There are few types of hardwood floors that spell “sophistication” like walnut flooring. Dark, rich-looking and exuding a certain aristocratic vibe, a floor lined with walnut planks shows that you don’t take the aesthetics of your house lightly.
The Appeal of Walnut Hardwood Floors
The greatest feature of walnut hardwood flooring is the deep chocolate hue that instantly warms up a space. There is a certain color variation from plank to plank or even in the same board, depending on the part of the tree that was used in the manufacturing process. The sapwood (the outer part of the tree trunk) has a lighter, yellow color with gray hints, while the heartwood (or the inner portion of the tree) is the one that gives your floors the deep brown color sometimes enriched with purplish tones. Such differences are often minimized by applying a brown stain, while other times they are used to lend your floor a dramatic look.
Walnut floors look at home in both formal and informal settings. The straight grain and deep color suit traditional decors and make for spectacular, stately front entrances. But walnut is a versatile wood and can be incorporated in rustic decors. Lower-grade planks that use both sapwood and hardwood retain the color variation that, together with the highly visible irregular grain enhanced by swirls, gives your hardwood floors that particular rustic character.
Dark walnut looks spectacular when set against lighter walls, furniture or built-in structures, such as white wainscoting or staircase railings. However, it may not be the best choice for small rooms because the dark color makes them appear smaller. Walnut does not need stain to shine: left in its natural state, it still gives off a special glow. Exposed to light, dark walnut floors oxidize and receive in time a warm, golden tinge that lends the wood a beautiful depth. If you prefer a consistent look, a dark stain can minimize this change.
Hardness, Walnut Species and a Bit of Name Confusion
The hardness and durability of walnut depends of the variety you choose. Highly popular in the United States, black American walnut is on the lower scale of Janka hardness scale, with an index of 1010 (red oak, at 1290, is used as a standard to measure hardness). The lower rating means that walnut flooring is more prone than oak to denting, but certain finishes can increase its strength. In addition, its softer quality makes walnut easier to work with and stain.
However, “softer” does not necessarily mean “less durable.” In fact, its excellent rot and decay-resistance ensures that, with proper care, you can enjoy your walnut floors for decades. As an extra benefit, black walnut is plentiful in the United States, which makes it accessible, even if it is at the highest end of hardwood floor prices.
If you would like to install walnut hardwood floors, but are worried about dents, scratches and the effect of daily use on your hardwood boards, there are other ways to enjoy its beauty in the form of floors that are more resilient to abuse. Brazilian walnut, also known as ipe, is a 3684 on the Janka scale, which makes it one of the hardest species of hardwood used in wood flooring. However, its exotic nature and limited availability makes it very expensive, while the difficulty of working with it may increase the cost of installing hardwood floors.
It is important to know that, even if called “Brazilian walnut”, ipe is not necessarily a walnut species (the Juglans genus). It is referred as such because of its dark color and fine grain that resemble those of walnut, but the two belong to different tree families. A good piece of advice: sometimes the much softer Caribbean walnut is sold as Brazilian walnut. The cheap price makes it look like a good deal, but, even though Caribbean walnut is a beautiful choice that looks great in contemporary homes, you do net get the hardness you are after. However, at 1390 on the Janka scale, Caribbean walnut is still stronger than the popular red oak.
The same name confusion is true for some acacia varieties, many times called acacia Asian walnut. While resembling black walnut, especially when it is treated with a dark stain, Asian walnut belongs to another tree family and is harder than black walnut.
Beyond all these name inconsistencies (easy to clear up by checking the scientific name of the tree), walnut remains an elegant choice for your hardwood floors. While hardness may be important to you, quality of manufacturing is essential, so working with a reputable, professional hardwood flooring company goes a long way in sparing yourself of unpleasant surprises.