Authentic Mid-Century style building materials and DIY kits for your home.

What Floor Should I Choose? (Part 5 – Hardwood)

January 30, 2024

Hardwood floors have been a part of households for centuries, and their popularity never seems to wane (much). The difficulty with a mid-century home is choosing the right hardwood floor - the correct species, the correct size of board, and the correct color. (I beg you to stay away from GRAY FLOORS! Whoever thought they were a good idea? I'm looking at you, HGTV.) Find out below how to choose the right floor for your mid-century home.

History

Hardwood floors have been part of the history of homes since the first Neanderthal hauled some logs into a cave to serve as a makeshift way of keeping up off of the stone and dirt floor. Early American homes were hand-hewn strips of wood from local forests, hand-cut by the homeowner and neighbors, and laid adjacent to one another with sawdust and mud packed between to keep drafts at bay. These boards were unfinished, polished only by years of foot traffic. The late 1800s and early 1900s brought the Industrial Revolution, in which sawmills and factories with machinery started the mass production of flooring for homes. With the advent of machinery, tongue and groove boards came into production, but each board was still nailed by hand as power tools were still years off. By the turn of the century, floors received more treatment - shellac and wax - to provide the shiny surface we think of today when we consider hardwood floors. By mid-century, power nailers were invented, and hardwood installations hit an all-time high in 1955 of 1.2 billion board feet installed in American homes. Hardwood was a particularly popular choice given that the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) did not allow homes with carpet-only rooms to be eligible for mortgages. It wasn't until the 1960s that the FHA allowed for carpet-only rooms - which is why many present-day mid-century homeowners will be lucky enough to find hardwoods under carpeted areas. Also by mid-century, other materials were coming into vogue for different areas of the home (see our other examples here on the blog), but hardwood was still prevalent in living, dining, and bedrooms.

Types

In selecting hardwood for flooring in your mid-century home, you do need to be careful in choosing a species, stain, and size that is appropriate to the era. Quite often, that would have been white or red oak with a clear stain (or varnish) on a 2 1/2" wide board. (It is rare now to find 2 1/2" - it's mostly 2 1/4") Wide planks and dark stain colors were not common (if used at all) in mid-century homes. Planks would be solid hardwood with tongue and groove nailed on the tongue to hide the fasteners.

Another wood product seen in mid-century homes is a square, fingerblock parquet. The reasoning behind the term "fingerblock" is that each parquet block is often made up of multiple smaller pieces of wood to make each square. Some mid-century parquet was even made from one solid piece of wood on each block. This type of parquet can be almost impossible to find, but it is an interesting alternative to a more traditional parquet.

Installation

Installation of hardwood floors is incredibly variable based on the existing subfloor and the material chosen. Solid wood flooring is installed as it was in the 1950s - tongue and groove with a nail through the tongue for a hidden fastener finish. The installation is aided by modern standing nailing equipment and can be done by an ambitious homeowner. Engineered hardwoods might have a click-lock mechanism on their edges or can be a glue-down product. Click-lock is usually obtainable by the handy DIYer, while a glue-down system might be best left to the professionals.

So, what's the difference between a solid hardwood floor and an engineered wood floor? First off, a solid hardwood floor is just as the name implies - each plank is cut from one solid piece of wood. Engineered wood has a solid hardwood veneer on the face, while the remainder of the plank is typically a plywood matrix of alternating-direction wood pieces glued and pressed together to create the plank. There are pros and cons to each, and you'll have to make the decision of what works for you.

Solid hardwood floors have a much longer lifespan. Because they are solid hardwood, they can be refinished many times until the wood is worn down to the depth of the tongue. Because of this, the lifespan is 100+ years on a solid hardwood floor. Wider boards are often not possible because of the natural movement of wood in changes of temperature and humidity - wider boards are more susceptible to cupping. However, given that wider boards are not appropriate to mid-century homes, this con is widely moot. Solid hardwood is more expensive than engineered flooring and includes the expense of finishing the floor after installation, whereas engineered floors are often pre-finished. A pro of hardwood is that, at the end of its life, the floor is recyclable as it is solid wood without glues and other VOCs.

Engineered floors are the only floor to choose if you are installing floors over concrete, in a basement area, or if you want to install a heated floor. Unlike solid hardwood, engineered floors can only be refinished once or twice (although some manufacturers make thicker face layers). Engineered floors often come prefinished, so once they are installed, they are good to go. One con of engineered wood floors is that they almost unilaterally come with a micro-bevel on the edge of the plank, meaning that the planks do not butt immediately adjacent to one another and have a groove at each joint. This is aesthetically not mid-century, and it's a point to be aware of while making your choice. Last, engineered hardwoods may only be available in wider plank sizes of 3" and more.

There are more pros and cons than listed here, and homeowners should do their research before deciding on a floor.

Where to Buy

Hardwood floors are so ubiquitous that you'll probably want to purchase them locally. From big-box stores to local mills, there are a plethora of options for purchasing hardwoods.

Home Depot

Select Red Oak Solid Hardwood

This product is unfinished

Hartco

Yorkshire Solid Hardwood

Shown here prefinished in Auburn

Doma

Sophisticated Timbers Solid Hardwood

Shown here prefinished in Natural

Hurst Hardwoods

Red Oak Select Solid Hardwood

This product is unfinished.

Reserve Hardwood

Red Oak Engineered Wood Flooring

This product is unfinished.

Hurst Hardwood

White Oak Engineered Hardwood

This product is prefinished.

Czar Floor

M29 Parquet

This product comes in three to nine fingers and is unfinished.

Wego (Wood Floors Plus)

Engineered Hardwood Parquet Red Oak

This product is a single-finger parquet (rare) and is prefinished in Mellow Brown. These are on clearance, so if you want them, get them now.

National Wood Flooring Association

Looking for a certified product or installer?

The National Wood Flooring Association website has a lot of resources for homeowners - take a look!

Do you have original hardwood floors? I do - the classic oak 2 1/2" wide planks in a golden finish (probably from aging). Next on my bucket list is to replace my stair treads with matching hardwood treads!

Do you have hardwoods? Do you love hardwood? Hate them? Let us know in the comments below.

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Image Credits:

Sequoia logs at the Converse Basin mill landing. Uploaded by the Fresno County Historical Society Collection. CC0.
Solid hardwood oak flooring. Photo by Make it Mid-Century. All rights reserved.
Parquet floor. Author Kurt Kaiser. CC 1.0 DEED.
Installation image by Vintage Wood Flooring LLC. Fair use. If you're in the Pennsylvania area, check them out!
Images of product lines from the individual names companies. Fair use.

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