Since the debate between light and dark wood flooring shows no sign of abating, the only thing to do is to arm yourself with information and pick a side. We enlisted the help of Charles Peterson, flooring expert and author of Wood Flooring: A Complete Guide
, to help sort out what's what in the world of wood.
KNOW YOUR OPTIONS: There are two types of wood on the market: solid hardwood and engineered hardwood. The former is composed of the same piece of wood from top to bottom, and durable, but susceptible to moisture. The latter is made of several layers of wood glued together, and more moisture-resistant.
THINK ABOUT SIZE: Wood is cheapest when it's sold in narrow pieces, but small, lower-quality pieces will make your home feel cheap. Go for planks that are wider; at least three or four inches.
PRE-INSTALLATION: Wood must acclimate to the moisture of your interior so that it doesn't buckle or warp after it's put it in. Most installers recommend letting the wood sit in your home (but not in the basement or attic) for at least a week or two.
THE WOOD: Dark wood flooring is back in vogue. Most homeowners will just stain a light oak to get the look, because it's durable and affordable. But if you want something naturally dark, try a rich brown mahogany.
THE STAIN: Consider choosing a shade or two lighter than what you think you want: the effect will be much more powerful in an entire room than on a test piece of wood.
GET FANCY: Rather than going high gloss, which tends to show scratches, opt for a satin finish. It doesn't reveal dents or wear as much and has a nice hint of sheen.
||CARE RX: Clean dark wood flooring with a microfiber dusting pad and a commercial mop. Make sure the mop is not overly damp and don't use a Swiffer on dark wood floors, as it can easily scratch them. Avoid Orange Glo, which will make the floor too slippery, and opt for Common Good's Floor Cleaner. $12, Common Good
THE WOOD: Stay away from soft options such as birch or white pine, which are easily damaged, and instead, go for something hard like oak or maple--both popular for their durability.
BLEACH IT: Bleaching the wood in your house is an option for removing an unappealing finish and will give it a lighter shade. It tends to work best on maple or red oak, and because the process involves toxic chemicals, it's advisable to contract the job out.
GET FANCY: Consider an inlaid parquet floor or a herringbone pattern for an underfoot statement.
||CARE RX: Method Squirt + Mop Wood Floor Cleaner works especially well on light wood floors, is non-toxic, and doesn't contain wax. As with dark floors, wash with a microfiber dusting pad and a mop, avoiding excessive water. $6, Method
THE AFFORDABLE OPTION: Lumber Liquidators
' customer service is top-notch, and because they buy directly from manufacturers, they've got some of the lowest prices in the industry.
|Bellawood 3.4" x 5" Select Maple
SKU: #10012172, $6 per square foot,
||Casa de Colour ¾" x 3-5/8" Mezzo Mahogany
SKU: 10028713, $6 per square foot,
THE ECO ALTERNATIVE: Green Building Supply
offers both solid and engineered wood flooring in a number of eco-friendly variations. It's all sustainably harvested and made with non-toxic adhesive and finishes.
THE RECLAIMED CLASSIC: Woodwrights Wide Plank Flooring
has a great collection of reclaimed wood from historic American structures. Usually 150 to 200 years old, the wood's integrity is preserved while assuring it meets contemporary standards.
Photograph: Courtesy T Magazine