Into The Woods

Cherry and maple, walnut and pecan. These are just four of the deliciously beautiful wood species that are part of the snowballing trend of laying out hardwood floors in desert homes.

For years, homeowners who love the richness and warmth of wood flooring have been reluctant to forgo conventional tile and carpet options for the luster of wood planks. Concern about maintenance in the intense desert climate has been the eternal hurdle. But here’s the good news: Thanks to advancing techniques in fabrication and finishing, local architects and designers have begun integrating a variety of natural woods into desert domiciles with fabulous results. From model homes at The Villas of Mirada to remodeled homes in Mission Hills, wood floors are branching out and becoming more desirable — and attainable — by the day.

Wood flooring comes in a variety of styles and species — both standard and exotic. Costs can range anywhere from $15 to $100 per square foot. Generally, the higher the price, the higher the quality and craftsmanship. Solid hardwood flooring is crafted from one piece of wood from top to bottom; engineered flooring has layers of wood pressed together with grains running in different directions; and acrylic-impregnated floors have acrylic injected into the wood for extra durability. Wood flooring styles include strip, plank, and parquet (patterned), and may be accented with specialty design elements such as borders, medallions, mixed media accents, and hand-distressing techniques. What’s more, wood floors can also be used with radiant heating for those chilly winter mornings.

According to the National Wood Flooring Association, in a national survey of real estate agents, 90 percent said that homes with wood flooring sell faster and for higher prices than homes without it.

Recent local successes with wood flooring are a testament to the fact that the new generation offers a long-term value to a home and a timeless beauty that is surprisingly easy to maintain.

“Wood has charm,” says Richard Hirsch, CEO and founder of Richard~Marshall Fine Flooring Inc. “Designers, architects, and especially homeowners love wood flooring — it’s easier on the body and it’s beautiful.” Having worked in the flooring industry for 45 years, Hirsch knows that design professionals are always on the lookout for new aesthetic applications. “Wood presents an opportunity to dramatically change an overall appearance and provides a special palette to balance the décor,” he adds.

Hirsch’s 140,000-square-foot facility headquartered in Los Angeles produces Olde Boards®: handcrafted, shoppe-finished, solid hardwood flooring reminiscent of Old World European wood floors. Richard~Marshall uses a proprietary finish that contains, among other ingredients, natural tung oil. “Tung oil was developed in China centuries ago to use on boats and on wood that was being exposed to moisture,” Hirsch explains. “It breaths and it’s very durable.” Properly cared for, Richard~Marshall flooring never requires sanding; the color and finish can also easily be restored, especially in areas exposed to heavy traffic or sunlight. Richard~Marshall’s collections also include product lines such as Deco Boards, which can be found in several residential communities in the valley, among them Bighorn Golf Club, The Vintage Club, The Villas at Mirada, and The Hideaway.

Noted local architect Narendra Patel is also a proponent of using wood in design, underpinned by an eco-friendly approach. His Rancho Mirage-based firm is committed to “green” architecture — using design and construction practices that promote energy efficiency and conserve materials and resources. In addition to using standard maple and oak, Patel continues to research and use renewable wood species.

“With all of our new projects, we have been introducing renewable materials such as bamboo and cork, which are also recyclable,” says Patel, who additionally notes that maple, pine, and walnut are also good choices for the desert climate. “Pine and maple are denser and have a stronger resistance to higher temperatures.” Many of his design projects have also featured dramatic wood ceilings, as well as wood integrated with other natural materials such as glass and marble.

Builders Showcase Interiors in Rancho Mirage, a showroom catering to the construction and design trades, carries a variety of engineered and solid plank flooring that is either prefinished or preoiled. Dominant lines include Richard-Marshall and Bruce. Flooring installation manager Dan Wirth notes that they primarily work with oak, hickory, and maple.

“The oaks and hickories are much more stable because they’re so dense,” Wirth says, adding that the abrasive sand that manages to get everywhere has less effect on a harder grain. Wirth also notes that wood flooring is gaining in popularity. “Everywhere it’s considered an upgrade,” he says. “It has a much warmer look and feel than stone.” Additionally, Wirth observes that wood floors are a good choice for people with allergies because it is very easy to keep clean.

To maintain wood floors, Wirth suggests sweeping them with a soft bristle brush and keeping the amount of moisture on floors to a minimum using only a lightly, dampened mop. He also emphasizes the importance of climate control in areas where wood flooring is located. Homeowners — especially those who leave for the summer — will want to maintain a consistent interior climate so their wood flooring will remain structurally stable.

For those seeking an ultra child and pet-friendly surface, laminates are sometimes used as an alternative to real wood flooring. Com-posed of pressboard to look like wood and finished with a top plastic layer, laminate flooring is impact- and scratch-resistant, but it does not generally offer the aesthetic and craftsmanship of real wood. The look tends to be more casual. While laminates don’t create the same environment as true wood flooring, they do provide a tile-alternative for those on a budget.

“Designers in the desert have been working with stone or stone/carpet combinations for many years,” says Hirsch. “Now they have a new canvas.” 

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