by Greg Schenck for Houston Design Resources Fall 2007
Recently, I overheard my wife lament the return of the legging. I thought we were over that unfortunate fashion phase, she bemoaned, then a generation later, here it is again. Well, I don’t know much about fashion but I do know that there are similar trends in interior design and that one of my favorites, hand-scraped hardwood floors, is back in vogue.
Historically, wood floors have been popular since man began placing planks over packed earth in the late 16th century. During the Baroque era, 1600-1725, craftsmen added decorative elements to wood flooring, developing intricate parquets and complicated three-dimensional designs. Many of these fine floors can still be enjoyed today in the grand homes and castles of France and Italy.
Colonists in North America used the abundance of hardwood in their newfound homeland to install wide plank flooring — most often slow-growth longleaf pine — to introduce an element of warmth into their homes. These planks weren’t sanded or finished, simply polished naturally by the feet of the new Americans who walked there.
Over the years, the appeal of new materials has occasionally usurped the popularity of wood. In the 1920s and 30s, linoleum and cork floors were all the rage. Then there was a period many of us would like to forget, when new synthetic textiles were fashionable and post-World War II homes were outfitted with wall-to-wall carpeting. It took a few years, but consumers eventually realized that synthetic carpeting wasn’t the bee’s knees after all. Recognizing carpet’s relatively short lifespan and potential health concerns, homeowners have come full circle and expressed a renewed preference for the beauty and durability of wood.
Not only have wooden floors regained the status and respect they deserve, one of the oldest trends in hardwood flooring — hand-scraped or sculpted wood planks — is now the hottest trend in upscale homes and commercial spaces.
From necessity, beauty.
Before the advent of electricity and power sanders, floors were hand scraped out of necessity. To ensure a relatively flat surface on rough-hewn lumber, artisans removed ribbons of wood fiber from each individual plank using hand-held metal scrapers. Because each plank carries a unique signature, and each craftsman an individual style, the resulting floor featured a non-repetitive pattern and appeared naturally and beautifully aged.
Today, floors are hand scraped not out of necessity but to add texture and a personal signature to a home or commercial space. Yet all hand-scraped floors are not created equal. It’s important to know what to look for.
Man versus machine.
A hand-scraped floor should be exactly that: worked by hand. Machine scraping creates a predictable pattern, recognizable to even the amateur eye. True artisans, on the other hand, follow the grain of the wood to create flooring that showcases knots and mineral streaks, enhancing the natural beauty of the material. Craftsmen purposely round the edges of wood planks to achieve an authentic, aged appearance.
Any type of wood may be hand tooled, though the methodology seems most appropriate for character grades like walnut and hickory. Even exotic woods like Brazilian cherry and Santos mahogany can be hand scraped, for unique and stunning results. The process can also be applied to reclaimed and vintage woods, though it is more common and less costly to hand scrape new woods to give them an old-world look.
Colors and finishes.
When it comes to color for a hand-scraped floor, just about anything goes. Darker colors tend to accentuate the visual drama of the texture, enhancing the natural hues and character of the surface. As for finishes, I recommend a hand-rubbed oil or wax for a soft, warm glow. A surface finish such as polyurethane, though appropriate on many floors, is not recommended for hand-scraped flooring as it tends to fill in the texture and detract from the wood’s natural beauty.
Hand-scraped flooring is suitable for virtually any décor. Traditional and rustic environments seem an obvious match. But imagine how a handcrafted floor could bring a hint of softness to the harder edges of a modern high-rise condominium or how the charming, old-world look could provide an eclectic element in a contemporary design.
Your home as a castle.
Whether your home is grand or modest, old or new, a handcrafted floor can give it the warmth and timeless beauty of old Europe. This truly custom option is guaranteed to create a unique and exquisite palette for your interior design, one that you will enjoy for years to come.