The Hardwood Floor Finish Decision Might Surprise You!

Hi Everyone,

I didn’t intend for this to be three posts. Alas, I needed to divide it up, which you’ll see why in a sec. If you missed the two-part post discussing the latest floor finishes, please go here. I also added one new company that a lovely reader told me about. It’s another low-VOC product from Europe and is sold here.


So, I have spent many hours making numerous renderings similar to the ones I made nearly three years ago.


I used the same base image as I used in November 2020, an hour after I closed. This was before any furniture was brought in. Then, I found the table I love, from Englishman’s but in a better perspective.

The table I’ve been using is two demilune tables, but it’s a little too small. I thought I could use a slightly larger table pad, but it scoots around and sometimes doesn’t work well.

One issue with these renderings is if doing a shiny finish; we don’t see the reflections from the windows, which definitely lightens up the floor a lot.

Choosing a floor finish can be an agonizing decision because it very much affects the feeling of the room.

But, here’s the thing. I don’t hate the finish as it is now, except it has to be redone because there will be parts that are new wood.


That’s upstairs and down.

The other thing and this is an important point, is that the kitchen is all white.

Therefore, looking into the kitchen, I want to see warmth.

Let’s look first at some of the renderings I’ve created for the floor and also the floor as it is.


Okay, I did a whole mess of finishes on Picmonkey.


But, first, let’s look at an image of the floor as it looked two years ago.

My Boston apartment dining area new table pad - November 2021 golden oak floors
Pretty yellow, ain’t it. And, I put as much blue in the image as I possibly could.

At night, however, it looks like this. (below)

my living room holiday 2021-warm lighting
See what I mean?

my Boston living room February 2022
However, most of the time, during the day, it’s pretty much like this.


So, let’s look at the Picmonkey renderings.


CommAve dark floor October 2023

Floor 1

This is a traditional English Chestnut. My finish would have more of a sheen.

While this isn’t how the furniture is arranged, the entire back third of the room will be rugless.

CommAve chestnut floor October 2023

Here it is with more furniture. I am not necessarily going to have black chairs. It feels quite traditional and a little heavy to me.


What happens if the floor finish is black or ebony?


CommAve black floor October 2023

Floor 2

During the day, I think it would begin to weigh me down. At night, I would be in heaven. However, I need to like it both times.

Floor 3

There are some yellowish highlights I had trouble getting rid of.

CommAve dark floor October 2023 natural pale floor

Floor 4

I went even further with this color because I love it. If the floorboards were super wide, maybe, but they’re not. On further reflection, I don’t think it’s right. It’s not right for this house in Back Bay, Boston. However, if you look up Sir John Soane’s Museum, some floors inside are this color.

Above is a historically accurate no-stain 18th c. hardwood floor.

lovely pale oak hardwood floor
This is very similar to Jasper Conran’s floor!

Then, I thought, “What color were Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello floors?”

They look to be a Chestnut color, not super dark, but not light, either. It’s pretty much what you would expect.


However, what were the floors when Monticello (late 18th, early 19th c.) was built?


They were probably more like the floors above.

But, here’s the part that’s one of the coolest things ever. While researching the floors inside Jefferson’s Monticello masterpiece, I found another website (Enbois Flooring) that featured a floor color named “Monticello.”

Okay, not bad, I thought. Then, it said: “See this in your room.”

Well, okay, I thought this was going to be a disaster. So, I uploaded my image, and what appeared on my screen about 20 seconds later shocked me immensely.

En Bois Flooring - Monticello - 04 Oct 2023 01 20 06 GMT
Floor 5 (Monticello from

Not only did their program get the floor exactly where it was supposed to be, but it put shadows on the virtual chairs and table!  These are images of furniture with the background removed. The shadows weren’t there! I mean, all I had to do was sit here and look pretty.

To boot, I very much like this natural floor white oak floor color.


It’s pretty close to my floor, #3.

However, I looked at nearly every color on the website.

