There’s More To Choosing Wood Than Just Planks And Grain

Floors are like potatoes. They’re a must, often a staple, yet we take their versatility for granted. Often abused and frequently neglected, you’ll have to deal with wildly complicated floors at some point. Despite the rising trends of (believe it or not) luxury vinyl, concrete and oversized tile, wood is still the single most popular flooring option for the home and beyond; its undeniable durability (given the right care), aesthetic appeal and wide range of price points have ensured that.

As far as types of wood go, bamboo, cork and American hardwoods are increasingly dominant players. Bamboo has been around for ages but the recent burst in colour and style has made it a more popular option. Arguably the hardest wood out there, bamboo is a good choice for high traffic (though low moisture) spots. In the case of cork, its appeal is in its acoustic qualities — as in its insulating and dampening power. It’s comfortable to walk or lounge on and it’s now available in a wide range of shades and colours, making it one of the easiest floors to match with existing décor. On the downside, it’s still fragile around water and despite improvements in durability, it doesn’t perform well in the sun. Finally, American hardwoods like oak and maple are classic, sustainable and durable choices that fell out of favour because they were so common — and are back because they were common for those very reasons.

Given the variety of wood alternatives these days, even the master needs to adapt to compete. In addition to wood flooring achieving new levels of acceptability in non-traditional spots (the kitchen, the bathroom) the choices for finish are blossoming.

Like grey. As grey more and more frequently takes its place as the neutral tone of choice, grey woods — either pre-finished or re-sanded and stained — are ideal for creating sleek, stylish, industrial looks without the coldness of concrete. It’s a great way to set off other colours if you have a statement sofa or a lot of vibrant accessories. The downside? Getting the stain mix can be tricky and the wrong polyurethane finish can lead to yellowing.

At the other end of the spectrum — or perhaps both opposing ends — are super-dark and whitewashed woods. If you think colours stand out against grey, shades referred to as ebony and espresso really make things pop. Dark floors are elegant and hyper-warm, if somewhat tricky to maintain. You know how black cars show every little bit of dirt? Same thing here. Whitewash, on the other hand, is making a comeback. The popularity of the so-called Hamptons look and resort-style interiors have a lot to do with this and it works nicely with wider planks (also on trend) and in bright spaces. The process is similar to grey staining, and yellowing is also something to watch for.

Also on the rise? Satin finishes and vintage looks. Satin finishes, in contrast to semi- or high-gloss coatings, resist showing scratches and dents for longer, are less likely to show off footprints and have a low-key practicality about them that’s economical in the long term. And as with many other areas of the house, “vintage,” reclaimed and distressed wood options are all the rage. The appeal of authenticity and the veneer of history combined with a natural vibe have made all that is old new again. On top of that reclaimed woods — a rare item and so one of the pricier choices — are ecologically conscientious and its inherent imperfections add personality. If you’re on a budget, distressed woods can achieve much the same look for a fraction of the cost. Similarly, vintage woods combine old and new, with varying sizes in the planks and mixed stains and colours. The unevenness of the final product gives the floor a cool retro look — as long as you don’t go overboard with too much retro furniture.