White Oak Buttercup flooring from Somerset Hardwood Flooring is a hand-scraped wide plank. Photo courtesy of Somerset Hardwood Flooring.

Hardwood flooring has most certainly passed the “test of time” as a beautiful architecturally designed construction product for its natural aesthetics, form and function. Having been around for centuries, wood flooring has found its way from meager log cabins into fashionable homes and specialty retail stores, in European castles, and stately museums throughout the world. There are many reasons for its popularity over time, but most importantly is that hardwood flooring is a style-conscious, trend-setting decorator product preferred for its beauty and durability by architects, builders and contractors; and especially homeowners.

Created by Mother Nature, its many species offer a wide range of grain patterns, colors and textures. Woodworking machinery and technology have evolved over time to produce hardwood flooring in a wide variety of widths, thicknesses, lengths, finishes and patterns to create a style and look to match any interior décor; and a functional design for any flooring requirement.

Here’s a review of the latest “Trends in Colors, Styles and Species” from a regional perspective. Hardwood flooring preferences do vary in every region from New England to the West Coast. The major common thread is hardwood flooring’s overall popularity.

New England –In the Northeast hardwood flooring has its highest market share as a percentage of flooring in the U.S. The most popular style is 3/4” random length solid wood. For years, on-site “sand and finished” strip flooring has been the product of choice, in both red and white oak species. More recently, prefinished flooring has grabbed a growing percentage of the business. Color preferences change over the years from medium tones (i. e. honey and amber) to darker stains like shades of walnut. Today, the darker stains have come back into vogue, as have wider width plank floors. Prefinished engineered hardwood flooring in varying thicknesses is finding its way into the market, mostly for remodeling.

Mid-Atlantic –Also a predominantly 3/4” solid market. This region prefers the natural to medium stain colors that most likely reflects the conservative culture of this historic region. Coastal communities are using more engineered flooring that provides more structural integrity with less expansion and contraction in areas with higher levels of ambient moisture. Antique Heart Pine flooring has been around for many years, and has its roots in this market. New engineered Heart Pine flooring options are opening up markets for this environmentally friendly product that heretofore were impractical.

Mid-West –Again, 3/4” solid strip and plank flooring are the predominant styles installed in residential applications. Darker colors are the current trend as are wider plank widths. Hand-scraped hardwood flooring is a relatively new trend that is gaining in popularity. For a true square edge look, sawn faced engineered hardwood flooring is catching on in this region, especially for wider width planks. While red oak is still the predominant specie, Hickory, Maple, and Birch species are more readily available in a variety of stains and provide a different look for the discerning buyer. Walnut and Cherry species are mostly finished with a natural stain to provide a very rich look. For on-site sand and finish jobs, an “oil wax finish” is gaining popularity. It uses bee’s wax and carnauba wax for a labor saving one-coat finish.

Pictured is Somerset’s Harvest Oak, an example of a wider-width plank. Photo courtesy of Somerset Hardwood Flooring.

Southern Region –Engineered hardwood flooring is the biggest seller in this region. The cross-ply construction provides the proper flooring application where crawl space and/or slab-on-grade construction are the norm. Sawn faces provide the look of solid hardwood with the inherent advantages that engineered material offer to protect against cupping and crowning as the seasons change. Solids are still selling at the high end of the spectrum in the Carolinas where the added cost can be absorbed for extra insulation between the crawl space and underlayment board. American Cherry, Walnut and Maple are more readily available and have found a niche in the higher price point homes. Imported species like Brazilian Cherry, Mahogany, Teak, Jakarta and other exotic species were quite popular a few years ago and should rebound nicely when the overall housing market improves.

Sunbelt Region -This region historically has had a lower hardwood flooring market share in the U.S. due to its dry arid climate. New advances in finishes and engineered hardwood flooring technology and design have made engineered flooring the product of choice. Consumers moving to this region want hardwood in their new homes. Builders are matching the right new products to make it work. Colors tend to be lighter and natural, and narrow widths are still the most popular look.

Southern California –Engineered hardwood flooring is the biggest seller in this region due mostly to the typical slab-on-grade construction. Today there are more choices than ever. The sawn face product has become very popular and is available in a wide variety of species from the popular oak, maple, and birch to the more exotic species like Santos Mahogany, Teak, Bamboo, Tigerwood and others. Rotary peeled engineered flooring continues to sell at the lower price points, mostly in red oak. Southern California is the most environmentally conscious region. This makes products like Bamboo, Antique Heart Pine, and other “Green” products attractive to environmentally conscience builders and homeowners. Most major hardwood flooring manufacturers today adhere to responsible foresting of hardwoods and comply with the latest FSC Certification standards for forest sustainability.

Northern California & Pacific Northwest -3/4” solid hardwood flooring is still the most popular style being sold in this region. Hand scraped and wider planks are definitely trendier as are species other than oak. Prefinished flooring is selling more than ever due to a wider range of available colors, and the inherent advantages of factory-controlled finishing technology. This has enabled manufacturers to extend finish warranties for a much longer time frame (some up to 25 years), and several producers now offer limited warranties for the lifetime of the product. Be sure to refer to specific manufacturers’ warranties for details and maintenance requirements.