Wood flooring is available in a variety of colors that can change the feel of any room, making color one of the most critical aesthetic design elements. The palette of colors seems limitless. American walnut provides deep rich brown tones, hard maple has white with tan hues, and purpleheart really is purple. You can stain wood floors, but with the availability of so many colors, I generally try not to—when a stained floor is scratched, it can be hard to match the color exactly. However, I do use stain to highlight individual elements in an ornamental wood floor.
The color of the flooring can change the feel of a room. Dark flooring makes a large room seem more intimate, while light-colored flooring tends to enlarge small spaces.
Oxidation and sunlight change the color of wood an extreme color change, darkening to a dark reddish color within a few weeks in direct sunlight. Walnut has a medium to high degree of color change, lightening from dark brown to a golden brown. Red oak ambers slightly. Brazilian cherry starts out a tan-salmon color with some black striping and turns a rich, deep red.
The relative hardness of wood species is commonly measured using the Janka Hardness Rating (see the chart at right). This test measures the force needed to embed a steel ball (0.444 in. diameter) to half its diameter into the wood being tested, with the rating measured in pounds of force. While you’re not likely to be embedding steel balls in your floor anytime soon, the hardness of the wood is an important consideration.
The average woman wearing high heels can exert 2,000 lb. per sq. in. on a wood floor (and I’ve seen many floors severely damaged by women’s heels). If you have a big dog with long nails, Eastern white pine floors with a hardness rating of 380 lb. might not be your best choice. Brazilian walnut with a hardness rating of 3,680 lb. would pass the high-heel test and give dog nails a run for their money. One last word on high heels: If a heel of one of the shoes is damaged and has a protruding nail, it can attack the floor with 8,000 lb. of force. No wood flooring can stand up to that.
The hardness of wood usually varies with the direction of the wood grain. Quartersawn flooring is a little harder than plainsawn flooring. End-grain floors were a traditional floor covering in factory buildings, heavy-traffic commercial buildings, museums, bridges, and boardwalks. They absorb energy and noise, and the angle of cut allows the growth rings to resist scraping and general wear more effectively than traditionally flatsawn or even quartersawn boards.