Last year we published a series of journals about issues to consider when choosing wood flooring for your home. This is a great overview (and well worth a read!) – we now focus on the varieties of wood available and how textures and colours can help achieve the look you desire.
Oak currently constitutes 90% of all wooden floors installed in the UK. Oak is fabulous, but a lot of time, effort (and consequently money, paid by the consumer) is spent on treating it to look darker, greyer, stained, etc. It’s interesting to realise these finishes can be achieved more simply/ naturally (and cheaply!) by using a species of wood of the required colour and grain.
As eclectic styles become popular with increasing emphasis on sustainable sourcing, can you choose a wood which suits your style and requirements… without resorting to staining oak?!
Colour and Variance – different species of wood produce a variety of colours and patterns in wooden boards
- Species with higher levels of tannins tend to be naturally more orange in colouring, though this fades over time in natural light, so it’s important to consider how the light in your home could affect your flooring over time.
- The ‘grade’ (quality) of wood and the prevalence of knots can darken the look over a larger area.
Hardness – durability of the wood can be an important factor if it is to be used in ‘high traffic’ areas. Note that the terms ‘softwood’ and ‘hardwood’ can be misleading in describing of strength/ durability. Softwoods are non-deciduous (they keep their leaves) and hardwoods are deciduous trees (they tend to be slower-growing and denser).
The ‘Janka Hardness Test’ measures the hardness of a board, producing a Janka number – the higher the number, the harder the wood.
English oak has a Janka of 1120 whereas the softest wood (Bulsa) has a Janka of 70 and can be cut with a craft knife. The hardest wood recorded is the Australian Buloke which has a Janka of 5060, making it extremely difficult (but not impossible) to cut!
Sustainability is measured in various ways-
- the lifecycle of the timber – how long it takes to grow/ how durable it is/ can it be reused
- where it grows versus where it is used – transport costs and ability to certify the wood as sustainable
- the energy required to process the timber – how hard it is to cut, treatment required before use (drying time) and any finishes that are applied.
We’ve selected 9 of our favourite (non-oak!) species which can be used for Wooden Flooring, with details on their appearance, hardness and sustainability credentials.
- Origin: Europe, North America
- Colour: Light pale brown to a dark chocolate brown with darker brown streaks. Can sometimes have a grey, purple, or reddish cast.
- Texture: The grain is usually straight, but can be irregular, particularly in European species. Medium texture and moderate natural lustre.
- Janka Number: 1220
- Sustainability: Not officially protected but is reported as being ‘near threatened’. However, this listing is for the wild populations of the tree: whereas most lumber is sourced from cultivated trees.
- Why we love it: The patterns and greyish tone look fabulous with an array of interior styles. A good alternative to artificially darkened oak when a dark grey finish is desired.
- Origin: Tropical- Asia and Oceania
- Colour: Fabulous kaleidoscope of colours – golden brown, yellow, pink and black – often caused by spalting (fungus commonly present within the tree).
- Texture: The grain is usually straight or ‘interlocked’, texture is medium to coarse. When polished the wood has a vibrant lustre.
- Janka Number: 1070
- Sustainability: Considered very eco-friendly – some trees harvested for lumber at the end of their fruit-bearing lifespan. Reported by as being ‘data deficient’ – so check source carefully.
- Why we love it: Has made a strong comeback in furniture production and has the potential to produce a wonderful, vibrant floor. A herringbone pattern in medium sized planks will bring out the full array of colours
- Origin: Central Africa
- Colour: Medium brown, sometimes reddish or yellowish, with nearly black streaks. With an oil finish the wood can appear close to black (enough to be an Ebony substitute).
- Texture: Grain is straight, with a very coarse texture. Low natural lustre.
- Janka Number: 1930
- Sustainability: Listed as endangered due to a population reduction of over 50% in the past three generations. Check source to ensure it is not illegally or irresponsibly felled.
- Why we love it: Produces a very dark finish without chemicals, stains and lacquer. Naturally dark with a matt finish which can be retained or brought to shine with oils.
- Origin: UK, Europe (Plantations), North America
- Colour: Typically a creamy white, with a hint of yellow.
- Texture: Fine, even texture, consistently straight grain. Good as a less knotty alternative to pine.
- Janka Number: 380
- Sustainability: It is a fast-growing softwood so can be sustainably farmed and harvested therefore considered more eco friendly than other hardwoods on this list. By choosing local sources, you can again reduce the carbon footprint of the material.
