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There’s a good reason solid wood floors are no longer popular. Here are the alternatives

‘Flooring is often the last thing people think of... yet it’s the first thing your eye sees’

Timber flooring has become a fashion statement but there are also important practical dimensions. What are the considerations before buying and can you refurbish existing boards? Here’s everything you need to know.

John Flannery, sales director at Havwoods Ireland, says: “Flooring used to be considered a basic home commodity. Now it has become a style item.” He says that while many homes have shifted from carpet to timber underfoot there has been a marked departure from solid wood boards, driven by trends, price and sustainability.

“Trend driven flooring is often the last decorative element people think about when refurbishing or remodelling. Yet it’s the first thing your eye sees,” says Cian Mulvey, owner of Mulvey of Dundrum.

Engineered flooring, which is real wood set over plywood, and laminate, which is a digital print laid atop a particle board, account for most of his new flooring business. Engineered flooring makes up about 20 per cent of Flannery’s business while laminate accounts for as much as 70 per cent. Solid floors are now only about 10 per cent of the overall demand.


While price is partly driving this shift, engineered floors are more adaptable for use with underfloor heating. In contrast a solid timber floor will expand and contract leaving gaps between the boards.

The other consideration in the engineered kind’s favour is that they can be rejuvenated like the timber boards of old. You can sand them several times, Flannery says, with the option to also change the floor colour to make a new style statement.

Versatile oak

The most versatile flooring is oak, which can be tinted in any colour on the palette from white oil to almost black. The science behind modern wood colour ranges and tints better allows the timber’s grain to show through. You can opt for a hard wax look or an oiled effect with the fashion set’s preference being for a matt finish, that gives a raw, natural look.

Oiled floors require more maintenance than lacquered ones. They need to be reoiled every two years on average but there’s about 40 colour washes to choose from, ranging from pale scandi ash to bold blue.

Your choice of timber flooring can also help bring light into a dark room. Mulvey, who has dark floors though much of his own home, installed lighter coloured boards in the rooms on the dark side of his home, in an effort to make them feel brighter.

Price will dictate most buyers’ decisions. At Navan-based Grain and Groove, for example, a solid American white oak costs €160 per sq m whereas engineered floors range in price from €90 per sq m all the way up to €196 per sq m, for its high-end ranges while laminates cost between €42 and €49per sq m. These are all fitted prices.

Fashion in floor colours changes constantly. Twenty years ago flooring was beech, birch or maple, the same as in many old gymnasium floors. Currently walnut and maple are out. The life cycle of a floor colour is now about six or seven years, Mulvey estimates.

“After that homeowners get fed up and call me as they want to change it.”

This is reflected in the fact that floor rejuvenation is a growing area of the business. When clients want to breathe new life into old, tired floors he employs the services of Tony O’Halloran of A&D Floors, who he likens to a woodsmith.

“As a restorer he can sand off marks and imperfections and, when you finally whittle down your colour selection, will apply your shortlisted shades in large swatches directly onto your floor.”

This helps demonstrate how each shade actually looks on the timber and how its colour might change when different light falls on it. It is especially helpful if you select a tricky-to-lay and trending floor like herringbone patterned parquet. It’s also a great way to give a home you’re putting up for sale a finishing touch underfoot and costs up to about €30 per sq metre. Engineered and solid timber floors can be sanded but not laminate because it’s a composite board.


If you’re making the shift from carpet to wood flooring, remember timber floors will sound louder. A sound-reducing underlay is worth considering although it will add about €4.95 per sq metre to your bill. It works especially well in apartments or bedrooms, where you might hear the sound of someone walking across the ceiling above. German-made Parador’s Modular One floor, which is an affordable cross between laminate and vinyl, comes with a cork-backing to address such acoustic problems and costs from €60, fitted, per sq m at Grain & Groove. While timber floors were considered a bad choice for bathrooms because of the wet and humid conditions Canadia Flooring has just introduced a new bathroom-specific designed laminate that is worth checking out.

Another option is a rug underfoot. It takes the bare look off boards and adds a feeling of warmth as we head into the autumn. A rug means you can lie on the floor in relative comfort. This is an easy way to bring in colour and texture. Prices range from as little as €100 for flat weaves to thousands for custom-sized silk fibre luxury. Keep ay eye online – for most of the auction houses sell a variety in their interiors sales many of which are fine wool designs. The Ikea design pictured costs just €45.

If you’re unsure of making a bold colour choice give it a test run in a bedroom before trying it throughout the downstairs, advises Mulvey.

“If it doesn’t work it’s a room that isn’t on show as much so you can make the mistake quietly.”

A bedroom is also smaller than open plan spaces too so replacing it won’t be as costly.

First-time floorers

First-time buyers teacher Louise Kennedy and her actuary husband Gerard Power recently bought a fine, four-bedroom house in Ballinteer. The place had already been extended and their plan is to renovate it over time, doing it up room by room. The oak floor in the lounge was about 25 years old and damaged. It had yellowed in parts and was also bleached by the sun. There were scrapes and dents too.

They were weighing up whether to replace it and discovered a simple solution in the depths of Instagram.

“It was really good value to have it sanded and re-stained – half the price of getting a new floor,” Louise says.

It cost €30 per sq metre, just under €600 for a room that measured more than 19.5sq metres.

“We very much wanted to go dark. We wanted a timeless look. Because funds were tight we didn’t want to do something trend-led and have to change it again in five years.” They chose a smoked oak, a shade that Mulveys made up specially for them, after they sent them photos of colours they liked.

“We opted for an oil finish. It looks very natural and modern.”

It does need some maintenance. Every 18 months or so you need to re-oil it at a cost of about €100 if you do it yourself.

This floor renovation is particularly noteworthy if you’re house-hunting and have been put off by yellowing pine or oak floors in houses that you’ve viewed.

Because the couple’s house was unoccupied – they were still renting and waiting to move in – the team at Mulveys was able go in and do the works under lockdown restrictions. While there the couple asked them to match a good quality laminate to their living room colour choice and had it laid in the adjoining dining room and also in the main bedroom.

The floor reconditioning took three days to sand, clean and oil. “It’s the easiest thing we’ve done so far. It looks and feels like a brand new floor.”