Posts Tagged 'historic floor finishes'

Wood Flooring – Decision Factors

What are the main decision factors when choosing between pre-finished wood flooring, engineered wood flooring, and solid wood flooring that is finished in place?



  • Pre-finished wood flooring typically has microbevels, which are little v-shaped notches between the planks. Some homeowners think that is attractive and desirable – accentuating the length of a room or creating the illusion of a different proportion. Others think that the grooves would look too “busy” and be a nuisance to clean.
  • Engineered wood flooring may or may not have microbevels, depending on the brand, style, etc.

Pre-finished solid oak flooring with microbevels displayed on top of a field-finished oak floor without microbevels.

    Visual Authenticity

    • Some brands of engineered wood flooring use one wide plank of flooring to simulate several narrower planks. What is referred to as a “1-strip piece” will be a single plank that is a single strip.  A “2-strip piece” will be a single plank made to look like two strips, etc.  If the product has microbevels, this is very noticeable.  If it is smooth, the seams are still visible, but less noticeable.


    • If you are putting new wood flooring next to existing wood flooring, the thickness of the materials may differ, especially between engineered and older wood flooring. If you do not want to have a height difference between two areas, you will either have to have a transition (such as a stained door sill) or build up the subfloor underneath the new flooring to match the height. If your primary motivation was saving money, this added expense should be factored into your decision.


    • Pre-finished has an aluminum oxide finish that cannot be site-finished and does not have a real “clear finish” due to the aluminum suspended in the finish.  If you have large pets with claws, lots of animals, heavy traffic, routinely wear shoes in the house, or are generally hard on your floor, this should not be your first choice.
    • Engineered allows you to sand and refinish the floor, but how many times depends on the thickness of the wear layer.  Look for the thickest wear layer available.  There are companies that have wear layers nearly as thick as solid wood flooring.  Owens has a line with a 5mm (approx. 3/16″) wear layer.  For comparison, 3/4″ solid flooring has a 5/16″ wear layer above the tongue and groove.  This is the amount that is sandable, however you cannot sand all the way down to the tongue and groove without splintering and exposing nails.  So, in reality, a 3/4″ solid product has about a 6mm (1/4″) wear layer which is just about equal to the Owens 5mm wear layer (which can be sanded until there is no wear layer left).



    Wear layer of solid unfinished oak vs. engineered unfinished oak





      Installation Options


      • usually nailed in place, concealed within the tongue and groove joint

      Pre-finished or Engineered

      • nail-down,
      • glue-down, or
      • “floating” (boards are separated from the subfloor by a sheet material and not physically attached to the subfloor)



      • less mess and smell during installation
      • faster start-to-finish install time
      • may be less expensive than field-finished, depending on species, width, and type of installation


      • more expensive and/or exotic species without a significant price increase
      • some brands/lines are suitable for installation over radiant floors (check for options)


      • more predictable longevity (and therefore less likely to end up in a landfill)
      • is able to be refinished many times, with certainty
      • more familiar to floor refinishers (been around forever)
      • unlimited choice of stain colors, which can be swatched on the flooring after it is installed
      • your choice of finish (type, sheen, brand, number of coats)
      • best for period-appropriate installations (top-nailed, inlays, etc.)

      To learn more…

      I recommend Jeff Lane of Lane Hardwood Floors, one of the most talented and knowledgable hardwood flooring vendors and installers here in Seattle.


        Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part Two – Kitchens, Bathrooms, & Porches)

        Here are some highlights from “Domestic Architecture”, written by architect L. Eugene Robinson, published in 1917.  Part One of this post contained excerpts regarding living room and bedroom finishes.  The excerpts below address kitchen, bathroom, and porch finishes:


