December 19, 2022

Flooring 101: Hardwood Flooring Throughout the Ages

Woman holding in hands cup of coffee with milk sitting on the wooden floor

In recent years, hardwood floors have risen to the top of many remodeling and interior trends. With more homeowners adding these timeless floorings to their homes, knowing their origin is necessary to understand their classic appeal. Shiny and well-polished hardwood floors are not only the standards of today’s many contemporary homes. Find out how these wooden floorings became an industry staple and evolution throughout the centuries.

Origins in American Colonialism and the Baroque Period

The origin of hardwood flooring goes back to the 1600s. During the era, wood became a frequent addition to homes. Its popularity started with the American colonists building their floors out of wide, thick wood planks due to the abundance of trees in the newly settled country. Unlike today, old hardwood floorings are unfinished planks supported by wooden joists over dirt and stones.

Unfinished hardwood floors were cut and laid out not for uniformity but for comfort and practicality. In addition, the process of cutting the planks took months to complete. The unevenness and weather also cause many colonial hardwood floors to split, gap, and crack.

At the beginning of the Baroque era, the use of hardwood planks transformed as it came into its style and elegance. In 1625, the first hardwood patterns came into existence with the rise of artistic French parquetry and marquetry. Instead of unfinished strips of wood, these patterns use hardwood pieces cut by hand and fitted together in distinct three-dimensional designs. In addition, they would also get scraped by hand, sanded, stained, and polished for luster. The French patterns’ detailed hand-craftmanship was expensive and only afforded by the royalty and the nobility. One popular example of the first hardwood parquetry is the floors in Versailles that used waxed oak wood.

Hardwood Flooring in the Victorian Era

Hardwood flooring’s popularity continued to progress through the years, and during the Victorian era, European parquet floors started appearing in America’s wealthiest homes. Wooden floors also took a creative turn. Like other architectural features, art heavily influenced the look and appearance of hardwood floors.

Homeowners began painting their flooring with different patterns and colors to add vibrance to their homes. In addition, hardwood floor designs also increased, and the more popular ones installed wood planks to imitate Medieval churches and cathedrals.

Many hardwood species like oak, maple, ash, and cherry became available to homeowners. Upper-class citizens often use different types of wood in different shades to create unique-looking designs. But lower-class homes use pine hardwood for flooring as they are the more affordable option.

Factories also started mass-producing hardwood floors during this era, and installing the floors is achievable if you have basic carpentry skills. Hardwood planks are now uniform in length, thickness, and size. Moreover, the process of sanding and polishing the floors also started. These advances allowed homeowners to have more access to beautiful-looking flooring. But they also proved to be squeaky, prone to splits and cracks, and lacking durability.

Advances in the 20th Century

The beginning of tongue and groove construction in the Edwardian era started with leveling hardwood planks before installation. Due to this, the floors have a more polished and uniform look, similar to the wooden floorboards today. Instead of dirt and stone, laborers laid out hardwood planks over concrete slabs with hot tar acting as an adhesive. Like the older versions, laborers lay out each plank by hand before scraping, sanding, shellac, waxing, and buffing the floorings until it reached a suitable finish.

The herringbone, another flooring pattern, started gaining popularity in the early 20th century. Hardwood remained the top flooring choice until linoleum and cork hit the market in the 1920s. The latter materials offered homeowners easier installation and maintenance, causing the hardwood industry to slide down to a small market.

The 1930s introduced a new hardwood flooring refinish, Polyurethane. Polyurethane finishes provided a no-wax finish that helped surge hardwood floors’ popularity. Their popularity didn’t stay long, as inexpensive carpeting took off after WWII.

By the 1980s, consumers began looking for an alternative solution and turned their attention back to hardwood flooring. The hardwood industry searched for ways to cut labor costs to remain a strong competitor in the market.

The Modern Hardwood Flooring Industry

Today, the hardwood flooring industry continues to thrive and stay competitive. While prefinished hardwoods started in the 1980s, their quality rose at the start of the 21st century with the help of technology.

In addition, companies also developed engineered hardwood as a cost-friendly alternative to solid hardwood planks. To answer the decreasing supply of lumber, the government created laws and regulations to ensure that the industry meets the demands of the consumers while actively doing its part to sustain the environment. By 2019, hardwood floorings became a top member of many remodeling trends, and its popularity continues to rise. 

A Glimpse at the History of Hardwood Floorings

Hardwood floors are one of the oldest flooring options worldwide. Its long and rich history shows the development and evolution of each hardwood plank, pattern, and color. By understanding the origins of hardwood flooring, homeowners can appreciate the appeal and elegance it adds to their homes.

Find the best hardwood floors in Austin by contacting Kelly Hardwood Floors today!