Of course, I did. ;]

Now, I won’t show them all to you, but I will show you a few more.

Avignon Enbois Flooring in my living room.

Floor 6

This is one of their darkest colors, much like Minwax’s English Chestnut. Again, there’s no shine.

This is also similar to Steve Cordony’s floor color in his double front parlor. Actually, Steve’s floor is darker than this.

But, but, but… 90% of it is covered with his rug and furniture.

Plus, if I did a dark floor, I HAVE to do a rug.

Let’s look at a few more of the Enbois Flooring images.

ritz cove enbois flooring

Floor 7

This one’s called Ritz Cove. This is along the lines of Gerald Bland’s country home floor, but his floor is wide-planked pine. However, this color is maybe even closer to what I currently have. This one could work.

Gerald Bland exquiste not bland decor - white slipcovers - fabulous old oil painting - white walls

It looks like they took the finish off and just waxed the floors, which is what they did IF they finished the floors in the early to mid-19th century.

In more recent images, seen on Gerald’s Instagram, it looks like the floors may have darkened a bit, naturally.

Seriously beautiful!

Delano Enbois flooring

Floor 8

Delano is another finish I like that’s similar to Monticello but with a little more red. These no-color finishes would be flat to maybe a slight satin finish.

En Bois Flooring - Monticello - 04 Oct 2023 01 20 06 GMT
Monticello is pretty much what unstained white oak looks like.

Another important consideration is the floor juxtaposed next to the black and white painted floor in the entry and kitchen.

Coronado Residence Betsy Burnham Design - light hardwood floor stain black and white checkerboard floor

Above is a Betsy Burnham favorite with a black and white painted floor and a medium light finish similar to Delano in the background.

In closing, while the floor color is important, it’s literally and figuratively a supporting player in the scheme of things. Frankly, if someone comes over and then they are asked later what color the floors are unless I pointed it out to them, they should say something to the effect:

“Ya know, I don’t really remember the living room floors, only the stunning checkerboard as I came in. Whatever it was, it looked nice.”

Besides, I believe I passed out when I stepped into the kitchen and saw the exquisite, gleaming cremone bolts on those dramatically tall glass doors.”


Okay, that’s pretty much it. The floor only needs to look nice.


So, what do you guys think?


By the way, I received a sample from Wilmette Hardware of the polished nickel finish. And, indeed, *I* nearly passed out. It’s gorgeous! Incidentally, it was wrapped a thousand times better than either of those glass shades.  In addition, Wilmette sent me a stunning book of their entire line. They are a class act, for sure!



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56 Responses

  1. Monticello is fabulous. I always admire the bare wood look in 18th c museums. A satin sheen would give it that waxed feel. I’m sure whatever you pick will look magnificent.

  2. Oh gosh. Am I the only one who likes your original floor the best? I don’t like any of the lighter floors with your space or stuff. I agree with the lady who thinks it’s too modern and new and Norwegian looking or something like that.

    I do like the black and white checkerboard. I’d want to throw some chains on it and beat it up to match the old floor’s wrinkles and life story and character and dirt though lol.

    Would you ever consider an inlay perimeter?

    1. Hi Mina,

      I would love an inlay perimeter, but it’s not in the budget. This is a big job and the best I might be able to do is a painted inlay look, but that would be downstairs, not for the living room.

  3. Soooooo, you are the one who introduced me to English Chestnut 8 years ago when I bought my current home. It’s timeless, classic, I still get regular compliments on my beautiful floors. So it’s still my favorite.

