Welcome to the Neighborhood: Mixed-Media Installations
Blending or integrating hardwood with any adjacent floor covering can be considered a work of art in itself. To successfully complete a hardwood floor installation, the dealer/contractor must decide how to address the transition from the adjacent existing floor covering to the wood floor. The new installation must be made compatible with the existing floor — after all, it was there first!
If you maintain a mindset that’s biased toward “isolated” hardwood installations, you limit your potential for developing solutions to both job site transition problems and the need to commingle hardwood with other flooring materials. And as more and more consumers demand mixed-media floor installations, even the “hardwood hermits” of our industry eventually will have no choice but to emerge from their cocoons. We in the hardwood industry must continue to search for the hot buttons that will help align our products and services with the desires of today’s consumer.
But before the dealer/contractor can even contemplate the various possibilities inherent in mixed-media installations, he first needs to understand the installation requirements of the alternative floor covering that is either adjacent to — or chosen to be integrated within — the hardwood. Forming a partnership between different materials in an installation is not unlike entering a marriage. Your intention, in the beginning, is that the union will last forever. Unfortunately, if the components are improperly prepared or incorrectly installed, the mixed-media floor will seldom survive beyond the honeymoon.
Never undertake a mixed-media installation if you don’t fully understand the pertinent properties of all the flooring products involved. On the other hand, if you question the likelihood of establishing harmony between two different products, just think of one of those trees along the highway that’s managed to grow out of an outcropping of rock —it’s striving and surviving in an apparently restricted neighborhood. All that we as installers of mixed-media floors need do is follow Mother Nature’s lead.
Today’s architects and design specifications favor mixed-media installations that utilize hardwood and tile. In particular, larger-format natural stone tiles are now very much in vogue. The bold, uniquely patterned look of natural stone — like hardwood — offers the consumer an opportunity to create a floor that can never be exactly duplicated in another installation.
Mixed-media installations are performed predominantly by full-line floor covering dealers/contractors. Traditionally, such contractors have developed a capacity for estimating, and purchasing the products and sundries required for the installation. But even more importantly, these dealers/contractors employ individuals who are equally competent in the installation of wood as well as alternative floor coverings.
Coordinating the work of two separate companies or installers tends to complicate your ability to create a smooth transition between the different floor covering products. This is definitely one time where the left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing. The best way for that to happen is to have both hands attached to the same body!
There remains, as always, one key factor to keep forefront in your mind when you approach any mixed-media installation that utilizes hardwood: water and wood don’t mix. This is a particularly important consideration when natural stone or ceramic tile is used with wood. The adhesion of ceramic or stone to a qualified subfloor can be accomplished only through the use of a water-based latex adhesive, in the case of the thinset method, or a Portland cement-based mud application.
For a mixed-media installation that utilizes hardwood and ceramic/stone, the following fundamental guidelines should be observed:
1. Allow adequate time to layout the job. Begin by dry fitting the tile. Double check your working lines before beginning the installation.
2. Accommodate the requirements for a smooth transition between materials by using the appropriate underlayment for the tile.
3. Whenever possible, install the tile portion of the installation before the wood. Allow sufficient time — usually overnight is enough — for the tile to fully adhere to the subfloor. On the second day of the installation, proceed with grouting.
4. Excess grout must be removed from the tile so that its surface is clean and dry.
5. Always begin the hardwood portion of the job with the tongue of the plank facing away from the tile part of the installation. You may have employed this same technique when installing wood around the hearth of a fireplace.
6. Apply the traditional, accepted hardwood installation guidelines for the remainder of the job.
Wood or Wood Knot, along with your new floor covering neighbors, welcomes you to the world of mixed-media flooring installations. One good neighbor deserves another. It’s your choice.