        • “…cleanliness is of first importance, the treatment of materials should suggest it, and decoration need not be neglected.”
        • “have all surfaces so treated that dust and dirt will show, but will be easy to remove.  Here glazed or glossy finishes, or semi-glazed, …are desirable.”
        • “Plaster may be given a slick, steam-proof varnish or paint, and the wood given an enamel finish.”
        • Wallpapers having a glazed surface are in common use…”
        • “…should be no crevices or angles not easily reached with ordinary cleaning apparatus.”
        • “Severity of design is becoming to the nature of the kitchen.  Simple wainscotings are very serviceable and attractive, and may be counter height, thereby forming a continuous line around the room.”
        • “…counters…should not be treated with paint, varnish or any other material except oil.  However, such working surfaces may be covered with a matting of rubber or oilcloth.”
        • Tile work…is highly serviceable, wainscotings, counters, facings for built-in ranges and floors being the chief parts constructed of this material.”
        • “…main objection to tile floors is their coldness…”
        • “A hardwood floor of oak or maple is best, if tile cannot be afforded. A cheap wood floor may be made very serviceable by laying upon it oilcloth or linoleum.”
        • “Color…should…suggest perfect sanitation.  The best colors are white and blue, but with white or cream may be used green, brown, gray or other color.”
        • Colors may appear in tile borders, linoleum, wallpaper, painted surfaces and in simple hangings.”
        • “…should be bright and pleasant but not cluttered.”
        • “Extra large kitchens…should have more color than small ones.”

        Fabulous and fun vintage kitchen photos can be found at  For a direct link, click here.


        • Surface treatments…much the same as those for kitchens. Waterproof materials are practically essential, where water and steam are so prevalent.”


        • “Porches are really exterior features, and should be treated much the same as other parts of the exterior.”
        • Light-colored paints and stains generally look better than dark.”
        • Masonry should not be painted under any circumstances…”
        • Porch floors of wood should receive several coats of exterior floor paint of neutral color, while the ceilings should be painted white or buff.”
        • “…more than two colors of paint on a frame house should not be used, except perhaps in very limited quantities.”
        • “The main color should cover the body of the house, while the other should serve only as a trim color.  Alternate color effects should never be used.”

        Decorating the early 1900’s home (Part One – Living Rooms and Bedrooms)


        When it comes to finish materials, where do you go to find out what is truly period-appropriate for your vintage home?

        While antique shopping in Oregon last summer, I found a book published in 1917 by an architect named L. Eugene Robinson, titled “Domestic Architecture”. The book was intended for homeowners who were remodeling or building homes at that time, and much of what was written is relevant for restoration or remodeling turn-of-the-century homes today.

        Here are some highlights regarding interior finishes for living rooms and bedrooms:

        Living Rooms

        • ..should be above all restful.”
        • colors should be dull and neutral
        • Old ivory or cream white enamel of semi-dull finish on the woodwork, oatmeal paper of light brown on the walls, light buff paper on the ceiling, and any good flooring with, perhaps, Oriental rugs…”
        • “…it is not well to slavishly hold to the color and tones of the scheme.  If this is done, the effect will be monotonous, which is not restful.  There should be judicious departures in color, chiefly in the furnishings, and especially in certain architectural features such as fireplaces, floors, and ornamental glass windows.”
        • “As a rule, the gradation of color should be such that the ceiling is light, the frieze less light, the wall and wainscoting darker, and the floor darkest.”
        • “A floor may be of very light wood, while the gradation of color starts dark at the base of the wall.”


        • “…should have the quality of freshness regardless of the color scheme…”
        • “While women usually prefer white, pink, blue or yellow rooms, men generally prefer brown, grey or green.”
        • Any color scheme that is not disturbing and that does not take on a dingy air may be satisfactorily developed.”
        • Wallpaper… is used almost to the exclusion of other materials…”
        • “On sanitary grounds the painting of bedroom walls is preferable to papering.”
        • Woodworkwhite or cream in color, firstly because it is neat, fresh and easily washed, and secondly because any bedroom set of furniture will conform to it.”
        • “A very handsome treatment for a bedroom is to make the woodwork exactly like the bedroom set, of maple, walnut, mahogany, or any hard wood.”
        • Maple flooring is very satisfactory for bedrooms.”
        • “For inexpensive treatments, white paint may be used on the wood trim, and gray paint on the floorSometimes, matting over a common floor proves very satisfactory.”

        (Part Two will cover kitchens, bathrooms, and porches.)

        Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

        Join 6 other followers