Oak Wood Floors: Learn to Love This Classic Look

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Whether you are in the process of remodeling or starting from scratch, deciding on flooring materials can be a daunting task. It’s a big part of the project budget and has a lasting impact on the look of your home. Trends come and go but nothing is more classic and traditional than oak wood floors. In this post, I’m sharing my experience with red oak flooring including stain colors and how they stack up against other flooring options.

white kitchen with red oak wood floors, unlacquered brass kitchen hardware, custom inset cabinets

Are traditional oak wood floors out of style?

Red oak wood is popular because it’s durable yet easy to work with. It has a visible grain that gives each plank a unique look but doesn’t have the same rustic appearance as pine.

One characteristic that makes red oak stand out is its pink or red undertones, especially noticeable in its raw state. This is easily remedied by choosing the right stain color if you prefer a more neutral tone.

unfinished room with raw red oak floors, unstained
unfinished room with red oak hardwood flors stained Golden Oak by Minwax

There have been many temporary trends in flooring – narrow yellow tone planks, dark cherry or mahogany-looking floors with strong red tones, extremely dark, white bleached, or gray floors, heavily knotted and grainy distressed floors. They come and go a couple of years later, leaving you wanting a new look, facing a huge expense, and having to live with dated floors.

When homeowners have to make a big decision that will require a significant investment, the number one question they have is: What’s a classic design choice that will not look dated a couple of years from now?

Oak floors stand the test of time! They have been around for hundreds of years which means they won’t be dated five years from now. They are right there with subway tile, marble, and white kitchens – they may not be at the top of the trends but are never dated or out of style. There is no need to stress about keeping up with the changing trends when you have a classic look that goes with anything!

Styles of hardwood floors

When we bought our traditional colonial-style home, there were many features I couldn’t wait to change. The ’90s kitchen was at the top of the list but the red oak flooring was here to stay. It matched the style of the home and while it wasn’t the current fad, it’s a classic design element that I wanted to embrace.

red oak floors in living room, Golden oak stain, velvet sofa, lolol rug, DIY built-in cabinets

ROOM SOURCES: Velvet sofa | Drapes | Rug | Decorative storage boxes

Wood floors made from deciduous tree species are harder and more durable. Unlike evergreen trees like pine which are considered a “soft wood.” Never choose an evergreen species of wood for your flooring! Oak, maple, and walnut are popular selections – all of which are available in different plank widths and stains.

In the past, I’ve written about how the style of your home should be consistent – inside and out. No farmhouse decor in a modern city apartment and vice versa. Wide planks and knotty pine are signature looks of a rustic or casual style home. Pine floors are less expensive because they are soft and scratch easily. Unless you welcome distressing, hardwood is a better option for long-lasting durability.

traditional narrow plank solid hardwood floors, red oak stained golden oak, floors are the same in adjoining rooms

ROOM SOURCES: Console tables | Scalloped mirror

Narrow planks are the more traditional style of hardwood floors. They don’t reflect a particular interior design style, therefore they can be adapted to any style of home. You’ll find them all over Europe and in many old homes here in the US.

Red oak floor stains

If you are deciding on installing a new hardwood floor, you might want to choose white oak. It has all the positive characteristics of traditional red oak but without the pink undertones that scare many homeowners. It may come at a higher price tag which will have you considering red oak.

Or maybe you have existing red oak hardwood floors that need to be restained and you’re wondering what stain to choose. As I mentioned above, the pink undertones of red oak can be balanced out in the process of staining.

To find the perfect shade, you’ll need to apply several samples and evaluate them in different lighting situations – just like when you are selecting paint for your walls. Your flooring professional should be able to advise you on which stain to use and how to balance the pink undertones. You may even have to mix a couple of different stains to arrive at a custom finish.

I don’t recommend leaving red oak floors in their natural state without a stain. Even if you apply a protective polyurethane coating, the lack of stain will leave the space looking unfinished. Pick a stain, even if it’s the lightest shade.

Fortunately for me, I didn’t have to agonize over picking just the right stain for our floors! We removed the carpet in the bedrooms and replaced them with hardwood floors that matched the rest of the house. Refinishing the floors in the entire house would have been a costly and messy job, so instead I chose to match the stain in the bedrooms to the Golden Oak in the rest of the house.

