Recycled wood makes stylish new floors

December 13, 1992|By Michael Walsh | Michael Walsh,Contributing Writer

Whether you're contemplating putting in a new wood floor or refinishing an old one, don't automatically resort to a run-of-the-sawmill approach. These days, there's an almost infinite number of alternatives to the conventionally installed wood strip floor and conventional one-wood-tone finish.

One of the hottest new options, and one you'll be hearing more about in the next few years, is the use of recycled wood floors or recycled wood milled into flooring. In big cities such as Chicago, New York and Houston, some specialty wood flooring companies are salvaging floor wood from old mansions, department stores, public buildings and even warehouses.

In some cases, they are taking out all the floorboards and individually refinishing them for new installations. In other cases, they are removing only vintage parquet borders or intricately inlaid medallions once common in the foyers of grand mansions. Yet another approach is to salvage antique structural lumber -- rafters, joists and hefty beams -- from old warehouses and factories for use as new flooring. Structural lumber is often sliced into inch-thick sections (like pats of butter) and used to make wood floor tiles that can be assembled into complex patterns.

Naturally, salvaging old wood floors for fabricating new wood floors adds to the cost. But there's no reason you can't get there before the pros do. Watch for building demolition notices in the newspaper and for demolition signs, and make contact with wrecking and salvage companies. Tell them what you're after and ask them to keep their eyes open for you.

Outside urban areas, tumbledown farmhouses and barns can be excellent resources for wide-plank pine flooring. Even after years of abandonment and decay, the pine floors of these structures are often still remarkably recyclable. The reason the wood is still so good is because vintage pine planks were cut from densely grained, old-growth trees that were 70 to 100 years old when they were harvested. Unlike newly milled pine that is cut from trees barely 20 years old and is too soft for floors, old pine rivals oak in hardness. Of course, sanding and refinishing it will be a major task, but the new floor that results will be stunning.

If you want to embellish the look of an existing wood-strip floor, consider not only refinishing in a lighter or darker shade, but also having a professional flooring contractor cut in a contrasting border strip to run around the perimeter of the room. Another option is to have a floor refinisher or even a local artist use different wood stains to create fool-the-eye inlays, pinstripes or borders.

It may not be possible to refinish a wood floor in an older home because previous sandings have taken the wood down to within a hair's breadth of the nail heads. Alternative? Paint. Some people think it is sacrilege to paint a wood floor. But there is nothing sacred about wood, especially when the only other options are replacing it or carpeting over it. Painted wood floors with a properly applied durable sealer are practical and as

fashionable as any flooring going today. Paint the floor a solid gloss or semigloss color or use two colors to make wide stripes or a checkerboard pattern. For more visual interest, paint a solid, striped or stenciled border.

If you're having a new wood floor installed, find an experienced flooring contractor who's willing to entertain some creative notions. At the very least, give some thought to having the wood strips or planks installed diagonally. Or, consider a herringbone pattern or a grid pattern consisting of 2-, 3- or 4-foot square FTC sections framed with wood strips. You may want to have a parquet border installed to boost the appeal of an otherwise-standard strip wood floor.

If your budget simply doesn't allow for professionacustomization, prefabricated wood flooring is available. That can keep the costs down if you use a flooring contractor.

Universal Press Syndicate

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