When Bill Hamilton and his team decided to remodel Hamiltons’ at First and Main in 2011, the flooring was a potential stumbling block. Hamilton wanted to preserve the character of the original restaurant space, built in 1996, and the wooden floors were an important part of the aesthetic. But they needed work.
Options for new flooring abounded: tile, laminate wood, oak strip, wide-plank hardwood. But none of them would maintain the feel of Hamiltons’, which serves upscale contemporary American cuisine on the Downtown Mall. New flooring simply wouldn’t give customers the impression they were stepping into a classic, warm Charlottesville institution.
The answer was reclaimed heart pine from Mountain Lumber in Ruckersville. In addition to the sustainability of the product, Hamilton said the choice came down to appearance. It’s a sentiment Mountain Lumber CEO Bill Stone said is echoed by a lot of his customers, both commercial and residential.
“It’s all aesthetics. We could all walk on linoleum and we would be fine,” he said. “It is not really different from any home upgrade. When you’re doing a kitchen, do you go with the Viking range or the GE range? Both of them are going to boil water.”
Stone said carpeting is generally the cheapest flooring option, followed by vinyl and linoleum. For those who want to make the jump to wood, the most popular choice is oak strip, a versatile option typically composed of red or white oak boards 2.25″ in width that can be stained a variety of colors. Other narrow-plank hardwood flooring options are available for around the same price. Wider boards are prized for their additional grain character but are more expensive.
Reclaimed wood delivers the highest level of grain character and texture. Typically coming from old barns and factories, the material can be oak, hickory, or pine, among other wood types. Because it’s been cut and in use for as many as 150 years, reclaimed wood flooring usually offers a tighter grain, weathered patina, and interesting color variations. It might have further signs of use, such as nail holes, as well.
Customers going with reclaimed wood won’t be able to get the consistency they might see with new wood flooring, admitted Stone. And the process of selecting a look for reclaimed wood involves a bit more trial and error.
“This happens all the time: a customer comes to us and says, ‘I have this picture of an old farmhouse, and this is what I want,’” Stone said. Mountain Lumber will put together a few samples that are as close to the image as possible. The customer can choose one or two options, and the company can dial in the final product even further.
Stone said reclaimed wood was tripped up by the housing downturn in 2007-2008 just like most contractors, but commercial users like Hamiltons’ and Starbucks helped keep things afloat. According to Stone, the “environmental piece is fairly obvious” to most customers, and there is also the “story aspect.”
“The Hamiltons’ bar top and bottle display are all heart pine from a Studebaker factory,” Hamilton said.
Reclaiming wood’s place
Reclaimed wood is generally considered the most expensive option for flooring, according to Mountain Lumber CEO Bill Stone, so customers often use it alongside other materials.
“It is a balance between how much you want it versus what can you afford,” Stone said. “We get the odd fortunate individual that says this is what we want, and we want it in all 6,000 square feet of our house.”
More common is a flooring mix such as reclaimed wood in the main living spaces and new oak to replicate the look upstairs, Stone said. To decide where reclaimed flooring might fit with your layout, consider the following options.
Laminate wood—For slightly more than the cost of vinyl or linoleum, homeowners can install a resin coated to look like wood.
Oak strip—At only $3-5 per square foot, oak strip is the most common wood flooring you’ll find in this area of the country. For another dollar or so, the flooring will come stained and treated.
Wide plank hardwood—You can outfit your home with wider wood planks that tend to have more character than narrow planks for around $5 per square foot.
Reclaimed wood—Expect to pay at least $5 per square foot for reclaimed wood flooring. And because of the varied material sources, be prepared to budget a good deal more.