I love my red oak hardwood floors with their Golden Oak stain. I think this is a classic and timeless stain. Refinishing the floors in the entire house for an insignificant amount of improvement in the stain is not worth it for me.

unfinished room with raw red oak floors, unstained
unfinished room with red oak hardwood flors stained Golden Oak by Minwax

Oak is porous and needs to be sealed after the stain is applied. There are both oil-based and water-based top coats available, but the oil-based ones can yellow over time. Go with the water-based top coat especially if you are trying to avoid yellow undertones.

close up of freshly stained red oak floors with top coat, sealing food floors

Refinishing hardwood floors isn’t without its drawbacks. It’s messy, you have to deal with temporary odors of the stain, and there is always the possibility of sun exposure fading the floor.

It is recommended that you wait as long as possible – days, if not weeks – to place any rugs on a freshly refinished hardwood floor. The reality is, that exposure to direct sunlight will change the appearance of your floors even if you wait the requisite time. Ideally, avoid a solid border between shadow and sunlight and the change in the finish will be gradual and unnoticeable – a part of the normal patina of natural materials.

entryway with black front door and white walls, red oak traditions hardwood floors exposed to sunlight coming through windows

Lowes Minwax image
This image from Lowe’s shows how the same stain looks on different wood species.
Lowes Minwax image
Minwax has a large selection of stains to choose from as seen in this image from Lowe’s.

Solid oak wood floors vs engineered floors

If you’ve been around a while, you know I love to use high-quality natural elements as much as possible. There is certainly a time and place for alternatives but if you can splurge on quality upfront, you’ll end up saving money in the long run. No need to spend more money when you change your mind or if the alternative doesn’t hold up as well as you’d hoped.

Stefana Silber opening pocket doors between living room and kitchen, both spaces with red oak wood floors stained in Golden Oak

Solid wood floors

Solid wood floors are made from a single solid (hence the name) piece of wood. They tend to be the more expensive option because they are more durable and can last a lifetime – or more!

close up of red oak floors, narrow planks, red oak floor stains, Golden Oak, Hand knotted rug

Shop my rug HERE!

The thickness of the wood means you have the opportunity to refinish the surface multiple times. This process is less expensive than replacing your flooring altogether. The image below demonstrates what your floors will look like when it’s time to refinish them.

solid oak wood floors showing wear, stain color has faded in areas of heavy use

Once raw oak wood floors are installed, they are sanded down to ensure a continuous smooth surface. When you install engineered planks, there will always be an obvious transition point between each one. Some manufacturers design planks to have a deep beveled groove between them when installed. This groove ends up collecting dirt and debris that is difficult to clean.

solid oak wood flor plank
Solid wood plank
engineered oak wood floor plank
Layers of engineered wood plank

Engineered wood floors

Engineered hardwood floors have a single thin layer of actual wood on the surface. This thin layer covers multiple layers of lesser-quality materials. While there are good engineered wood flooring options, there is no way to create a product that compares to solid wood.

engineered oak wood floor plank
Pre-finished engineered plank with shiny top coat.
grooves between installed engineered floor planks
Grooves between engineered wood planks that collect dirt and debris.

A person walking in stilettos will exert more pressure on your floors than an elephant. Something to keep in mind if you like to throw parties!

While they are less expensive and easier to install, engineered floors do have some negative qualities. The thin top layer of wood is susceptible to dents and scratches. They come prefinished with a shiny top coat that shows every imperfection and speck of dirt or dust. Tired of the marks on your engineered floors? Go ahead and refinish them, but due to the thin top layer, you can only do it once!

comparing solid wood and engineered wood flooring, pros and cons list

Matching floor surfaces

If your goal is to give your home a curated and designer look, mismatched flooring will ruin the best of intentions. Please don’t do it! Continuing the same flooring throughout your home creates a cohesive feel from room to room.

view from kitchen into dining room demonstrating how continuing the same flooring throughout your home gives it a high-end look

ROOM SOURCES: Baskets | Artwork | Drapes | Sconce | Console table (similar)

When we finished our basement, I installed LVP flooring in a completely different color than the oak wood floors in the rest of the house. It is separated by a door and a stairway and not visible at the same time so I wasn’t worried about it. The trouble spot was the stairway between the two spaces.

Matching LVP to stained solid wood or refinished engineered wood is virtually impossible. Even subtle differences can stand out and make your home look less thoughtful.

basement with LVP floors, stairs painted black to transition between different flooring surfaces

The way I solved this problem was to paint the stairs leading to the basement. If you find yourself in the same predicament, check out my blog post that goes into detail about how to paint stairs.

High-end carpet and solid wood alternatives can be pricey but even the best cannot stand up to solid wood. Given the choice, I would choose solid wood every time!

Decor sources in my home

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