  4. I get why you don’t want dark floor, but I have to say that the English Chestnut has me drooling and grounds the room without sucking light out of it. It also feels the richest out of all of them. I did NOT have a good experience when we refinished our wood floors about five years ago prior to moving in — they rushed me to choose a color in just a few minutes, talked me out of the chestnut bc I have red oak floors (but wanted a dark, warm, rich floor — in hindsight might have tried mixing chestnut with something that balances red), and I still don’t love what I picked — 50/50 mix of Jacobean and Dark walnut. It lacks warmth and feels flat; and the water-based finish feels like plastic. (We won’t even talk about the shoeprints in the stain, drum circle stains, skip marks that they tried to tell me were actually part of the grain, or the uneven sheen of the topcoat. Floors were the first thing we did after buying the fixer-upper, we only had a few weeks to replace/refinish a lot of infrastructure, so I was too inexperienced, too trusting, and too much in a hurry. Lesson learned!). Anyway, I have friends who went with the white-ish, light gray-ish color, and a super matte finish, and while it looked great to start, it scuffed like nobody’s business and looked terrible quite quickly. But I don’t know what brand they used or how good their flooring contractor was, so take it with a grain of salt. Bottom line is that you’re the expert on what works for you — and at the end of the day I think it comes down to whether you want richness, or light and airy, and either one will be spectacular.

  5. I like the Ritz Cove the best. It would look beautiful with a dark rug, a light rug or no rug at all. It’s light enough to not weigh the room down, but just dark enough to make my brain say “Aaaah” to the cozy and classic feel if it. A perfect balance to my eye. Looking forward to seeing what you choose, Laurel.

  6. I always thought it would be great to be an interior decorator but reading your posts shows me that getting a room to be what you are imagining is not so much easier. In fact I think you may have a harder time because you have so much more information to sort through. I’m sure it will be beautiful in the end.

  7. I like floors 5 and 7, with 5 – Monticello – being my favorite. Lighter floors show fewer scuff marks than darker ones (See Property Bros. episode where they demonstrated this by tap dancing on different stained floor samples. Darker floors also seriously eat up light in a room. This I know because the house I bought has dark stained oak floors throughout. But you don’t want to go too light (close to white), or you’ll find that everything you spill, and every black mark you track inside your house will not only grind into the wood and cracks between them. It’ll also find a way to stain your floors. My family found this to be true even on sealed floors. So choose 5 or 7. My vote is 5.

    Also, my eye just says “5 or 7” for aesthetic reasons.

    White oak seems to have a lot of variation in grain tones. All oak seems to. And such a floor will look busy with an open-concept space like yours – where you’re seeing all the furniture as though it were in a single room.

    Anything with a lot of red or orange hues in it will limit your color palette throughout the room – as large quantities of either tone (on a floor) don’t go with as many hues as more neutral colors like 5.

    Also, if you go with a lighter floor, you can always refinish it darker later if you change your mind. With darker wood stains, it’s much harder to remove all the old, visible stain without sanding so far down that the wood seems gone. This I know from making some of my own furniture from 19th century-reclaimed wood.

    I hope this helps.

  8. Laurel, don’t do the black finish on your floors. Your windows read “black” at night. And they’re large. So it’s almost like having a large, black wall. With black floors, you’re going to feel like you’re living in a black cave at night. Ugh.

  9. Bamboo floors. Why not? We were toying with the idea of real wood vs ‘processed’ veneer versions like Oggie etc and eventually settled on the darkest stain vertical bamboo.

    Warm colour floors welcome bare feet. And there’s nothing like getting home, kicking your heels off and letting your feet touch something natural underfoot.

    Rooms that look too cool are brighter for the burst of sunshine that a warm shade brings.

    A few other pluses: bamboo is less expensive than most other flooring options, has a mid-range Janka hardness rating (the dents on our pine floors from decades past are a testament to the value of protecting/getting good floors), bamboo is also eco friendly and sustainable.

    The ultimate feel-good grudge purchase.

