Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ever Wonder Where Your Hardwood Floor Comes From?

These days, wood flooring can literally bring the world to your feet, thanks to the speed of transportation, industrialization and global commerce.  And with all that comes an endless rainbow of wood colors, grains and textures, all of them unique characteristics that make each of the species in the wood flooring portfolio unique themselves.  Further enhancing the character of the species you select are steps we humans take, such as the manner and size in which each board is cut, processsed and finished.

When we talk about "species" we are simply defining the kind of wood your floor is made from.  In the case of the multi-ply engineered variety, that's the top layer you see.  It is the species that determines everything from color to grain to hardness.  Regardless of the species, it's best to begin with what kind of look you want.  Hardwoods are typically deciduous trees, meaning they have broad leaves that fall, leaving the tree bare during the winter.  There are hundreds of hardwood varieties just in North America, and more than 1,600 worldwide.

Soft woods typically are "evergreens" from needle and cone-bearing trees.  Not all wood is recommended for flooring because of performance characteristics, usually softwoods, but some hardwoods as well.  Today there are approximately 50 leading species of wood used in quality flooring. 

Your search for the right species for your home might focus on traditional or domestic wood species which include beech, birch, white ash, hickory, pecan, maple, mesquite, red and white oak, antique heart pine, southern yellow pine and American black walnut.  Designers often will opt for indigenous species for a traditional look, especially in period homes. 

Or you may opt for the unexpected exotic or tropical wood, a broad term typically applied to imported hardwoods.  The list includes Brazilian cherry, bubinga, cork, bamboo, cumaru, Australian cypress, spotted and Sydney blue gum, iroko, jarrah, santos mahogany, Brazilian maple, merbau, Tasmanian oak, padauk, purpleheart and wenge.  These feature colors, grains and textures not native to North America and therefore delightfully unexpected.  (What's in a name:  If you are researching your imported floor, note that the exotic name, jatoba, for example is also called Brazilian cherry, and that santos mahogany also goes by the name balsamo, also don't be thrown by the names.  Tasmanian oak is actually eucalyptus and Australian cypress is a pine.  Bamboo is categorized as a hardwood but actually is a fast growing, hard grass, and cork - not a hardwood at all but a very stylish and durable flooring nonetheless - is the inner bark of the cork oak tree.)

You may run across the term "American exotic."  this refers to unexpected yet wonderful species of North America not usually associated with flooring that are highly desirable from a decorative standpoint.  Examples include mesquite, hickory and pecan.

Below are some wood species and where they originate from.
     Ash - United States
     Australian Cypress - Australia
     Bamboo - Australia, East Asia and India
     Beech - Asia, Europe and North America
     Birch - Asia, Europe and North America
     Black Walnut - Eastern North America
     Brazilian Cherry - Brazil
     Brazilian Walnut - Brazil
     Bubinga - Africa and South America
     Cork - Portugal, Spain and Northwest Africa
     Cumaru - Brazil
     Douglas Fir - North America
     Ebony - Africa, India and Sri Lanka
     Heart Pine - North America
     Hickory / Pecan - North America
     Iroko - Africa
     Jarrah - Western Australia
     Kempas - Indonesia and Malasia
     Maple (Hard) - North America
     Maple (Soft) - North America
     Merbau - Pacific Islands and Southeast Asia
     Mesquite - Mexico, Western United States
     Padauk - Africa and Asia
     Purpleheart - Central and South America
     Red Oak - North America
     Santos Mahogany - Brazil
     Sapele - Africa
     Southern Yellow Pine - United States
     Spotted Gum - Australia
     Sydney Blue Gum - Australia
     Tasmanian Oak - Australia
     Thai or Burmese Teak - Southeast Asia
     Wenge - Central Africa
     White Oak - North America

With all of the choices that are available in wood flooring, your home can be a reflection of you and how you live.  Contact our company, Elliott Floor Covering in Southern California, or a company near you to get samples so you can get a glimpse of what the flooring would look like in your home and environment.  Visit or or to find a retailer in your area. 

Taken from International Design Guide, Fabulous Wood Floors - A publication of the National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA).  C. 2009

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