A Brief History of Hardwood Flooring
Using wood for flooring was a laborious business during the 15th and 16th centuries. Unlike today where we have technology to lend a helping hand, timber needed to be hand-sawn, split or axed to provide planks for flooring. As it wasn’t a completely accurate process, this often resulted in planks with various widths and thicknesses that did not match, meaning they needed to be altered afterwards to achieve a level floor. Due to this extra labour that was needed, by the early 17th century the majority of European homes instead still had compacted dirt floors. Wooden flooring was only really used in homes of those wealthy enough to have a first floor, where planks of oak or elm supported by joists were used.
The Baroque Period
The Baroque period, a time of highly ornate and often extravagant art, saw the rise of wood flooring. It was during this time that hardwood flooring began to achieve the status it has today with French parquetry and other patterns that appeared in the grand houses of Europe. Initially these were limited to royalty and the wealthy elite due to the fact that installing these floors required considerable labour by skilled craftsmen. Each piece of wood was to be cut by hand in such a way that enables all of the individual pieces to be arranged in a pleasing pattern. Once laid, the surface had to be scraped with hand tools for a smooth finish. Sand was then brought in to be rubbed into the woord in order to achieve the smoothest possible surface before the final steps of staining and finishing the wood. This was the start of floor sanding!
Those who had less money, such as the merchant classes and minor nobles, often tried to imitate the flooring though failed to match the level of durability. Some Baroque floors still exists hundreds of years later, particularly in places where there is less foot traffic. This shows how durable hardwood flooring is, as well as how much care and attention the craftsmen put in.
The Introduction of Technology
In the late 18th century came the introduction of machinery to help plane timber, but it wasn’t until the Victorian age that timber production took off. The invention of the steam engine led to powered mechanical saws. This meant that a lot of labour was required while also producing consistent planks that were ideal for hardwood flooring. Shortly after this tongue-and-groove boards that we still use today were invented which was a radical development that meant floorboards could be easily slotted together and nailed down.
Following World War II, carpets became a lot more affordable due to the improvements in production. Hardwood flooring began to be seen as an old-fashioned option, often being replaced or covered by carpet. During the post-war period the hardwood flooring industry struggled to survive, with many operators cutting corners where they could to persuade people to choose hardwood flooring. Installers were often overworked and underpaid which would lead to sloppy work and diminished the reputation of hardwood flooring. In the 1990’s, however, people rediscovered the beauty of hardwood flooring.
Modern Hardwood Flooring
The hardwood flooring we know and love today benefits from many technical advancements, allowing for easier installation and enabling it to be used in rooms that were previously unsuitable. The creation of engineered hardwood flooring has also increased the affordability, meaning it is more attainable for various types of people. There have never been so many styles, colours and varieties of hardwood flooring available, with plenty of materials sources from around the globe!