Historical Home Decor Starts at the Ground Floor


From the early Colonial era through the Victorian age and on to modern times, Alexandria boasts a rich historical heritage that is reflected in its range of home design. To create a completely authentic atmosphere, the dcor must start at the bottom with the choice of hardwood floors. When you are making your selection, you might find out that the wood boasts a fascinating history of its own.

Now owner of Townsend Woods in Alexandria, Hamp Townsend started his 30-year career by reclaiming wood from old homes. He has become an importer and still a highly regarded expert on the topic. Heres what he has to say:

Colonial Homes

To create an authentic atmosphere, the best choice is heart-of-pine, preferably quarter sawed. You turn the log and cut with a straight grain, up and down. This gives better wear than the plain sawed board with very few knots.

The technique was good for the early settlers and is still used.

A 4-inch width is the best Colonial look and is probably what you see most often in Alexandria homes. You see some wider, at 6 inches, but never under four.
Another major factor is the length of the board. If you get one at 12 to 16 feet, that is very special. The trees were bigger in the old days and more of them to choose from, leading to longer boards than we see today.

Today, to get an antique floor like that, you must either lift up and transplant an existing floor or reclaim some boards from another structure. You can also do a lot of things with staining. We have even reached the point of putting a veneer of older wood on plywood to re-create the look.
As a result, the authentic antique heart-of-pine is naturally costly. It can run from $10 to $20 per square foot.

An oak floor, however, is around $5 per square foot, and accounts for about 50 percent of all hardwood flooring. Thanks to the rise of factory mass production, they are often found in Victorian homes.

Victorian Homes

Most Victorian homes have golden oak lining the floor. Pine is more indigenous to the southern United States, but the oak grew more often in the north, where much furniture industry took off. The industry moved south after World War II, and thats when oak flooring really took off here in Alexandria. (Like so many other products, wood flooring now reflects two other trends: imports and ecology. This may be most obvious in contemporary homes.)

Contemporary Homes

In the last 20 or 30 years, a lot of exotic imported woods have come from Asia, Africa and South America, especially Brazil, where Brazilian cherry (the most popular), Santos mahogany and tiger wood grow.

One major issue is the question of preserving the rain forest, which has led to limiting the amount that can be harvested. Pine trees can grow in 30 years, but the exotics may take 200 to 300. You can also get green woods, which are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council as being more environmentally friendly.

Bamboo may be the best-known green wood. It is really a weed that grows very fast and yet fits into many decors, making it a natural choice.

Whatever you choose, the trees that eventually become your floor can add the nuance you are looking for, no matter your homes style.