Last fall, when Dennis and Misty Glorioso renovated the Sykesville home they bought from Misty's father, one of their immediate priorities was to add hardwood floors.
The house, which was built in the early 1980s, was chopped up into several small rooms in the main living area, with floors covered in old carpet and linoleum. The Gloriosos knew they wanted a more streamlined, open-floor plan — and updated floors.
When they began working with Roger Evans, the owner of Monkton-based Evans Contracting, on the renovation, the Gloriosos discovered that within the hardwood flooring category, they had a lot of choices.
Hardwood floors are classic, they learned, but that doesn't mean they're static. From vintage boards to high-tech finishes, current trends in hardwood flooring are anything but boring.
For the Gloriosos' home, Evans recommended reclaimed wood floors produced by The Woods Company, a Chambersburg, Pa.-based company specializing in vintage wood. The wood chosen, called "Antique Oak Remilled," looks natural and full of personality next to the Gloriosos' modern kitchen and eclectic mix of midcentury and modern furniture.
"I like the character," says Dennis Glorioso. "It's not perfect and doesn't have a blemish-free surface. I like the finishing – a natural wood look, not a crazy shiny veneer. It looks like wood sitting on the ground, but it's sealed."
Though reclaimed and antique wood has been available for decades, use of imperfect wood floors in modern spaces is a relatively new phenomenon, says Barry Stup, who founded The Woods Company in the mid-1980s.
"In the early days, I was responding to restoration demands," he says. "People were doing old home restoration and needed the correct materials. Then time passed and people started doing new construction in a vintage style."
Stup points to popular home inspiration websites, where interest in vintage materials for everything from flooring to furnishings is flourishing.
"In the past three years, the term 'repurposed' has come into vogue — you can see it on Houzz or Pinterest," he says. "There's a renewed interest in preserving and reusing materials."
Robert Logan, owner of Baltimore Floor Supply in Timonium, has observed a similar shift in taste. "Twenty years ago, people would never put down a floor with a knot in it. These days, people will pay extra for the knot."
In modern spaces like the Gloriosos', old wood can add warmth, says Stup. "I love modern design, and when you add wood to it, it warms it up and makes it more inviting and homey."
In addition to their aesthetic charm, reclaimed boards often have the added benefit of meeting LEED requirements. LEED — or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design — is a green building certification program that sometimes allows for tax credits.
The reclaimed look is possible even when old boards are not available, say wood sellers. Some customers choose new wood that is "character grade" or "tavern grade," or opt for wood that has been textured, referred to as "handscraped."
Handscraping has been around for about four years, says Eric Barr of Lumber Liquidators, which has several outlets in Maryland, including one that opened in Glen Burnie in March. "There are little ridges across the top," he says. "It's made to look like the old rustic barn look — a distressed look."
Barr has also noticed a trend away from the high-gloss finishes that were popular in the 1980s and '90s, toward more matte finishes, which look more rustic and have the additional benefit of being more difficult to noticeably scratch — ideal for families with small children or pets.
Homeowners are experimenting with color as well as texture, says Barr. "We've gone from very basic monotone colors in the past to pewters and grays, old weathered looks, and a French bleed look with black edges."
Baltimore interior designer Kimberly A. Eastburn notes that choosing slightly unusual colors for hardwood floors, like black or gray, is experimental but still classic enough to be a smart long-term design decision.
"Floors in the gray ranges or black are flexible enough that you can change the decor, and it'll change the vibe," she says. "Black floors in a stately home read as lovely and classic, or you can have a black floor with all-white furnishings and it would look incredibly sleek."
Eastburn's own studio has a black floor, which she says never fails to excite clients. "Everyone who comes in looks down and says, 'Black floors!' " she says with a laugh.
For some clients, Eastburn recommends customizing hardwood floors via floor painting. Though it has historical roots, painting floors can give a room an updated, fresh feel.
"It's a wonderful way to add color," says Julia O'Reilly of Monkton Studios, a floor painter who works frequently with Eastburn. O'Reilly has painted everything from simple checkerboard patterns to intricate stenciled designs.
"Different colors and unexpected patterns make the technique seem new and fresh and trendy," says Eastburn. "But in reality, it's a classic application."
Not all trends in hardwood flooring are visible to the naked eye. Over the past several years, flooring and finish technology has advanced, with healthier and safer options coming to market.
"The new active stains and oil finishes hitting the market now are no-VOC," says Tim DiPaula, owner of Lady Baltimore Floors in Finksburg.
Volatile organic compounds — or VOCs — are chemicals that have high vapor pressure at normal temperatures, causing a large amount of evaporation and strong smells. Though not always harmful, they can be unpleasant.
"Oil finishes are becoming a big thing, like vegetable oil and natural products," says Chris Nielsen, manager of Wood Floor Warehouse in Timonium. Nielsen says that oil finishes require more maintenance than traditional polyurethane finishes, but that maintenance can be easily done by the homeowner, rather than by a flooring professional.
One wood floor manufacturer, Canada's Lauzon, has responded to the increased interest in "healthy" flooring by creating a wood floor that actively purifies the air. The product, called Pure Genius, is formulated using a titanium dioxide particle that decomposes toxins in the air, turning them into water and carbon dioxide molecules. According to the manufacturer, air in rooms with Pure Genius flooring is up to 85 percent cleaner than air in other spaces.
But Lumber Liquidator's Barr says the next step in flooring is LED-cured floor coatings — technology that employs LED lighting in the floor finishing process.
"In years past, it was a solvent-based finish applied — the contractor applied it and you couldn't be in your house for days," Barr says. "We've evolved to UV-cured finishes that are VOC-free. Now what's in the mix is an LED-cured finish. Your floor will be cured and finished quicker, with lower energy cost and no VOC."
Hardwood flooring guide
Deciding to go with hardwood in your home is just the first step. Here, experts share the things you should consider when as you narrow down the many hardwood choices available.
Type of wood: Oak is "standard," says Barry Stup, owner of The Woods Company in Chambersburg, Pa., but a number of other types of wood are also used for flooring, including pine, maple, cherry, walnut, sycamore, birch and beech. Different types of wood have different degrees of hardness, but they can even be mixed together for visual effect. Mixing "makes a wild-looking floor," says Stup.
The process: Wood-floor manufacturer processes vary, says Eric Rome of A Plus Carpet in Columbia. "How they dry the wood when it comes in is one of the most important parts of the process," he says, noting that companies that slow-dry their wood end up with a better final product.
Grading: Wood is graded based on the number of knots per square foot, says Tim DiPaula of Lady Baltimore Floors in Finksburg, either using computers or highly trained people to assign pieces "select" and "common" numbers.
Width options: In the past, homeowners tended to prefer 2¼-inch wide boards, says Eric Barr of Lumber Liquidators. But recently, wider planks, from three to eight inches, have become popular.
Finishes: Gone are the days when hardwood installation meant moving out of the house to avoid chemicals. With multiple options for finishes (including high- or low-gloss sheens and oil- or water-based finishes) and curing (such as ultraviolet curing), homeowners have more control over the look and chemical byproducts of their floors.
What's underneath: According to Barr, "underlayment is a big thing now." In the past, contractors used tar paper under floors, but today, moisture-wicking, mildew-resistant pads help reduce mold and allergens, especially in rooms like the kitchen, where moisture may be a problem.