When you are telling a friend about a gorgeous home you visited, does your story include a description of beautiful hardwood floors? Thinking about what the best materials for your wood flooring might be? This guide provides information about some of the best materials for wood flooring, including hardwood and engineered hardwood.

Hardwood flooring is a timeless home element that adds value, character, and long-lasting style. Hardwood flooring is made of many different types, with diverse grain patterns, colors and markings. Wood flooring been used throughout the ages and continues to be popular, with trends in colors, exotic wood, engineered wood, grain patterning, finished or unfinished looks, staining, and plank cut and layouts.

What is Hardwood?

Hardwood trees are common to North America; they lose their leaves in the winter, and usually produce fruits and nuts. Common types include oak, ash, cherry, maple and poplar species, and all have their own unique patterns, marks, colour and appearance.

Other imported hardwoods include those from tropical regions such as mahogany, rosewood, and teak.

Some of the best materials for hardwood floors include hickory and hard maple, and in terms of durability or hardness, white oak is considered one of the most durable or best materials for wood floors. It can be cut and stained to have a variety of appearances, and is suitable for any type of décor. White oak is usually a warm brown, and keeps the brown when stained. The lighter red oak is also very strong and has a pinker brighter hue, transforming to a red tone when stained.

Hardwood can be cut in several ways. Plain sawn is the least expensive type; it shows natural grain and undulating patterns. Rift sawn provides a remarkable view of symmetrical grain in long linear patterns, and quarter sawn, the most expensive, shows long linear grain patterns with no flecking.

Each technique yields a different view of the natural grain patterns, and can be cut into a variety of board widths and finished, scraped, stained, and crafted in a number of ways.

Most hardwood flooring comes pre-finished, which cuts out the staining process and the presence of chemicals and dust in a home. Generally, all wood flooring is best installed by professionals.

What Factors Should I Consider?

Five important factors to consider when choosing the best materials for your solid hardwood floor:

1. Installation Requirements

Solid wood floor planks are usually about ¾ inches thick and require installation directly onto a sub-floor or wood planking. You usually cannot install solid wood floors onto concrete.

2. Sensitivity to Humidity and Moisture

Solid wood floors can be sensitive to humidity, so you may wish to choose another material, such as engineered wood, for your laundry room, mudroom, and bathrooms. Those living in humid or beachside regions may also wish to consider engineered wood floors for the entire home.

3. Type of Planks

It comes down to style. What board width appeals to you the most?

Narrow plank is a classic, traditional choice. This style has the added benefit of giving an impression of a larger space.

 

Parquet flooring is often seen in late 19th to early 20th century homes and apartments and is also produced today in a variety of artistic geometric patterns. Parquet wood flooring works for both historic and contemporary spaces.

 

Wide Planks have become increasingly popular and have a rustic flair, and evoke Scandinavian aesthetics. Although there are fewer seams, they may expand later leaving larger gaps, and can be very expensive. A standard measurement is about 4-6 inches wide.

4. Finishes, Stains, and Unfinished Looks

The natural colors of wood include light blonde colors to black, which are altered by finishes. Hand-scraped wood has an antique look, whereas others feature highly shiny varnishes. These finishes protect the floors, and enhance color and grain patterning. Hardwood can be refinished a number of times and ages well.

Finishes are usually based from oil or polyurethane. Oil tends to have a more natural matte look, but is less scratch resistant than polyurethane, which forms a hard finish. However, the advantage of oil finishes is that one can do spot touch-ups.

Some popular looks include rustic styles, traditional rich colors, ash (pale grays, faded whites), driftwood weathered looks, dark, deep, almost-black hues, as well as  natural earthy tones.

5.  Species of Wood

A Few Popular Types of Hardwood 

Hardwood, whether solid or engineered, is usually ranked by a number of criteria: durability, scratch resistance, hardness, vulnerability to moisture, colors, grain patterns, and other aesthetic factors. In high traffic areas, sometimes an acrylic impregnated wear layer extends the life of a wood floor, although it is worth noting that oak floors are known for their remarkable durability, lasting an upwards of 100 + years. Hardwoods are rated by the Janka Scale, which measures resistance to indentation.

American Walnut Hardwood Flooring 

A domestic hardwood, American walnut is softer and best for lower traffic areas such as bedrooms. Also called black walnut, it has fine graining with straight patterns, curly and waving shapes, and rich, dark brown color.

Ash Hardwood Flooring

A domestic hardwood, ash is valued for very pale color, smooth texture, and uniform graining, although it is generally less durable than other species. Ash is porous and takes stains very nicely.

Cherry Hardwood Flooring

Imported Brazilian cherry is very hard and resistant to moisture: good for foyers, kitchens, and bathrooms. It has a warm, beautiful, rich colour of pinkish salmon, but is sensitive to sun, which is considered to be part of the natural aging process of the wood. Brazilian cherry has a medium to coarse grain and is often finished in a high-gloss patina.

