Light, bright, and calm is the hardwood floor trend with staying power.

white oak wide plank floors Northern Wide Plank Bel Air
Ryan Childers
Oren Dothan designed this clean-lined house in Bel Air with wide-plank pale oak floors in mind.

If you don’t think flooring materials are subject to fads and trends, let your mind time-travel back to the wall-to-wall carpet era, when floors covered in plush acrylic were considered the height of luxury. Just thinking about it might make you sneeze. Hardwood floors have been the standard for many decades now, but the materials, stains, and finishes have shifted from glossy and dark to weathered and gray, and, lately, to a kind of barely finished pale oak with a low-sheen finish and wide, substantial planks. If you’ve opened a shelter magazine, wandered through some virtual home tours, or dug deep into the interior design world on Instagram, you’ve likely noticed that wide-plank, pale oak floors are having a moment—a very long moment.

“If you look at the houses in California that were built from the ’20s-’50s, all of them have narrow, red-oak floor boards, about 1 1/4- 2 inches wide. That’s the material that was readily available, and that was the style,” says Nero Smeraldo, the owner and founder of ENS Builders in Los Angeles. “But if you look at that floor closely, you’ll see a lot of seams. It gets pretty busy. I think people are drawn to a quieter looking floor now, with wider planks, fewer seams, and a lighter finish with old-fashioned wax and low-gloss treatments that were popular back before they invented polyurethane. That’s been the trend for a while now”

Northern Wide Plank Floors Oren Dothan Architect
For this Bel Air project, the architect chose pale European oak floors from Northern Wide Plank flooring.

Ryan Childers

Oren Dothan, the Los Angeles-based architect at Darx studio that designed the Bel Air house featured here (and built by Grossman Construction and Development) agrees that fewer seams on a floor compete less with the interior design of a home, and the pale finish appeals to home owners who want to create a feeling of light and space.

More Videos From Sunset

“With light colored floors, it is nice to have select grade material which is low on knots and resins,” Dothan says. “The knots and resins in wood are challenging when using a light colored finish, since the knots don’t take the stain in the same manner as the rest of the plank. While the knots stain dark, the resins remain light, so the outcome is not as quiet or visually as clean. There is a current attraction with soft palettes in architecture and design. We are frequently using low-contrast materials with a light colors and muted sheen. It’s calm and pleasant.”

Dothan uses Northern Wide Plank flooring, a Canadian company that uses North American and European hardwoods to manufacture planks, and offers a range of products that take cutting-edge engineered flooring technology and marry it with hand-crafting techniques. For this Bel Air project, he used NWP’s Dover wide planks (Wixom collection), with a smoothed-out surface that exposes rough grain and subtle knots.

Each floor starts with the kiln drying process of raw wood, which is then sawn into lamellas (top layers) that are laminated onto a birch wood substrate to create planks up to 11 inches wide and 12 feet long. Engineered planks are then milled and graded before they’re finished, with a variety of stains and treatments, depending on the desired finish. They’re durable, more resilient to moisture, and sustainable.

“It’s more economical to use engineered planks, for sure,” adds Smeraldo. “And you get the look and feel of solid hardwood with a more durable floor that could last you 20-30 years.”

“And pale oak is not the only finish out there. There are literally dozens to choose from,” Smeraldo says. “It’s just the one you’re seeing everywhere right now.”

Read the 2021-22 Winter in the West Issue Right Here

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95. Subscribe now!