There’s a reason that hardwood floors have been consistently warming Calgary homes for over a century. On top of their durability and unmatched utility as a comfortable but very cleanable surface, the intricate natural beauty of true wood grain is unparalleled. Each and every board is unique and contains the depth of nature. Even within one species of hardwood, the variations in grain patterns are vast, and subtle colour and luster shifts are plentiful. Perhaps these qualities could all be summed up in one word: character.
It is because of its character, that more than any type of flooring, hardwood is classic. Its beauty does not fade with time. Rather, it is augmented, much like the sound of an old acoustic guitar. Its popularity has not waned in North America for hundreds of years. In terms of design trends, hardwood flooring is still lauded as a beautiful floor covering. In Calgary, hardwood flooring is just as valued if not more valued than it was when the city was first built. The fact that nowadays, hardwood flooring substantially increases the value of a Calgary home is a testament to this fact.
Hardwood is classic to be sure, but that does not mean it is mundane or necessarily traditional-looking. While the use of hardwood as a sought-after floor covering has remained over time, the way in which it is cut, stained and finished, and the species that is used in a given context, stays in keeping with decoration and design trends.
For example, board width. Nowadays wider boards are the cat’s meow, especially in Calgary. And understandably: a wider board means more room for characteristic variation, as well as more focus on variation within a board. Wider boards also match contemporary room proportions, such as open common rooms and expansive kitchens.
If wide boards are the cat’s meow, than lower luster finishes are the jimdandy. They are replacing higher luster finishes because they augment the tactile look and feel of real hardwood. High luster finishes on the other hand, can give hardwood an artificial, and sometimes gaudy looking veneer.
In terms of staining, achromatic colours (whites, grays and blacks) are quite popular. You may have noticed that in contemporary design, shades of whites, grays and blacks are prominent. So staining hardwood to colour match is a nice way to integrate a warm and natural floor covering as opposed to using tile or concrete, which are naturally achromatic.
Use of different species has also kept hardwood a dynamic flooring option. Twenty years ago, Calgary home owners more or less had the choice between maple and oak, natural or stained. Suffice it to say, choices were limited. Even within the possibilities for stained hardwood, there were only a handful of options, all essentially variations of brown. Then came exotics: Brazilian Cherry, Merbau, Santos Mahogany, etc. Red was in. But just as Canadian importation laws began to illegalize foreign wood harvested through destructive logging practices, red conveniently began to fall out the limelight.
Nowadays, domestic hardwoods are back in, but with a twist. What’s different? Texture. For the last decade, Canadian and American flooring manufacturers have been coming up with creative ways to restyle the age-old domestics: Oak, Maple, Ash, Birch, Walnut & Cherry. One of these ways is ‘scraping.’ Boards are either machine or hand scraped before they are finished, creating rustic looking ripples. The process harkens back to the hand-shaped and scraped woods of Colonial America. Another interesting method is wire brushing, which also creates subtle undulations: unlike those created by scraping, brushed undulations follow the wood’s soft grain. The result is a very subtle and natural looking surface texture.
As well as being more aesthetically dynamic, hardwood has become more versatile over time. It used to be the case, that in order to have hardwood floors in your home, they needed to be installed on plywood subfloors. If you lived in a condo or a basement suite, or wanted your light commercial space fitted with hardwood then, you were out of luck. Even if you lived in a house with plywood subfloors, you also had to accept a lengthy installation and a very messy sanding & finishing process. If you were building a new home in Calgary it wasn’t such a problem, but if you were renovating, it would mean a lot of time living in the basement… Not ideal. But today, hardwood flooring comes in three formats: pre-finished, site-finished and engineered; and amongst the three, you will find a suitable type of hardwood for any application.
Pre-finished hardwood is ideal for a renovation or a spruce-up in a house with plywood subfloors. The messiest part of the job, sanding and finishing, is already done in the factory. Once the wood arrives on site and is properly acclimatized, it only needs to be installed in place and voila—a new floor ready to be lived on. Pre-finished hardwood is also the toughest of all the types. Because it is sanded and finished in a factory, manufacturers have the time and resources to apply extremely durable and wear-resistant finishes. If you have a large dog, a rambunctious dog, especially playful children etc., pre-finished is the way to go. The downside is that it is very difficult and costly to re-sand. Often times damaged pre-finished floors have to be replaced. This is important to consider when choosing hardwood flooring for your home.
Engineered hardwood is ideal for condos, basement suites or light commercial areas. This is because it can be installed over concrete subfloors, (it is made with a composite core that prevents it from over expanding and contracting, allowing it to be glued-down or floated as opposed to nailed). Some purists may argue that engineered hardwood flooring is not ‘real,’ and does not have the same natural beauty as solid-core wood. But it is in fact made with a real hardwood veneer, which shows the same natural depth and character as solid-core. Much like pre-finished, it is extremely tough. In this case however, it’s the composite core that makes it so durable, (surprisingly, composite cores are actually harder than solid-cores). Finally and perhaps most importantly, because it is made out of composite materials, it is a more affordable alternative than pre-finished or site-finished hardwood.
Site-finished hardwood is ideal for those who take pride in attention to detail. It is not beveled, it can be custom stained and finished to your liking, and it has a fluidity in appearance that exceeds that of pre-finished and engineered hardwood. Because it is less convenient to install than pre-finished, it has become a more prestigious and somewhat of a boutique product over the last decade. All the more reason to take pride in it. In any case, sanding technology has come a long way and the amount of dust created by ‘dustless’ sanding and finishing is relatively minimal. Perhaps most importantly though, site-finished hardwood can be re-sanded and refinished, making it a much longer lasting and more sustainable floor covering than the other two.
Written by guest author Eric Osborne