Like father characters in 1950s television shows, wood floors are often depicted as practical, solid, and traditional. And while the straight-and-narrow stereotype holds true, wood floors have far more potential for variety than you might think. Broken into smaller pieces, they're every bit as intricate as tile (and far kinder underfoot). Even in their longboard form, variations that are worth noting exist. Here, a primer on the possibilities: straight, diagonal, parquet, and more.
Note: The more intricate the pattern, the more it will cost. Why? Because it requires more material, more cuts and measurements, and more time to install. And with intricate floors, craftsmanship counts—the more complex the puzzle, the more precise the pieces need to be.
Above: A light wood floor offers subtle texture with a herringbone design. Photograph via Fired Earth.
Even when wood planks are installed in a straight format, the look isn't always straightforward. Options to consider include:
Above: Whether boards are positioned parallel or perpendicular to a wall helps define the look and feel of the room. In this Dublin galley kitchen, architect Peter Legge set the wood flooring planks perpendicular to the cabinetry to visually widen the space. See the rest of the project in A Victorian Transformation, Dublin Style. Photograph by Sean Breithaupt and Yvette Monohan.
Above: Luxuriously long Douglas fir planks from Dinesen Flooring stretch across a London kitchen by Macdonald Wright Architects. Read about Denmark company Dinesen in World's Most Beautiful Wood Floors. Photograph via Dinesen Floors.
Different looks can be achieved by playing with board lengths. Do you want flooring with boards of the same length laid in an offset manner? Or flooring with different length boards laid randomly? Or room-length planks that offer a modern continuous look (but at a higher cost)?
Random vs. Patterned Joint Staggering
When a straight wood floor is installed, the joints of the boards are staggered for reasons that are structural (the ends are the weakest point) as well as aesthetic (to avoid having a continuous perpendicular joint line running across the floor). Most installations have a random staggering of joints to keep the linear focus of the boards as the primary design feature. The staggering can also be patterned so that the joints are spaced in even increments—a stairway pattern—or with alternating joint alignment—the so-called H pattern.
Above: Random-width flooring patterns were born of necessity because early floor planks were milled from the entire log, resulting in several different widths. These days random-width flooring designs are intentional and most commonly use planks of three different widths in a repeating pattern. Photograph via Corona Hardwood.
Above: Single-width wood plank floors are favored for clean, linear, modern spaces. While the standard is 2.25 to 3 inches wide, boards are available in a range of widths. That said, when you start looking at very wide boards—10 inches and above—the choice of wood is limited and the prices rise. Reclaimed wood is something to look at for a greater selection of wide boards. Image via Fame Hardwood.
To create a diagonal pattern, the boards are installed parallel to each other at a 45-degree (or similar) angle to the walls.
Above: A good choice for small rooms, a diagonal floor pattern can make a room look bigger because the eye is drawn to the corners of the room rather than to the walls. Photograph via Fired Earth.
Parquet is any design that involves a geometric mosaic of angular wood pieces. These designs blossomed during the Renaissance and range from the simple to the dazzlingly complex. Some of our favorite parquet patterns include:
Above: Intricate parquet patterns carry the names of the 17th-century palaces where they were developed, such as the Versailles Parquet, shown here. Photograph via Fame Hardwood, in Los Angeles.
Above: In the chevron pattern, the wood blocks meet point to point creating a continuous zigzag, as seen here in Joseph Dirand's Paris kitchen. Photograph by Simon Watson for T Magazine.
Above: With Herringbone, the wood blocks finish perpendicular to each other, resulting in a broken zigzag. To learn more, see Spot the Difference Between Chevron and Herringbone. Photograph via Old Dutch Wood.
The name tells the story: This style creates the illusion that the boards are woven over and under. There are a range of basket-weave options. For example, you can use single or groups of alternating boards, or you can insert square tiles in between the "woven" planks.
Above: Three-by-three-inch boards make up this basket-weave design. Photograph via Cheville Parquet.
Above: A complex hexagonal basket-weave pattern made from bleached solid oak crosspieces and end-grain hexagons. Floor by Atelier des Granges; see Geometric Flooring (Chateau Style) for more designs by the French company.
Above: Dutch pattern is made by placing three strips in the width and one strip across at alternating intervals. Photograph via Amtico Flooring.
Above: Straight runs can be broken up with the addition of a perpendicular board, sometimes referred to as a wicket layout. Photograph via Amtico Flooring.
Above: True to its name, picture-frame wood flooring features a border around the main floor. This edging is often created using the same wood as the main floor but placing it parallel to the walls and adding a strip of wood (or a different finish color) to define the frame. It adds a more formal or traditional feel to a room. Above: Photograph via Amtico Flooring.
Above: The floorboards in the storage hall of a Remodeled Victorian House by Dublin architects Peter Legge Associates are sized to continue the pattern of lines from the cabinetry. Photography by Sean Breithaupt and Yvette Monohan.
For more on wood flooring see our features: Ask the Expert: The Ins and Outs of Wood Floors. And if you're installing a new wood floor, consider adding radiant heating—but first read Five Things to Know about Radiant Heating. Want to consider a wood-like alternative? Christine reveals The Mystery of Bamboo Floors.
Looking for outdoor flooring? See Gardenista's Hardscaping 101 Features.
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