Closing Day + The Great Hardwood Color Debate

I got floors on the brain this week! Last time we drooled together over a sampling of exotic Moroccan rugs (I’m counting on the fact that you drooled, too, or else I was over here slobbering on my laptop all by myself, and that’s kind of sad). Now, I’m going to force you to take a stand on hardwood flooring:light v dark
(cred: Floors to your Home, text added)

There’s a reason for this continued floor talk, though, and it’s that the madness is beginning! We are closing on our house TODAY and starting our first project –refinishing the downstairs hardwoods–this weekend (in case you’re bad with days, that’s TOMORROW!). I haven’t got any interior pictures just yet, so you’re going to have to take my word that the hardwoods are in kind of rough shape. The house is 94 years old, and I don’t think the original flooring has ever been refinished. I appreciate the charm of a little wear and tear in older homes, but too much starts looking shabby and means that the flooring isn’t getting the protection it needs (hmmm, suddenly this sounds like a deodorant commercial).

Not sure if we were ready to kick things off with an enormously dirty and labor intensive project, we went back and forth about whether refinishing was really necessary, but after seeing the bare floors during our walk through this week, we agreed that it needs to be done.

So, now to the question–what color to stain them? Dark wood is an extremely popular choice, probably because people are still trying to erase traumatic memories of ’90s oak from their brainspaces, but Scandinavian-influenced designs that favor light wood are also very hot. All in all I’m quite torn, so I’m field the question to you nice, good-looking folks out there in the blogosphere–

Do you prefer dark and daring?
(cred: Jessica & Zak via Apartment Therapy)

(cred: houzz)

Light and airy?

(cred: Dani via Apartment Therapy)

(cred: stadshem)

Or somewhere in between?

(cred: sfgirlbybay)

We used a trusty walnut stain when we refinished the floors in our spare bedroom.

For me, it all has to do with what personality or mood you’re trying to achieve in a room, which is why I can never decide on anything. I have so many ideas that it’s hard to focus and make decisions in a single space. If I were suddenly obscenely rich, I’d buy at least half a dozen houses to decorate in different styles so that I could finally have some peace of mind. I would also give cannolis and brass pineapples to the needy.

What do you think? Light, medium, dark, or otherwise? Or maybe you hate hardwoods altogether and want your dream home covered in wall-to-wall marmoleum? Hit me with some opinions!


19 thoughts on “Closing Day + The Great Hardwood Color Debate

    • Thank you, Anastasia! I love the Scandinavian look, too. My husband doesn’t like light wood, though, so my bet is that we’ll go middle of the road with walnut again or something similar. Marriage = compromise, after all, or at least that’s what people tell me!


  1. My apartment is a really eclectic mishmash of old and new. It was an old, old house that was then separated into two apartments so the layout is a bit weird – a lot of the stuff is original and then some has been updated and looks like an Ikea catalogue. It’s a bit weird but I love it.

    So in the majority of my apartment, there is the original hardwood which is in surprisingly good condition It’s not birch but is on the lighter side of in the middle. Then, then two bedrooms have been redone with dark hardwood. And let me tell you – it’s a pain in the butt to have with animals. Every single hair shows up and it just seems to get dirtier so much faster. It sounds a bit gross to say, but the lighter color just hides it so much better.

    So that’s my two cents! And I figured as a dog owner it’s something you may want to consider!.

    xx Kathryn


    • That is very interesting feedback, Kathryn! We’ve never had light hardwoods, but I definitely know what you mean about the hair showing up on the darker stuff. There are certain corners where it seems to pile up, and I have no idea why there. Air currents? Does it even make sense to ask these questions? I think Justin will be a hard sell on light wood, so I’m betting we will end up going with a mid-tone or maybe on the lighter side of mid-tone. But then again, we also have two black dogs and one white dog, so can we really win anyway?? Your apartment sounds charming, by the way!


    • I think the dark floors in the first picture looks best, too. It has a lot to do with the tone of the stain, too. In that picture, the stain is quite ashen, whereas I prefer a bit of a warmer tone.

      An update on our project: we have our floors about half sanded now, and it’s amazing to see what a lighter colored floor does to brighten the room!


