"If you think airport security is tough, you haven't seen anything yet," said Sprigg Lynn, president of the 50-year-old company, which has installed flooring in government buildings all the way back to Eisenhower. "On one of the shifts, we were sealed in the Department of State building for 36 hours straight. We didn't get much sleep, and what sleep we did get was spent dreaming about the job."
In less than a week, Lynn and his staff restored a parquet pattern done in mahogany and maple plank in the State building's formal reception area, where President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice entertain visiting dignitaries. The building also houses national treasures including the desk on which the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Members of the National Wood Flooring Association saluted Universal Flooring's job with a Floor of the Year Award for Best Restoration, one of seven trophies presented at the NWFA expo earlier this year. The contest, now in its 15th year, honors companies which view the floor as a canvas, while zeroing in on installations that incorporate creative designs and innovative methods.
Other winners included: Johnson Yarema Hardwood Floors, based in Oakland, Mich., which walked away with two awards for Best Kitchen/Dining Room and Best Commercial; Wilson, N.C.-based Fulford Flooring, for Best Living Room/Family Room; Birger Juell Ltd. of Chicago, for Best Library/Office; Frederick, Md.'s Majestic Wood Floors, which was honored for Best Bedroom; and Signature Floors of Salt Lake City, for Best Entry/Foyer.
There were a few changes to this year's contest. The 134 entries (35 more than last year) were voted on solely by the NWFA membership. Plus, the NWFA trimmed the number of award categories from 11 to 7 and eliminated the Master and Expert Divisions, as well as the Best Job Site Finished and the overall Floor of the Year awards.
"With these changes to the contest, we're trying to level the playing field a little bit," NWFA spokesperson Anita Howard explained. "Our old categories were so broad that entries could easily fit in four or five areas. With streamlined categories like Best Living Room/Family Room, there's not much room for confusion."
This year's other award winners include: In the Best Library/Office category, Birger Juell's installation at a private home library in Chicago features 180 sq. ft. of American cherry with accents of sapele, topped with a wax finish. The precision-cut wood shapes radiate out from a central star medallion, and mimic the Art Deco look of the custom cabinetry, which Birger Juell also created.
"We want you to walk into the room onto a drop-dead gorgeous floor, and have to spend some time with it, really look at it, to fully appreciate it, " said Birger Juell's Chuck Crispin.
Johnson Yarema Hardwood Floors won two awards: one for a Best Kitchen/Dining Room installation in an Oakland, Mich., home, and the other for Best Commercial in the pilothouse of a yacht.
Christened the "Star Ship" by its owner James Esshaki of Birmingham, Mich., the ship is rented out by the week for Mediterranean cruises. John Yarema and his staff flew down to Fort Lauderdale where the ship was docked to work on a 875 sq. ft. installation which took 11 days and used more than 50 species, including Santos mahogany, white oak, bloodwood, maple burl and wenge. The completed floor draws inspiration from vintage British Colonial maps, Yarema said.
"This was our first yacht, and we had a lot of fun," Yarema said. "We wanted something that really gave the pilot the feel that he was sitting on top of the world. That's why we have a map worked in there."
His company's other winning installation came in the Best Kitchen/Dining Room category for a home it worked on in Oakland, Mich. The floor in a 450 sq. ft. room that doubles as a dining room and guest room was custom designed with a lavish circular pattern that uses a checkerboard fish scale design using walnut, European pear, cinnamon burl, holly, vera and wenge.
"The owner has a lot of old furniture from Europe, so a lot of the flooring was inspired by the look of that furniture," Yarema said. "We actually used parts of a piece of furniture in the border around the fish scale pattern."
Fulford Flooring went for an understated look in the company's Best Living Room/Family Room winning entry. For the 400 sq. ft. living room in Wilson, N.C., reclaimed face and end beams made of heart pine were used to fashion a cross design, alongside diagonal patterns and a border fashioned from the rings in a tree's trunk.
"I thought the room lent itself to that particular look, with a cross in the middle," said Ted Fulford of Fulford Flooring. "When we were first looking at the room, I drew my idea on a napkin, showed it to the customers, they liked it, and that was it."
Signature Floors' winning installation in a Salt Lake City home for Best Entry/Foyer was a complicated, intricate job that required six months to complete. The floor, which measures 2,500 sq. ft., features a 400 sq. ft. ribbon design combining the exotic species sapele, movingue, Brazilian rosewood and wenge. Ribbons curve off from the main design, flow into other rooms and curve back out, making for highly detailed craftsmanship. "There are about seven or eight inlays that run up right against the walls, and we couldn't fit the router in those places," said technician Collin Barrus. "So we ended up doing a lot of hand-chiseling and grinding on that job."
Bob Humphreys of Majestic Wood Floors selected the color scheme for his Best Bedroom entry from the material found in a couple's Frederick, Md., bedroom. The homeowners were so in love with a bedding set that they wanted the drapes, furniture and flooring to complement it. Humphreys chose 200 sq. ft. of Brazilian cherry, wenge, maple and red oak in a customized basket-weave pattern, paying special attention to the flooring color so it brought out the look of a burgundy color scheme.
"This was a one-of-a-kind job," Humphreys said. "We even made sure that the floor coordinated with the corners of the bedpost, which have a diamond shape with an ‘X' through it - we incorporated those details into the accent blocks, which we made in our shop. It took some time, but it was worth it."
Entries for the next Floor of the Year competition are currently being accepted. Deadline is Feb. 1. For more information, visit www.nwfa.org.