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Not Your Parent's Parquet

Updated: Aug 25, 2019

Did you jump on the Downton Abbey bandwagon? I did. Now that Season 2 is over, I’m suffering from jittery withdrawal! What eye candy could possibly fill the void left by Edwardian costumes, architecture, and melodrama?


I sought refuge in my Inspiration Binder – an ongoing collection of clippings from home and garden magazines that spark my creative juices. With visual senses still hyped, it was a perfect time to review, toss, and add new musings from magazines not yet opened.

While updating my binder, I noticed something interesting. Just as in Highclere Castle, the real Downton Abbey, most of my clippings included hardwood floors. Wide-planked, skinny-planked, parquet, herringbone. Formal, distressed, contemporary, traditional. Walnut, hickory, cherry, oak. Had I been in a floor rut all these years? No. Hardwood floors are timeless, natural, beautiful, add value to your home, and as my binder proves, are suitable for all design styles.


I hear a few balks out there! ”Wood floors fade and scratch…show dust and dirt…and are hard to maintain. They kill trees!” All will be addressed after I share with you my own brush with historic British design.


Picture a three-story Tudor Revival house in San Francisco. (Steep, asymmetric, gabled roof line and dark trimmed woodwork). My long-time friends and new owners of this beauty could not wait to show me the third floor – just one room but what potential! Located under a gable, the ceiling was pitched. Centered on the north wall was a stone fireplace flanked by windows overlooking Alcatraz. Soon I heard the magic words, “We want you to turn this into a library.” Never had I been so excited about a job! I could not drive fast enough to my master craftsman’s workshop. The entire design was completed in my head before reaching Pete’s door.


Once there, I grabbed Pete’s graph paper and drew a parquet floor. Parquetry designs are geometric mosaics in different shapes and sizes and in a variety of wood species and stains. I mimicked an earlier century “Saxony” pattern and specified hand-scraped, and wire-brushed floors in cherry, walnut and maple.


With more sheets of graph paper, I drew a mantel for the fireplace and a pair of window seats to fit under its flanking windows. (Can you imagine being curled next to a toasty fire reading Birdman of Alcatraz or The Conte of Monte Cristo?) Lastly, I added a series of built-in bookcases incorporating carved Tudor motifs.


Sound too heavy? We'd paint the walls and ceiling creamy beige which would brighten the space and compliment the richness of the wood. Cushy sofa, chairs, and window seat cushions upholstered in deep red and blue chenille, similar to the rug, would add warm pops of color. Finally, to loosen the design, we'd add live greenery and hang reclaimed crystal sconces and a chandelier. This library was so cozy, even King Henry VIII would be impressed.


Now, to address the practicality of hardwood floors, I consulted with expert, David Carpenter, owner of Select Hardwood Floor Company. Simply put, pre-finished North American lumber is the way to go. The finish preparations and sealers of today are far superior to those of the past.

In the United States, mature trees are used for building materials. They are planted and selected in a way to prevent overcrowding, disease, and competition for water, air, and sunlight. A healthily maintained forest means happy trees – and the animals that depend on them.


In foreign markets, forests are seemingly cut over and over in order to meet mass production and export demands. Both the quality of lumber and the remains of the forest suffer. As with many things, doing it right the first time saves money, as well as natural resources, in the end.


Selecting appropriate wood species and finishes, along with minimal proper care, will give your hardwood floors the same lifespan as those in a British castle!


Photo Courtesy: Select Hardwood Floor Company, Fair Oaks, CA


(Posts come from PLC's newspaper column, Demystifying Design, in the Napa Valley Register)

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