the black wood dining room floor especially.

  32. Holly,

    Such a great post! We put in walnut floors when we renovated our home and finished them with Waterlox. They haven't held up well at all. I would be interested to understand what exactly a wax finish entails and how it's maintained.

  33. Great post! I enjoy your blog very much.

  34. The flooring in the first (Melanie Turner) image is really nice, it can work in an old pre-war apt, victorian home or a more modern workspace/ loft.

  35. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.


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