    We just redid our living room and 4 bedrooms (of a 6 bed house) in bamboo and the floors are popping with life! Love it. Worth a look

  10. What a fantastic site you found! I vote Delano and Monticello. So pretty, and both work beautifully with the feeling of airiness and envelopment I get from your room, but Delano looks just a tiny bit less tonal, which feels more grounding somehow. The almost white floor bounces around a distracting amount of light. Conversely, the black or nearly black floor, while so striking, seems to drain away the room’s light. I personally don’t care for brown-browns that much, so feel neutral about the Ritz Cove and Chestnut. Like your other readers, though, I’m sure your final judgment will be great and that your place is going to be GAWJUS! P.S. What wall color are you planning for the space shown?

  11. This may or may not be relevant to your situation but I’ve have red oak hardwood floors and stairs stripped, sanded and re-stained. There can be limitations on how light you can get the floors, particularly if the previous stain was darker than what your planned stain will be. It’s a challenge to get the older stain colour out of the wood grain and also from any gaps between the boards. As well, your old floor may not match your new floor because of this residual effect, particularly if the two are adjacent. Keeping the colour close to the same level of darkness or a touch darker than what was on the old floor may help resolve this issue.

  12. Based on your renderings, my favorites (in order) are English Chestnut, Ritz Cove, and Monticello. It’s such a personal choice, isn’t it? But, no matter what you choose, I know it’s going to look amazing!

  13. I am apparent in a minority (of one?), but I like Delano best. It’s very light but has something that Monticello is missing. Your home is and will be beautiful with any of these finishes, but my first choice is Delano. Good luck!!

  14. My choice is the darker chestnut. For some reason the lighter floors scream country or farm house imo. With your elegant fireplace, exquisite lighting and architectural details, the richer, darker floor stain in chestnut would convey that same elegant look.

  15. Monticello all the way. I love how you have made it clear to me through your research and discussion that the unfinished look of light wood floors is traditional, not modern. I couldn’t figure out how my preference for the light wood floors fit with my overall taste which tends towards traditional.

  16. I like a natural color like Monticello and would rely on your first hand visual experience to decide, seeing samples side by side preferably in your setting. To your point, they are only subtly different.

    Polished nickel is rich and versatile. It can darken with age, which I don’t mind personally. I prefer all the cabinet hardware have the same finish (unless on an island maybe). Taps are another story.

  17. Hi Laurel. I have looked at the examples several times and am undecided between Monticello and Ritz Cove. I like them both, yet I am viewing your examples on an iPad so am unsure of how true the colors are. If it were my home (and I wish it were, as it is gorgeous), I would not go dark. I did go dark in our master with no rug and I see every spec of dust all the time. I very much like your idea of going natural with a wax-like or satin finish and not using a rug. The examples of the beautiful rooms you posted have that look of no rug and natural wood flooring. And I think it compliments their elegant furnishings. So I vote for the lighter, natural finish. I will be curious to see what you finally decide.

  18. I LOVE the Monticello, extra points because it won’t show every speck of dust or pet hair! I’ve had dark floors before, and they nearly drove me crazy, but we do have more pets than any sane people should have, lol!

  19. Hi Laurel! I very much trust your taste and know that you will end up making a beautiful choice. However, since you asked what we think, I would say that the light, greyish or pale floors don’t do it for me in this application. You are working on a seriously elegant kitchen, a swanky marble fireplace, you have these grand windows… all this seems to call for a rich looking floor, something with a lot of presence, which means a rich colour to me. Pale floors and even the Ritz one look a bit casual, unfinished, too modern and even somewhat rustic. Well, that’s my impression, judging from the renderings. I can’t wait to see your finished home! I love everything you do. 🙂

  20. The chestnut color looks similar to what I chose for our new build, and I love it! I think it grounds our white woodwork, soft blue-gray walls and 10 foot ceilings. That’s what I would choose – for me. You seem to be gravitating to lighter colors. My first choice for you would be Ritz Cove, because it is deep enough to offer some contrast with the white walls – and I like contrast. My second choice for you would be Monticello because it appears to be so neutral that it would go with anything, should you decide to change your color scheme at some time in the future.