- Why we love it: Typically grown for Christmas trees, it is often overlooked as a timber, but it can produce a wonderful light floor at a low cost. Spruce is perfect for Scandi style interiors though is best used in bedrooms or treated with lacquer to protect from wear.
Sweet/ Horse chestnut:
- Origin: UK, Europe
- Colour: Contrasting coloured wood; white to medium brown body and contrasting dark brown details. It can darken to a reddish brown with age.
- Texture: The grain is straight to spiral or interlocked giving swirling natural looking waves. Chestnut typically has a coarse and uneven texture.
- Janka Number: 680
- Sustainability: Considered an extremely sustainable wood in the UK – can be grown locally and ‘copiced’ (pruned for timber rather than having to cut down the whole tree).
- Why we love it: We love how unique this wood can look across a large area due to the beautiful waves and patterns within the highly contrasting grain. Different stains can be applied to soften the look of the grain but we like it best lightened or natural to give a incomparable look.
- Origin: UK, Europe, North America
- Colour: Light to medium reddish brown – honey coloured when oiled and lacquered.
- Texture: Burls of English Elm are frequently referred to as Carpathian Elm burl which has a beautiful wavy grain. The grain is typically interlocked (making it very resistant to splitting).
- Janka Number: 810
- Sustainability: Not listed as a threatened species. Currently available in abundance as Dutch Elm Disease has caused the felling of 20million trees in the UK alone. Fortunately the timber from those trees is still perfect for use.
- Why we love it: A warm looking wood with plenty of interesting shapes and pippy knots within the grain. It can be used to create a perfect homely and inviting feel teamed with rich colours and furnishings for a lux feel or paired back lighter finishes if you’d prefer the wood to stand out.
- Origin: Central and south America
- Colour: When freshly cut the heartwood of Purpleheart is a dull greyish/purplish brown. Upon exposure the wood becomes a deeper aubergine purple or red. With further age and exposure to UV light, the wood becomes a dark brown with a hint of purple. This colour-shift can be slowed and minimized by using a UV inhibiting finish on the wood.
- Texture: The grain is usually straight, but can also be wavy or irregular. Medium texture with good natural lustre.
- Janka Number: 2520
- Sustainability: Purpleheart trees are known to be extremely hardy and unusually impervious to insect invasions as well as abrupt climate or humidity changes. This species is considered to be very stable therefore not listed as threatened. Nevertheless, ensure your wood is supplied from a sustainable or well managed source.
- Why we love it: A really distinctive wood with an array of different and vibrant finishes in purple, brown and red. If you’re looking for something completely different – purpleheart could provide the offbeat, eclectic wood of your dreams! It is believed the wood has spiritual qualities which can enhance creativity and eliminate negative energy within your home!
- Origin: South Asia
- Colour: Generally a uniform and pale yellow to almost white. However dark streaks/ patches can occur when live bamboo has been left standing too long and develops fungal decay.
- Texture: As bamboo is actually a species of grass, it doesn’t have any sapwood/heartwood or growth rings. The texture is very uniform, ranging from medium to fine depending on density. Bamboo that has been split and processed into lumber will have intermittent variations in the fibre at each node on the stem.
- Janka Number: 1380-1610 (the hardest bamboo species recorded was around 3000)
- Sustainability: Considered to be one of the most eco friendly flooring solutions as it grows to full maturity within five years, sequesters up to 70% more carbon than a hardwood forest and incurs both minimal waste and minimal pollution in harvesting and production. Nonetheless, consider how the distance from source affects its eco credentials.
- Why we love it: Has a beautiful detail without overwhelming a space with pattern and texture. It will last extremely well and will work particularly well in utilitarian or family friendly styled areas.
Eucalyptus (or Lyptus®):
- Origin: Australia
- Colour: Ranges from a lighter salmon pink to a darker brownish red. Overall it usually appears quite light and pearly though the colour tends to deepen with age.
- Texture: The grain of this tree is slightly interlocked, with sometimes ripply or fiddleback patterns. It has a medium to coarse texture.
- Janka Number: 1350
- Sustainability: Like bamboo, this species grows extremely quickly adding to its environmental credentials (As an example it takes 30 years to grow an Oak tree for flooring, whereas Eucalyptus can be sustainably harvested every 5-7 years). Though it, too, must travel a long way to be used in the UK
- Why we love it: Think ‘laid-back island style’ with beautiful unique details and tight grain. It will work fabulously in a range of modern style interiors and is an extremely hardwearing option.
If you’d like help with choosing a wooden floor or changing the look of a wooden floor you already have in place, please get in touch.