When you first enter the foyer of the house owned by designer Katie Ridder and her architect husband Peter Pennoyer in New York’s Dutchess County, you can’t help but be surprised by the durable lavender ceramic hexagonal tiles that cover the floor. But take a quick turn into their kitchen and the floor changes into mellow wood planks. “I only like wood floors in kitchens,” says Ridder. “They are soft underfoot, the upkeep is easy. . . . I really don’t think there are any drawbacks.”
Just about any kitchen you see these days on decorating blogs, social media or television makeover shows has a wood floor. Of course, there are many homeowners who have tile or stone kitchen floors (like me!), but the current popularity of wood in kitchens cannot be denied. Chalk it up to the kitchen design crush of the moment — the modern farmhouse style — or the overwhelming belief that wood floors are more forgiving, warmer (tile can feel cold to the touch) and more comfortable to stand on for prolonged periods of time.
D.C. architect Donald Lococo of Donald Lococo Architects says the preference for wood kitchen floors is also due in part to today’s more open house plans. “Rooms that flow into one another, like a kitchen and family room, make it harder to transition from one floor material to another, so the seams between stone and wood are more difficult to implement.”
Debbie Gartner, a Westchester, N.Y., flooring expert and founder of the Flooring Girl (theflooringgirl.com) says her clients overwhelmingly choose solid wood kitchen flooring for the look and comfort, but also because they feel wood floors are a better investment. “Tile is taste-specific and easily dates itself,” Gartner says. “Hardwood floors, while often more expensive to install, have lasting power and in the long run will be a better return on your investment.”
Some homeowners may shy away from using wood flooring in their kitchens because of the required long-term maintenance of wood flooring or the worry of having wood floors near so much water. Gartner says the presence of water should be a minor concern. “People don’t actually get that much water on their kitchen floors, and if an appliance were to break, insurance would typically cover any warping or other damage.”
To best preserve the life of wood flooring, Gartner advises first and foremost to always remove your shoes when you come in your house. “My clients often blame their pets for scratches on their wood floors, but it’s people who do more damage.” The biggest culprit: dirt and pebbles that get caught in shoes and then get dragged over the wood.
Gartner also recommends putting felt pads under furniture legs, particularly on chairs and other pieces that get moved frequently. And she says to avoid furniture on wheels because dirt can get caught in the wheels and then scratch your floor.
Like any flooring, wood should be cleaned regularly. Gartner uses Bona Hardwood Floor Cleaner, which is a fast-drying, water-based spray-and-mop formula, and a microfiber mop. And never use wax, oils or any product that promises to restore the sheen of your floors. “Such products quickly degrade your floor’s finish, so you will need to sand and refinish them sooner than would typically be necessary,” Gartner says.
In kitchens, Lococo says the highest-traffic area is in front of the sink, so over time that area of the floor will likely show the most damage, but getting a protective mat like those from GelPro can help protect the wood (they also make doing dishes more comfortable because the mats are cushy to stand on).
Nicks and scratches in your wood floor are inevitable. For a short-term solution, Gartner recommends using Minwax’s Wood Finish Stain Markers to camouflage the damage. The markers come in eight colors, including golden oak and ebony; she says to buy two similar colors as most woods have color variations within the grain.
Eventually, your wood floor will require a more drastic fix, but Lococo says his clients typically rescreen their floors before they completely refinish them. Rescreening entails only buffing off the thin protective layer of polyurethane then reapplying it. Ridder suggests refinishing about every 10 years.
As for the type of polyurethane one uses, Lococo and Gartner agree that both oil-based polyurethane and water-based polyurethane have advantages and disadvantages, but in their experience, they prefer oil-based because it lasts longer (about 10 years) whereas floors coated in water-based polyurethane usually need to be redone after five or six years. (Gartner has an excellent post about the pros and cons of the two types of polyurethane on her blog at theflooringgirl.com.)
And when it comes to choosing which finish polyurethane you want — satin or semigloss — the decision is, for the most part, an aesthetic one. That being said, if you are someone who is going to fret over every dent and ding, go with a satin finish, regardless of the stain color, because it will show fewer dirt smudges, scratches and imperfections.
Mayhew, a “Today” show style expert and former magazine editor, is the author of “Flip! for Decorating.”