  2. I typically prefer darker woods, but I have to admit that I love how bright and warm more light woods make a room appear. I think in a larger house or ones with more open flooring, darker wood looks beautiful, but it’s a smaller place, you don’t want the rooms to look even more small and claustrophobic, you know?



    • Yep, totally agree. In small rooms you have to do what you can to emphasize the space. I really hadn’t thought too much about light floors as an option until recently. I feel like they’re having a bit of a renaissance, which I like–I always prefer to see a variety of styles rather than everyone doing the same thing.


  3. I like darker floors because you can’t tell they are dirty as quickly as you can with lighter floors… haha! But I like light floors because they make the house seem… bigger? cleaner? wider? I’m not sure… ha! Honestly I like both. My dream home would have the exact same floors in the photo via Dani from Apartment Therapy… gorgeous!!!



    • I like both, too. That’s part of my problem! Like pale paint, light floors do seem to make a place seem larger–and maybe cleaner, too! I hadn’t thought of that! I hope you clicked and looked at the rest of Dani’s house. Adorable!


  4. Interesting blog. Accidentally ran across it with a google search of Springfield, MO mid century something or other. Anyway as a seasoned DIYer, house flipper, architect and contractor that has refinished floors there is something far more important. The finish. I would stay away from cheap big box store polyurethanes like Minwax unless you want to refinish them again in a couple of years. It is well worth it to spend a little more for Bona or higher end and have something that is going to look better and last 3-4 times longer. No matter what anyone says oil is way better than water based. If you are going with water based instead of oil (because oil fumes are horrendous) it is very important to stay away from cheap Minwax poly and the like, especially in high traffic areas. Good luck. Refinished 1800 s.f. of hardwood in my first mid century house. Swore never again, but I did again, of course. Also, hope you are using a pad sander and not a drum sander!


    • Hey Atomique, thanks for the comment! We were actually planning to use a water-based poly, but you’ve definitely given us something to think about. Certainly don’t fancy doing this job again in a few years. We were lucky to have had help from the dudes at Home Depot, and they helped us pick an appropriate sander, so we were able to avoid the pitfalls of novices using a drum sander. Thanks again for the advice!


    • PS, Any thoughts on water based oil modified poly? That’s actually what we bought. From what I’ve read, it’s supposed to be more durable and age better than regular water based varieties. Maybe the best of both worlds?


      • Being the best of both worlds would be nice. The hardness of oil without the messy application and clean up, not to mention lung and brain trauma, would be ideal.I have never used this product, and it gets mixed reviews. A big problem with newer products like this is no one really knows the long term consequences. Minwax seems to change up their floor polys a lot to erase bad reviews of previous product lines. Choosing a floor finish is a tough decision. Poly is expensive, and the old saying “you get what you pay for” rings true with poly possibly more than any other building product I have experienced. High end Minwax is $50ish a gallon. Stepping up to “the pro stuff” such as Bona Traffic will quickly put you at $100 a gallon, and there is no in between. I am not sure if Home Depot or Lowes carry Bona. I did my first house in Minwax water based poly, 3 coats, and it looked great when finished. I was surprised at how quickly it wore in traffic areas and can’t imagine it lasted more than 5 years without needing a redo. Went with Bona water based in house 2 and it applied easier, looked better, and barely wore in the 5 years I lived there. I have talked to numerous people who have DIYed with Minwax and ended up recoating the floors in 5 years or less. Never met anyone happy with long term wear of Minwax on a floor. I hope I haven’t added any headache to your decision, I just know the long term consequences of having to resand and recoat a floor while living in a house. Bona water based will outlast any cheaper grade oil or water based and make your life a lot easier in application and long term wear. But this will double your cost up front. You just have to weigh the pros, cons, cost and go with your gut in the end. Sorry I haven’t been more helpful, and good luck with your results!


  5. Wow! I totally missed this! Congratulations on your new home. I love the floor updates in the more recent post. I cannot wait to see what you do. What a wonderful adventure for the new year!


    • Thanks so much! Things move fast around here (except for the actual move–that took FOREVER). Looking forward to sharing as we go. May need to get some new pics when we get it fixed up. Still so glad we did our engagement photos in the old house! 🙂


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