The Controversy Over Hardwood Floor Stains and Finishes

Hi Everyone!

First of all, WOW! Just WOW over all of the incredible comments regarding ways to keep our home air comfortable AND healthy. <– (that is the link to the post) I knew that you guys would come through dozens of great suggestions and info that I hadn’t thought of or don’t even know about.

That is definitely a post to bookmark, just for the fantastic comments. So, thank you all so much for that!

The second piece of information before we get into hardwood floor stains and finishes is:




So, what’s next?

Right now, I’m doing the following:

  • decompressing, which is crucial for my mental well-being
  • setting up things like cable, internet, phone, electricity, parking permit, etc. yaaaaawn…
  • holding my darling super at gunpoint to finish fixing stuff in my apartment, he was supposed to have finished already.

Okay, it’s a water pistol, but it seems to be working!


And, of course, thinking a lot about my new place and what I want to do to it and when.


One thing I realize is that it is far easier to do stuff before one moves in. But, as I’m always harping about, a plan is crucial. Therefore, sometimes making that plan BEFORE one takes possession is more complicated.

It is easier to do things after one has been there for a bit. I realize that’s a contradiction. In this case, yes, because it’s a duplex. I can always escape to one floor or the other. Pretty brilliant, I think.

Plus, decisions made in haste can create regret later on.


And, one of those early decisions is the hardwood floor finish.


Right now, it’s the standard golden oak, orange-ish wood hardwood floor stain. Until the last 30 years or so, this was the most common stain color. In fact, every home I’ve ever lived in with hardwood floors has had this stain color. That is, except for one. That was my apartment on W. 78th St. in New York City. I lived there for seven years in the 80s. Those floors were stained a darker walnut color. But, the other six or so homes that I’ve either owned or rented were a golden oak stain.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot because in my heart of hearts, golden oak is not what I really want to have. I mean, I don’t hate it, and there’s nothing wrong with it. And, of course, I could live with it, but if I’m going to refinish the floors anyway, I’d like to explore my options.

I bet some of you can already guess where this is going. Tell me later if you knew at this point without looking ahead.


So, here’s what I did.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment current hardwood floor stains

I took a photo of the empty living room during the walk-through before the closing. However, because of my camera or the lighting, the walls look too yellow. They aren’t that color.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment before hardwood floor stainsAnd, so I manipulated the colors like this.

Then, I put this image into PicMonkey. And, from there I am able to change the hardwood floor stains and add in some furniture.

I love PicMonkey. If you don’t know what it is. It’s what I call photoshop for smart dummies. Haha. It doesn’t require any special skills. You just have to play with it. I did a detailed tutorial explaining how to use PicMonkey to make mood boards and some tricks I’ve learned over the years.



Below are the five hardwood floor stain colors I experimented with




Natural – pale stain

Golden oak

English Chestnut


The first two would have a matte finish. And the other three would have a shinier finish.

Okay, let’s go from darkest to lightest.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment hardwood floor stains dark floor
The espresso stain is an elegant, sophisticated look. But, here’s the thing which I’m sure most of you are chomping at the bit to warn me. And, that is yes, every speck of dust, lint, whatever lands on the floor is going to show like dandruff on a black shirt before you meet your inlaws for the first time.


Therefore, this color is probably not going to work for me. By the way, I will not do truncated drapery rods and would not do those two trims together on the shades and curtains. But, I definitely want to do the Roman shade with that trim. You’ll see it alone, in a bit. That fabric appears to be silk, but we will not be doing silk.

Nosireeeeeee. Please read here what happens to silk and if it comes anywhere near the sun.


We can do a lovely non-shiny polyester taffeta, which will stand up to anything.


I’m sorry to be going off on tangents. This is important. If you’re ever doing a design like this, I will make a life-size template for your workroom. You can make it out of heavy paper and draw the trim showing the placement and precise sizes. Trust me on this. You think they’ll be able to figure it out from the photo, right? Maybe, but usually not.

Also, if you’re interested in finding out where to get the trim on the bottom of the drapery, sorry, you can’t purchase it anywhere. It’s a custom design by Kelly Wearstler that she did for a hotel several years ago. Yes, the Kelly Wearstler, who got arrested many years ago in Florida. (eyes rolling)


However, several months ago, during the initial Covid lockdown, I painstakingly “cracked the code” and created a scale template, which you can find here.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment hardwood floor stains English Chestnut stain floor


Next up is English Chestnut.


This is a very beautiful, deep, rich color that’s quite popular right now.


Family room dining area drum pendant light over dining table
We did Minwax English Chestnut in this home I worked on in 2008!

And, yes, that’s Cotton Balls on the trim.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment hardwood floor stains - cognac finish

Above is the cognac or golden oak stain.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment hardwood floor stains natural stain floor

This is like the finish we see in Gerald Bland’s exquisite showroom in New York City.


Gerald Bland, Inc. Antiques showroom painted hardwood floors

Please follow Gerald Bland on Instagram.


I’m not sure what this stain is. It might be Rubio Monocoat, which is actually an oil and stain in one. I’ve heard great things about it.


This is reminding me. Do you know what they used to do for stain, say in the 18th century?


Usually, nothing. They just left the raw wood, untreated. I read that somewhere today. Of course, I think they also stained their floors sometimes, as well. And, they definitely did painted finishes, as well.

The last of the hardwood stains is either a white painted floor or a white stain.


Back Bay Boston Brownstone apartment hardwood floor stains white floor

Can I tell you how much I love this look? I do. I love Gerald Bland’s floors too, but this one, I like just as much, maybe even more.

Now, before some of you get your knicker’s in a twist over this possibility, let’s talk about the advisability of doing a color that’s not in the mainstream.


