Don't look down on your hardwood floors just because they're old and you want a new look underfoot. Your existing hardwoods can be the foundation, literally, of a fresh new decorating scheme, anywhere in your home, and in addition to saving time and money, you're also sparing Mother Earth when you don't choke landfills with wood that's still perfectly good and usable.
"Hardwood floors are so naturally durable and wear-resistant they can go on looking beautiful for years," says Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center. "But when you're ready for a 'fresh' look, remember that there's a new decorative role for that 'old' hardwood flooring." American Hardwoods, treasured for generations. Top interior designers agree.
In Redondo Beach, CA, designer Jackie Balint has customized old wood floors with floral patterns hand-painted to match the homeowner's favorite plates. In Lexington, KY, kitchen designer Laura Dalzell used contrasting stain colors to create checkerboards and borders on traditional hardwood floors. New York designer John Buscarello swears by faux-painted finishes like checkerboards and pretend parquet. And Arizona designer Karen Wirrig uses a unique glazing process that wins a floor prize for special effects.
To revitalize old oak floors in a client's California home, Wirrig worked with a master cabinet contractor who repurposed his custom cabinet-glazing techniques from furniture to the floors.
"I have to admit I was skeptical," the Phoenix designer admits now. But when the glaze was applied over the sanded and stained floor, the grain was enhanced and the "old" floors looked seamless. "The individual planks receded visually, giving the floor a much more continuous look," she reports. "It's a rich and elegantly rustic look, just what the homeowner had in mind."
Manhattan designer John Buscarello believes in bypassing the demolition crew in favor of a decorative painter. For him, it's all about cherishing the old wood and the patina it develops over time.
"Designers really covet old floors. Old wood is different; it has a beauty that's hard to replicate. Unless it's really too worn to refinish - and that rarely happens - there's no point in tearing out an old floor."
Buscarello likes to refresh old floors instead, sometimes with just a gentle cleaning process called "screening" that merely lifts the dirt and old wax from the surface of the wood. It doesn't change the color of the wood itself, which can then be re-waxed or polyurethaned to look like new.
When he wants a more dramatic transformation, Buscarello calls for painted designs- classic floor treatments that "will never go out of fashion," he says - not only in casual country-style rooms but also in sophisticated contemporary settings.
Like the time his work crew pulled up 20-year-old linoleum in a Manhattan apartment foyer, revealing splendid hardwood flooring underneath. Buscarello had a decorative artist paint a crisp black-and-white checkerboard on the floor, instantly brightening the entry, delighting the homeowner, and leaving enough in the budget for extra decorating projects.
Even Park Avenue-posh clients appreciate the classic good looks (and budget-loving price tag) of faux-painted floors. Buscarello made a grand Park Avenue apartment "even grander" with faux painting on the half-century-old floors - a pattern that looks like warm Old World parquet running diagonally throughout all the elegant upfront rooms. "Everyone has a budget," the designer points out. "You can save thousands by refurbishing existing hardwood."
Drama is what New York designer Darren Henault has in mind when he sets out to renew a worn wood floor. Over the top and ultra-bold, Henault "loves pattern on wood floors," a message visitors got twice-over at the most recent Kips Bay Decorator Show House in Manhattan.
Henault floored adjoining sitting rooms - His 'n Hers - with intricate entwined patterns lifted from an adjacent carpet and stencil-painted on the maple floors. "His" was darker and touched with ebony; "Hers," the reverse, painted in milky white and lavender to match the walls. "Every surface is an opportunity to do something dramatic," the designer believes. "Especially a hardwood floor."
Design pros across the U.S. agree. Don't show your hardwood floor the door. Simply refresh, renew and redecorate to make hardwood floors look new and stylish again.