The right wood

OHI The editors of <i>Old-House Interiors</i> magazi

By Mary Ellen Polson

cypress floor
This "new" cypress floor from Goodwin Heart Pine was made from century-old lumber recovered from a Florida river.

Photo: Courtesy of Goodwin Heart Pine.

Whether your home is modest or extraordinary, a few decades old or going on two centuries, chances are the floors are wood. If you need to lay a new floor -- either for an addition or as a replacement for a floor where wood is missing or too far gone to revive -- it makes sense to continue in the same genre.

Wide-plank flooring

The granddaddy of all floor-boards, wide-plank flooring, is found in most dwellings built before the Victorian era. Wide-plank boards measure at least 3" wide, and can be as much as 20" wide, and up to 16' long. Wide-plank lumber reclaimed from old tobacco barns or abandoned factories is justly prized for its tight, old-growth grain and intriguing character marks. J.L. Powell offers wide planks with natural distress marks that vary from nails to wormholes. At least one company, Carlisle Restoration Lumber, also harvests mature old-growth pine that's at least 100 years old for its new wide planks. Goodwin Heart Pine and Timeless Timber both reclaim old-growth lumber from the bottoms of rivers and lakes, where lack of oxygen preserves the tightly grained wood.

Wide plank floors in the 18th century dining room at Old Fort Western in Augusta, Maine.

Photo: The Old House Web

Whatever the source, reclamation means it's possible to find rare or extinct old-growth species like Southern longleaf pine or chestnut for prices between $8 to $20 per square foot. Other widely available species include red and white oak, eastern white pine, heart pine, cypress, maple, ash, cherry, and walnut.

Strip flooring

Tongue-and-groove strip flooring has been the standard for residential interiors ever since improvements in millwork technology made the floors ubiquitous in late-19th-century homes. Usually measuring between 2-1/4" and 3" wide and laid in random-length rows, interlocking strip floors are widely available in oak, maple, heart pine, cherry, and other species. Larger manufacturers, including Bruce and Harris Tarkett, offer new, solid-wood strip flooring that comes prefinished and ready to nail down. Tightly grained old-growth wood is also available from millworks that specialize in reclaimed wood. Prices for select-grade strip flooring begin at about $3 per square foot.


While nothing beats the look of solid wood, a relatively new option -- the engineered floor -- can yield a comparable look. Engineered floor boards are actually composites, with layers bonded together to form a dimensionally stable "board." The top layer is usually a thin slice of hardwood. The boards are also thinner than the typical 3/4" solid-wood plank or strip -- from 3/8" to 5/8" thick -- making them more adaptable for retrofits. Engineered floors can be floated, glued, or stapled over an existing floor, even concrete or vinyl. Although prices for engineered floors begin at about $3 per square foot, the ease of installation usually results in additional savings.

Getting fancy

This inlay won the 1999 Floor of the Year award given by the National Wood Flooring Association.

Photo: Goodwin Heart Pine

The finest antique floors of the past were the fancy cuts: parquets, inlays, borders, and medallions. Today's parquets and geometric inlays are precision-cut at the factory and assembled into easy-to-install squares or borders, and laser cutting makes short work of intricately detailed medallions. A medallion with a classical wave pattern border from Historic Floors of Oshkosh, for example, can be cut, assembled, and prefinished at the factory, then shipped to the site, where the whole thing can be glued down or floated in just a few minutes.

Several companies are experimenting with aging techniques for parquets. Cordts' contour parquet, for instance, has a hand-scraped surface that gives it the appearance of a worn floor in a Renaissance chateau. Simple parquet patterns made of wood veneer costs as little as $1.50 per square foot, but expect to pay significantly more for solid-wood parquet. Prices for medallions begin at about $250 and can go into thousands of dollars for custom-made itmes. Depending on width and intricacy, borders can run from a dollar or two per linear foot to $30 or more.

Other resources

The Old House Web has published a variety ofhow-to stories about flooring. Additionally, you'll find stories on the site about:

Product reviews on flooring

Painted floors

About this story

This story is adapted with permission from a story that appeared in Old-House Interiors magazine's March 2003 edition. If you would like to learn more about the magazine, its editors invite you torequest a free issue of Old-House Interiors magazine.

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by the editors of Old-House Interiors magazine

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