17th Century Wood Floors
The first wood floors in North America began to appear in the 17th century with the settling of Colonial America. The New World was rich with forests, so wood was used for many things including building the frames of homes, walls, and floors. The wood was harvested from huge, old trees that were pit-sawn by hand. The boards were wide and thick due to the size of the massive trees. The colonists’ floors were as practical as they were – often without any finish at all. Over the years, the feet of those who walked on the floors made the wood smooth.
In Europe, simple strip planks were common, but with the Baroque era came the artistic parquet and marquet designs that graced only the wealthiest people and royalty. These designs were constructed from hand-cut pieces carefully laid together in a three-dimensional pattern. Once the wood floors were installed, a craftsman would scrape them, rub them with sand, stain the wood, and finally, polish until they shone.
18th Century Wood Floors
The 18th century saw the rise of painted wood floors as the practice of painting interior walls became popular – the more ornate the better. One of the most popular patterns during this time was a geometric checkerboard pattern.
Another style that became popular within homes was that of covering floors that weren’t decoratively painted with carpeting. With the invention of the power loom, the middle class could more easily afford this carpeting that was often tacked down around the perimeter of the room. Wood floors that were meant to be covered often contained many blemishes, knots, and mineral streaks.
19th Century Wood Floors
The invention of steam-driven woodworking machinery during the Industrial Revolution made hardwood flooring more accessible to many families. Wood floors in the 19th century began to appear more finished-looking compared to the hardwood of the colonial days, and the lumber could now be milled in fixed lengths and widths which made it faster to install.
Towards the end of the 1800s, people began to polish wood floors using wax, orange shellac, etc. When the shellac became worn or scratched, it was rubbed off and reapplied.
Between 1840 and 1910, the parquet style European floors began to be seen in wealthy American homes.
20th Century Wood Floors
In the early 20th century, Tongue and Groove boards were invented which allowed planks to be leveled before installation. Tongue and Groove style hardwood flooring are still used today. Polyurethane was discovered in the early 20th century and offered a no-wax finish that protected and sealed hardwood floors better than ever before. In comparison with the wax and shellac finish of the 19th century, polyurethane is sanded down and the wood refinished when it becomes worn.
Linoleum and cork flooring became popular in the 1920s because of its easier installation and maintenance, and hardwood floors lost their appeal after World War II when affordable carpeting became widely available because of its synthetic material.
In the 1980s, as homeowners began to realize the benefits of wood floors, it began to rise in popularity again and has since remained synonymous with high quality and best value in flooring for the home.