  21. Ritz Cove… it’s the baby bear choice… not too dark, not too light, just right. But if you want the unstained/raw look then Monticello.
    My fir/pine DOORS are in the politically incorrect “Gunstock”) and the oak and 1920’s fir flooring are unstained and sealed… Even in a house with deep eaves and no direct sunlight, they are darkening with time and the white oak is yellowing (although NOT going orange).
    Looking forward to what you decide… such fun to follow, and how kind of you to include us all!

  22. I’m American (live in Washington, DC) and visited a Scottish country house on vacation this summer. It had waxed (no stain) pine floors and was so beautiful, felt warm and rich and completely period-appropriate. I think you’ll be happiest in the long run with a natural white oak color! It also looks fantastic with the checkerboard painted floor.

  23. I’m with Ritz Cove too. To me, all those light-light colors look someone ran out of money before they were able to finish their floors. The light floors need a rug more than the ones with some color, otherwise it looks like you’re in a white box. (Time for that when you’re in “the home.”)

    Ultimately, run with your passion!

  24. I think I would have liked the lighter floors with a more colorful, prettier rug in the pic. I feel for you, picking out the floors for my new house was nerve wracking – so expensive and not something you can easily change if you don’t like it (luckily I love what I finally decided on).

  25. I like dark wood floors but not black. I think al the light floors look too beachy, too much like vinyl flooring or too modern. Even though you posted a lot of examples of pretty light antique wood floors, I think the darker floors look much more appropriate in a home as old as yours.

  26. English Chestnut all the way. I think the lighter colors will look dated quickly, even if they are historically accurate.

  27. Ritz Cove is perfect. I live in a town with mostly ante-bellum architecture (horrid politics, but… oh well). Our 1820s federal looks amazing with natural waxed finish. Had dark floors in modern home in AZ, look lovely, but EVERY little piece of fluff or dust shows, will make you nuts. Go with the lighter stains, matte waxed look. Perfect! Just my 2¢ worth!

  28. I think the Ritz Cove is the perfect in between color: slightly darker than the Monticello, which gives it a nice warmth, or as one other comment noticed, a “softness”. The virtual pic though seems to show a couple of the floorboards (in the middle) with a slightly greyish tone though. So long as there isn’t any grey, I would go with Ritz Cove. To my eye, the Monticello looks unfinished – though I understand that the raw look is the point. It’s just not to my liking.

  29. I literally gasped and said wooo beautiful at the picture of the black floor. It pulls everything together and grounds your furniture so well, at the same time making everything look so fresh and current.

  30. Not a fan of the light/white floors. To me the room appears weightless with light floors and white walls. Btw, I love the white walls. I think a darker floor, i.e., chestnut or walnut, will help anchor the walls and balance the white.

  31. What do you believe your floors are now? White Oak with Golden Oak stain maybe? How would you match newer flooring to the existing floors (which stain color)? I honestly love them as they are!

  32. I love the English Chestnut in old homes like yours, it is such a classic look, however, I like what the Monticello does to your space, how it opens it up makes it look even larger, not that you would need a larger LR, lol! Now, that you are going to this length, I wouldn’t do anything darker, not even the Ritz floor, #7 I believe, that one looks too close to what is there now. Boston has many dark, grey days, the Monticello will make everything lighter & brighter even in those never ending gloomy days! PS. We have now finally decided to refinish our dark floors, thank you for your advice on that!! In researching floors, we happened upon The Hudson Company, after visiting their showroom, I wish we were in the position to actually put down new flooring! Worth checking out their website.

  33. My favorite floor is your floor #1, it is so classic, beautiful, and gives a richness light floors don’t have.

  34. My vote is to put on “the Ritz-Ritz Cove, that is!) perfect compromise of all the considerations/color tones/and Gerald Bland approved!

  35. Ebony high polish finish – it is the black dress for everything else. You have plenty of natural light and additional lighting to set it off. It works beautifully with your b/w floor and your gorgeous white kitchen and trim throughout your home.