American cherry has a medium colored heartwood and a reddish-brown, creamy sapwood. This domestic wood boasts a uniform grain and smooth texture, and some think it is best left unstained so its natural warm color can show. As it is softer than other woods, it’s a lovely choice for bedrooms.

Hickory Hardwood Flooring

A domestic hardwood, hickory is the strongest flooring on the scale of resistance to indentation. The wood is highly shock resistant, very heavy, and is coarse with linear graining. Sapwood is white to cream colored, and heartwood is tan or reddish-brown.

Mahogany Hardwood Flooring

A dark imported wood, mahogany is more expensive and less durable than other varieties, but has a very luxurious appearance and is valued for its deep color. Graining is wavy and color ranges from mid-brown to orange to dark brown.

Maple Hardwood Flooring

Maple is a light domestic wood that many prefer for its patterns, which feature a straight grain with variations such as burl grains and bird eye circles (small elliptical shapes in sugar maple). Maple is available as both hard and soft. Soft maple is usually cream to grey-white in color and has uniform fine graining. Hard maple has cream sapwood with pink and warm brown colors, reddish-brown heartwood, and is highly durable. Many historic homes boast narrow plank maple flooring that has increased in beauty and character.

Pine Flooring

Pine is a light domestic softwood. Yellow pine is very popular for its rustic appeal, variation in color, and appearance. White pine is pale, with cream and yellowish sapwood and darker yellow-tan heartwood. Pine has a fine texture and uniform graining.

Oak Hardwood Flooring

Red oak has a pinkish color and a highly durable, hard surface. Oak is very good for homes with children and/or pets. The wood stains and finishes easily, is great for a rustic look, and is more indent-resistant than pine. Oak has a strong variable pattern of graining that is valued for its character as well as the added bonus of the pattern’s ability to hide scratches.

White oak provides a classic look but also offers many contemporary options in stains and cuts. A very hard, long-lasting flooring, white oak stands out for durability. The wood has uniform graining and is darker than the pinkish red oak, retaining its brown tone after staining.

Walnut Hardwood Flooring

Walnut is very strong domestic hardwood, available in a variety of finishes including hand-scraped rustic looks. Walnut is often used for ornate scrollwork as well as flooring, and is loved for its dark color. Sapwood is cream-colored and heartwood chocolate-toned.

For more in-depth information, types or species of floors are nicely laid out in this gallery of wood species from the National Wood Flooring Association.

Engineered Wood: A Modern Alternative 

Engineered hardwood floors are made of from layers of real hardwood bonded together. Because this flooring is moisture resistant you can have wood flooring in every room of the house, including kitchens and bathrooms.

Architectural Digest, Engineered Wood vs Solid Wood Floor

Top: An engineered wood plank. Bottom: A solid hardwood plank.

Options: Most hardwood species are also available as hardwood engineered floors.

Pros: Engineered wood flooring is often more affordable than solid wood. Very durable and strong, engineered flooring may be installed on concrete subfloors and over radiant heat. It’s great for homes with pets and children, and can be installed in any room because it much more resistant to heat and humidity that the standard hardwood floor. Engineered hardwood is a great alternative for people who live by the ocean or in other humid climates.

Cons: While engineered wood is often very beautiful, it does not have the same natural patterning of a hardwood grained plank. As well, it can be refinished only a few times.

Requirements: Underlayment products like cork, or foam, vinyl, and plastic for damper areas, are usually necessary.

Engineered hardwood comes in almost every color and appearance imaginable. Because it is bonded and extremely strong, it is considered ideal for a high traffic area, or a busy home with pets and children.

While vinyl planking offers wood-like flooring at a very low pricing point and is both durable and very easy to clean, engineered wood has a more natural look, including more texture. Engineered hardwood is an alternative for homeowners who want their renovations to reflect the historic character of their house.

As well, engineered hardwood is offered in a wide spectrum of styles, such as the ever-popular gray shades, hues of nude and natural, and dramatic almost-black browns.


Images courtesy of Decor PadHouse of TurquoiseJust The Design, BruceYellow Trace, Francois and Co.Sarah SarnaHome Legend, Architectural Digest, HMAHome Legends, Mosaic ArchitectsMillsteadULE, Woodworkers AssociationMaryellen Kowalewski, Elle DecorBLC Natural Pine Solid Hardwood Floors, Just the Design, Popsugar, The Jupin Family BlogspotBlueridgeClawson ArchitectsRedBud Custom HomesFlooring InspirationsPeriod IdeasVanier, Tomson Floors, Hamiltons Wood Floors, and Flooring Supplies, UK.

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Art & Design Writer | Consultant

Driven by a passion for fine art, design, + artisan made objects, I love to chose art, decorate, & design spaces for my family + clients. Collector of all things décor, + trained art historian + curator. Interior decorating guru!