A Whiter Shade of Pale – How to get that pale wood floor

Posted by Terry Guilford on

It seems that the demand for white or pale floor continues undiminished and why not, a lighter shade of floor is perfect for brightening up our gloomy northern hemisphere existence. Any good interior designer will tell you that colours are crucial to the mood and feeling a room creates but whereas you can paint a wall any colour with few inexpensive implications, getting it wrong on a floor can be costlier.

So, accepting that a pale floor is very desirable, how do we go about achieving the look combined with the practicality that many white finishes don’t give you?

Lets start with a list of questions that any good contractor should ask you and deal with them one by one.

  • What type of room is the floor in (kitchen, hallway, sitting room?)
  • What is the species of wood?
  • What is the construction of the wood (solid, engineered, processed?)
  • How white do you want it?
  • If the above allow, would you prefer a more natural looking and sustainable finish?

You are probably wondering why the room matters and yet it is one of the most vital questions, let me explain why. In a kitchen you have high traffic in a small area (the sink, cooker fridge triangle) you are also constantly using chemicals that will attack the floor (this one really gets those who hate the word “chemicals”), cleaners for sinks, cookers, work surfaces all get sprayed around and eventually end up on the floor. Add in spillages from foods and liquids with colour and you get a very hostile environment for a wooden floor. To cope with this, you need a 2-component lacquer finish as an oiled floor (especially) a white oiled floor simply will not cope. A hallway, will take high traffic and may well be prone to moisture from wet feet so again a lacquer is preferable, A bedroom however will not suffer from any of these problems whilst other rooms need to be judged on an individual basis.

The wood species is also important because in reality the only wood suitable for colour change is oak as it is open grained and takes colour well. Maple on the other hand is a poor timber to colour due to tight grain and changing grain direction. If you are lucky enough to have oak there are many ways of successfully creating a white pale floor using stains, oils and tinted lacquers, if you have maple you can use a tinted lacquer to achieve a small change but attempts to create a pure white look are unlikely to succeed.

A solid wood floor places no restriction due to its construction on the type of product used in achieving the desired look. An engineered floor however may be trickier to create consistency on. A timber that has been processed in any way (Junckers Flooring is heat treated and Bamboo has huge amounts of glues and resins in it) may react differently from more “raw” materials.

How white do you want it? Sounds a simple question doesn’t it, so why does it create so many disagreements between contractors and customers? The main reason is the contractor can’t see your thoughts and how do you verbally express degrees of “whiteness”. The answer is make sure you get a sample done, the contractor will charge you for doing this but if you don’t want a sample then you better be very explicit in what you want. If you want the floor to remain the colour it is when sanded a “nude” product can be applied. If you want it very white it is likely that stain followed by tinted lacquer will be required over the stain. If you want total “whiteout” then paint the floor white (it makes no sense to me as you can’t see any grain, but we get asked for it!)

So finally, the natural look using sustainable finishes, these are growing massively in popularity and are what I have in my own house. There are many benefits for customers who understand them, including easy repair, the ability to refresh and improve appearance, less frequent re-sanding, healthier for you and the environment, less downtime when applying …….. BUT you can’t use them everywhere which is why you need to answer all the above!

Thanks for reading this blog, I haven’t mentioned the products by name because most readers know the brand I represent, what I will say is that it is the only brand that has a solution for all of the above circumstances (except the white floor paint).

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