  36. Monticello is my favourite. I chose white oak and have to say I love it. Since I am a fan of old brown furniture, the floor tone just seems to compliment. I agree that most people will only remember the the B&W floor. I have done this twice, once in a nursery[ yellow and cream] and another in a small kitchen [black and white] and both were very successful.
    Looking forward to your next chapter, enjoying this blog so much! The comments are great too, so much talent.

  37. Probably eight first choice on the grounds that it stands up for itself better in relation to the checkerboard. Does it need to do that? Is it true that if you start lighter you can go darker but not so easily the other way around? (I like five seven and eight, though.) The chestnut’s maybe a bit too trad.

  38. I can’t pick a favorite. But I did a very light red oak in my home. I thought I wanted a light floor since the rooms are small. But I have to say, when I’m at my daughter’s home, her floors are dark & it feels cozier. And she has small rooms also.
    Design is so subjective. I love her rich colored floors & she wishes hers were light like mine.

  39. I think floor 7 is a good compromise between the dry-scrubbed C18 floors and the later C19 darker ones. Too pale wouldn’t look as good juxtaposed with the black and white painted entry and kitchen.

  40. Initially I was all about the the English Chestnut, but the more I went back and looked through all of the options again and again, the Monticello is a stand out. I think that it is beautiful and that it will create a simple and elegant backdrop for your furnishings to take center stage.

  41. I love the Montecello. If the checkered floor is a choice, the pale colors of the oak blend beautifully with it. Creates a flow of light neutrality. Think a long tall mercury glass old type mirror would look neat on the tall wall between windows?
    The other darker woods are lovely but seem to add a more country feeling that this elegant room doesn’t need.

  42. Love Monticello. I keep looking at it and thinking it looks so soft! Which is a very strange thing to say about a hardwood floor.

  43. I like #7….but instead of having a black and white painted entry and kitchen, I would use this flooring throughout with large squares painted black in the entry and kitchen, making it all more cohesive.

  44. Monticello is my choice. Chestnut is too red, black is too dark and won’t look good with the dark doors in your bedroom, golden oak is too yellow, anything whitewashed will take away from your kitchen floor. Monticello or a natural white oak equivalent is the ticket. That color floor will accent your table and chairs, too. Any furniture with darker legs will look beautiful on a pale, unstained white oak floor. I’m not sure what you’ll use to protect it, hardwax oil or poly. I’d hate to see it take on a yellow tone. Some say water based causes yellowing less than oil based. Poly does scratch more easily than hardwax finishes.

    I’m so disappointed that your light has arrived broken twice. They clearly don’t have a clue how to package what they are selling. Normally they are packed in dense styrofoam and bubble wrapped. I hope you can find another one from a reputable seller. Ebay always worries me, because they aren’t traditional retailers.

  45. I’m decidedly biased here—I have English Chestnut as of 7 years ago. I still love it and have gotten compliments and inquiries about the color. In our home it’s loveliest at night…warm and cozy.

  46. I love 5, 8 and 7 in that order. I much prefer the lighter floors in your beautiful space. And definitely not black, it’s much too heavy. It’s going to be so beautiful.

  47. Laurel,

    Some day I am going to take a “study” day and go back and review your posts. You come up with the most amazing sources! I do a lot of renovations in my design work and just love your thought process.

    My last home had black and white marble entry and white oak floors. I wasn’t up for just wax so came up with a mixture ( after many tries ) of about 1/3 cherry to 2/3 natural. The family room had white oak walls with a few panels. I did have this just waxed and it perfectly matched the floors.
    I usually do mix together at least a couple stains but with your sources it sounds like you can find what you want. All is beautiful, lovely and so very elegant!
    JoAnne in TN

  48. Hi, Laurel!

    I like floors 5, 7 & 8. The dark floors depressed me. And I very much dislike dark floors bc even with constant Swiffering, the minute I turn my back there’s something on the floor!

    Loving all the beautiful bits coming together!

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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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