Wood Flooring History
When most people think of hardwood flooring they might first think of the Oak, or Maple. Today however, there are many, many options available for the consumer. There are many different types of species now available, different finish types, construction types. Brazilian Cherry, Japanese Tiger-wood and Bamboo OH MY!! It is quite literally a jungle out there!
With so many options and so much information, how does one know what is right for them? Hopefully the following basic information about hardwood flooring will be a step in the right direction to becoming a more informed shopper and ultimately much happier with your final decision. After all your going to be living on and with your choice for a while. So where do we start? As with many topics, it is best to start at the beginning.
Hardwood as a flooring option was not really considered attractive until about the late 17 th century when it became fashionable for the French royalty and nobility to have in their homes. These were elegant and expensive, using parquetry flooring. These floors were hand-cut and laid in elaborate 3-D patterns and were quite expensive for the times. So for the common folk the beaten ground floor was still the norm.
The great abundance of forests in the new world colonies made hardwood flooring more common. The Plank floors were sometimes up to 2 feet wide and were mostly un-sanded, unstained pine that would be time-worn and polished by the feet of the colonists. Contemporary hardwood floors are products of greater manufacturing so as to increase the useful life-span and the longevity of the beauty of the wood itself.
By the early 1800's more parquet patterns were in use, but only in the richest of homes and rooms. Wooden plank flooring remained the norm and were usually painted, and in the better homes laid in a tongue and grove configuration. More modest houses would have random width boards simply face nailed to the joists. With the advent of tongue and groove milling, the floors could be laid in a more level fashion before they were painted. This still required a lot of labour to install as well as to maintain. Of course if you had these types of floors you probably had some servants that did the work!
The mass production of Hardwood flooring didn't begin until the late 1800's early 1900's during the industrial revolution. These floors were not even close to what we have today. " Hardwood carpet" was sold out of catalog’s and consisted of 1-1/2in x5/16in strips of wood glued to a heavy cotton canvass and sold in rolls. These still had to be sanded with a hand sander attached to a floor broom and again was very time consuming labour for little pay. Also at this time Tung oils were introduced from China but were slow drying and of poor quality. These floors also still required a hot wax and buffing.
From 1901-1914 the tongue and groove wood plank flooring was the most popular. Parquet was used as a border for carpeting. Then carpet was more expensive than hardwood. Then in the 1920's-1940's new flooring surfaces such as linoleum and cork began to compete with hardwood being inexpensive and easy to install and maintain. These types of floors became the more popular choice in the USA . At this time also polyurethane became the ideal no wax finish of choice. This allowed wood flooring to continue to play a prominent role till 1950.
With the end of the War and the baby boom, hardwood flooring endured a steep decline. With the new housing being built for returning veteran's the cost of broadloom carpet was able to be included in with the home loan. Hardwood was relegated to the role of sub-floor and was still installed, sanded and finished and then promptly covered with wall to wall carpet! Soon the advent and use of plywood as a sub floor spelled doom for hardwood flooring and for about 30 years was all but forgotten. This caused many hardwood flooring manufacturers to begin selling carpet just to survive and this trend continued until about 1980.
During the 1980's pre-finished v-groove flooring became popular once again but was cheap and poorly made. However with the economic boom and housing boom of the 90's, hardwood flooring has resurfaced (pun intended) as the premiere choice for floor covering. Today manufacturers have better quality control, managed forestry for conservation and consistent supply. The introduction of engineered flooring has made hardwood flooring an inexpensive choice for many consumers, allowing greater flexibility as to where hardwood can be installed.
Hardwood flooring provides a hypo-allergenic, easily maintained floor sure to increase the value of any home. Also today there are many new exotic species that are available so that consumers are able to truly have as many design options and custom ability they can imagine. Truly we are in a "golden age" for hardwood flooring!