The number one reason is:


I love it. And, I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do this. Well, for the last 20 years or so.


But, Laurel, your home is Victorian, and I don’t recall seeing painted floors in that period.


It’s true. They had fallen out of favor. But notice that I said fallen out of. That’s because painted floors were all the rage 100 years earlier as part of the classical style.


However, I feel that this home in Boston has more of a neo-classical feel of the 18th, early 19th century than Victorian.


This could easily be a home built in the Federal or Greek Revival period. In fact, some have pointed out the similarity between this and Gil Schafer’s giga-gorgeous townhouse in Greenwich Village, NYC. And, this makes sense because Boston is a city very rooted in tradition and classical design. But, no matter, Greek Revival ended only 20 years before this house was built, and the builder or owner was likely a fan of classical architecture.

So, it’s not inappropriate to have a painted floor in a home built in Boston during the reign of Queen Victoria in England.


But, there’s another point I’d like to make. I think that painted floors would be greatly appreciated and coveted if people were exposed more to them more often. However, several of my favorite A-list designers decorate frequently with white painted or white-washed floors.


Albert-hadley-living roomAlbert Hadley’s amazing room for Nancy Pyne.


simply white ode to albert hadley living room - best shades of white paint

Mr. Hadley’s timeless interior design inspired my Simply White palette board for the Laurel Home Paint and Palette Collection.


Other designers who decorate with white hardwood floor stains and paints are:


Darryl Carter white and black kitchen-masculine room

Darryl Carter

Darryl doesn’t do white floors, but he always uses lots of white in his interiors. I adore his genius!

Laurel? Question. Doesn’t white show the dirt the same as a super-dark floor, but in reverse?

Well, I think a slightly off-white floor that shows some of the wood grain is probably the most desirable. Please check out one of my favorite posts about painted floors.


steven-gambrel-whitewashed - painted hardwood floors - from his former home in Sag Harbor

Steven Gambrel

I adore his former Sag Harbor home with its elegant white-washed floors.


rod-collins-furlow-gatewood - white painted floor

Furlow Gatewood

A decorative artist did this gorgeous, painted floor masterfully.


via Katie Considers - Furlow Gatewood hardwood floor finish - white floor - antique-armchair-robert-kime-fabric-gingham-upholstery

via Katie Considers

And a closeup Furlow Gatewood’s painted floor. In case you’re wondering, that gorge fabric is a Robert Kime design. That is sold exclusively through John Rosselli & Assoc. (yes, Bunny Williams husband)


Willaim McLure - gorgeous white on white apartment - hardwood floor stains

William McLure

William is known for his painted white floors. I love that he’ll take a rental apartment, rip up the fugly carpeting, paint the hardwood floor underneath– without getting permission. I guess the landlord knows he has a creative genius occupying the space, and it’s best just to let him do his thing!


William_Mclure_Apartment_not boring white painted wallsWilliam McLure white floor

Please follow William’s fantastic Instagram account.



Frank Babb Randolph


Loi Thai Tone on Tone dining room with white washed painted wood floors - hardwood floor stainsLoi Thai – Above and below.

Loi Thai - white floor - hardwood floor stains


Loi seems to have taken down his gorgeous blog. There is a new website, but there’s only a placeholder at this time. However, please follow Loi Thai on Instagram.


Vicente Wolf - white painted floor


Vicente Wolf


That’s some mad-wicked amazing company. Therefore, white hardwood floors are an enduring classic.

Well, what about resale, Laurel?

Gosh, I just bought the place. But, that’s a reasonable question. Here’s my thinking. Boston is a young, progressive, sophisticated city full of educated, cultured people. Of course, a white floor isn’t going to appeal to everyone, but I don’t need everyone to like it.


Plus, the hardwood floor stains can be changed.


But, here’s the thing. Stain can most likely be sanded out, but paint is likely to get into the crevices and won’t come out. The worst-case scenario is that the floor would need to be changed. If we’re talking about the living room, den, and bedroom, that’s about 900 square feet.

Okay, I’ve said what I have to say regarding hardwood floor stains.

The only other thing I want to add is that after looking at hundreds of apartments in Boston, this is my take.

And, the gray is not done in a classical Robert Adam way.

There is nothing classic or tasteful by anyone’s definition. The builders are just doing what they think folks want.



One thing I know that I want is this table. Well, a table like this one. I saw it last summer when I was looking to buy the house in Northampton. I love the Pot board base on this table and the hand-planed finish to the top. Anyway, the table was sold to someone else. However, Englishman’s, a company I’ve worked with many times, and one of my favorite sources in Laurel’s Rolodex, could make me a table exactly like this.

I just put that in, in case anyone is wondering.

In closing, as you can see, the color of the floor stain can have a significant effect on the room’s overall look and style. Some stains make the room feel more formal and some more casual. However, that also depends in part on the other furnishings.


Would I carry this stain into the entry and kitchen?


Well, that’s another post for another day.  However, I keep thinking about this apartment. I love all of the floors in this place. I love it all!

So, dare I ask? What do you think? Would you do a pale stain? Or, maybe you already have. If so, please tell us about it.


However, please check out this post showing my dear friend and fabulous kitchen designer Susan Serra’s gorgeous white painted floors.

There’s a lot of great information in the post and comments in this post about hardwood flooring.




PS: Please check out the newly updated HOT SALES and get a headstart on your holiday shopping at the brand new Holiday Shop for 2020.


Welcome To Laurel Home!


Hi, I’m Laurel, and Laurel Home is the website and blog for Laurel Bern Interiors.
I’ve been creating new-traditional interiors since 1988. The blog is where I share all.

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