From the Bottom Up: Flooring tips to get the designer look you crave

When it comes to selecting flooring for a project, I always ask myself the same question: What material offers the most authentic look in the space I’m creating, and has the performance necessary for the location? Flooring is the very foundation of a space, and most often, it is the first place I start on a project. I work in all styles of architecture- from traditional to modern- and I’m often finding ways to bridge the two. There is an exception to every rule, but I almost never use the floor as that bridge.  As much as I love modern clean elements, I usually opt for flooring that has organic qualities which can stand the test of time and forgive the punishments of wear. I save modern touches for elements that can be easily swapped out down the line- accessories, furniture- when modern is no longer reading as modern.

Authenticity is the name of the game when it comes to your material choices. I love to use quarter-sawn or live-cut oak boards, limestone, terracotta, brick, marble, mosaics, and custom concrete pavers. I always try to use the real thing or the best quality available within a category, and I never miss out on the opportunity to invite an organic layer to a room, even in some of my most modern projects. The natural slub in a piece of linen, a gnarled knot in an oak floor board, the nubby nature of knitted mohair throw or the natural graining of leather all impart character and are wonderful foils to modern counterparts. This has a grounding effect on a space, and gives it a sense of timelessness.  If budget and conditions allows, I will always opt for true 3/4” thick limestone pavers over limestone tile – the difference in the look is one of those subtleties that gives a space true distinction.

Break flooring types as infrequently as possible, and when you must, try to do so only where there is a break in plane – a step up or step down.  This makes a space feel larger and more important, and makes the transitions feel natural. It also makes for easier maintenance. I try to select flooring material that acknowledges the utility of a room- in kitchens, mudrooms and wet spaces, I try to use stone, terracotta, or something that can be scrubbed down.  If there are no natural places to transition from wood flooring to stone it might not be possible, but when I can make the change, I do.

Pay Attention to Your Finishes!  There are certain processes and products I always make sure to use in order to achieve the beautiful patinas and wearability I crave, whether I’m refinishing an existing floor or specifying new wood flooring.  For example, when it comes to the stain on a wood floor, I always make sure that the boards are “popped” with water first.  This step is done right before the stain is applied to freshly sanded raw boards. The boards are wiped down with a layer of water to open the grain so that when the stain is applied quickly afterwards, the pores of the wood can absorb the color more thoroughly and evenly. When it comes to the final finish, I have two favorite treatments.  The first is an oil-based product with a satin finish. An oil-based product penetrates the pores of the wood and becomes one with the boards in a way that a water based or latex finish cannot. I always specify three coats, not the common two, as this results in very hard protective coating which can last for decades and requires only a damp mop for cleaning. My second favorite finish on wood flooring (which can be done over any stain) is several coats of butcher’s wax, buffed out to allow the boards to glow with a nice, natural finish.  This is a drier look that works well to achieve an informal feeling. In this case, floors can be re-coated and buffed every three to five years to be refreshed, but they really never need to be refinished.  I love to use this treatment when a project is near the beach or in the country- perfect for our area.  The look fits with an easier lifestyle, and because there is no layer of permanent finish to be cut or scratched by grit and sand, the finish never wears out, it simply ages to a wonderful patina.

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 Locate carpeting in key areas- as a rule I like to use hard-surfaced flooring just about everywhere with softness and pattern provided by wonderful area rugs. But in secondary bedrooms and sometimes even the master, I still love a great wall-to-wall carpet - especially if it’s 100% wool.  On wood stairs and in upper hallways I often select a super resilient neutral wool carpet that is custom serged or bound at the edges and installed with a 6” perimeter of wood left showing.  This keeps stairs safe and comfortable, and makes the second floor feel finished. And- I can’t believe I still have to say this- never, under any circumstances, put wall-to-wall carpeting in bathrooms.   

Flooring sets the tone and helps create the energy a space radiates. It should allow us to feel free to live on it, be beautiful, forgive wear, and require the least amount of maintenance.  It should last, in both substance and style. One choice can enhance many iterations of furnishings and can endure for the lifetime of the home. Choose carefully!  

Until next time, here’s to creating your own Noble Spaces!