Without a doubt, my favorite part of building our home was the installation of our white oak flooring. When the first raw board of white oak hardwoods was put down, I wanted to scream with happiness! I saw the vision that had only been in my head all coming to life.
If you are refinishing or installing hardwoods, your options for types of wood are overwhelming. From engineered to custom site finish, all kinds of varieties of wood and then, of course, stains and finishes- it’s a lot! I hope by sharing my experience of choosing our white oak flooring and the stain we chose for our hardwoods, you can find clarity and narrow it down!
Our Reasons For Choosing White Oak Flooring For Our Hardwoods
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I knew from the beginning we would be using white oak flooring. Our builder recommended it right off the bat at the beginning of our build, but I did my research too!
White oak is easier to soak up the correct stains without showing weird undertones of pink or orange. It is also one of the more durable hardwoods; it’s harder than other kinds of hardwood (harder meaning more resilient to dents). And lastly, for these reasons it’s becoming even more popular in new builds in recent years.
Typically before posting photos online I edit them a bit- make colors more vibrant, brighten etc. I did not edit these photos so that this would be a true to life look.
Red Oak Hardwoods Vs White Oak Flooring
This is a common question when people are refinishing floors they already have. How can I make my red oak floors look like white oak? White oak flooring is similar in some ways to red oak floors. Both are similarly priced, and durable. Red oak was popular for many years, especially during times when certain finishes were trendy (hi 90s!).
Red oak is durable, and considered a high quality hardwood.
But white oak flooring takes certain stain colors better than red oak. You can’t make red oak look like white oak without going through some headache. They just simply start out already vastly different.
Red oak has pinkish undertones that will come out if you try to whitewash them, or give them a very light stain. It simply doesn’t take as well to white, gray and lighter stain colors. If you are refinishing red oak and hoping for that perfect “natural” wood look, you know it’s a struggle! I still think it can be found but it takes a lot of trail and error.
So if you are looking for light hardwoods like I just mentioned, listen up!
Most of the photos of modern farmhouses that I had pinned had these amazing whitewashed white oak hardwood flooring with wider planks. It almost looked like the color of the natural wood. I decided we wanted a slightly white-washed look, which is hard to pull off with red oak floors.
Budget, Widths & Other Considerations for White Oak Flooring
What Is The Best Widths for White Oak Hardwood Flooring?
Originally we were envisioning 6″ planks. I thought the price of white oak flooring to be reasonable within our budget at first, even with all that square footage upstairs. But once I factored in the price of the wider widths I wanted, I changed my mind. In order to make the floors fit within our budget, we ended up going with a more affordable 4″ width. Still a nice pretty width- and perhaps a safer bet as the wide width is a trend, where as 4″ is considered almost standard.
My builder also strongly did not want to put anything wider than 4″ in our home using white oak. He said the risk of buckling and warping was too high with white oak that is wider than 4″ in width. That solidified our decision to go with the 4″.
These are our hardwoods: White Oak flooring, #1 with 4″ width. There isn’t a brand name for them, but they are from Artisan Flooring. We had them finished on site.
Should You Put Carpet or Hardwood in Bedrooms?
We planned to put our white oak hardwood flooring in the entire home, except for the kids’ bedrooms, bathrooms and their playroom. While we wanted playroom carpeting, we disagreed about the kids’ bedrooms.
I wanted hardwoods in the kids’ bedrooms, but my husband insisted on wall to wall carpeting. He thought it would be cozier on their feet, especially in the winter, and nicer for playing on the floor. He is a Realtor and said it wouldn’t necessarily hurt resale, since people generally have various opinions on this.
I wanted hardwoods in the kids’ bedrooms, because from an interior design perspective, beautiful hardwoods with a showpiece rug in the bedroom is much preferred. And as far as the cozy factor goes, hardwoods with a plush rug on top could still be equally as cozy for kids’ playing on their bedroom floor.
To make matters worse, we all know that kids and carpet don’t go together, regardless of the child. To me it seemed wasteful to install all that carpeting, because I knew at some point down the line we would be replacing it all. With hardwoods, it was much more of an expense up front, but then we were done!
All that being said… and I let my husband win this one. He wasn’t making many design choices in the new build- he was pretty much shrugging his shoulders on everything. So, we kept the hardwoods through the house and in our own bedroom, and did wall to wall carpeting in the kids’ bedrooms, and the playroom.
It’s all about a little give and take, right? Even when you know your husband is obviously wrong.
Engineered Hardwoods Vs Solid Hardwoods
Quite a few people told us if we were to put engineered hardwoods inside a custom built home, the floors would “cheapen” the home and the value. It was looked down upon as a low quality choice. Hmm.
Now, we didn’t end up using engineered hardwoods, but I’m not sure I agree with them on that. Perhaps a few years ago, but engineered flooring options right now are pretty amazing and have come a long way! I’ve seen them used more and more in high end homes by good quality builders!
6 Benefits of Engineered Hardwoods
- Although both engineered hardwoods and solid hardwoods are durable, engineered hardwoods are extremely tough.
- Engineered hardwoods are sometimes more resistant to wear and tear (i.e.- if you have big dogs with nails and lots of kids!).
- If you are looking for something to be extra resistant to moisture, engineered hardwoods wins this one
- Engineered hardwoods cost far less per square footage, so easier on the budget!
- From an environmental perspective, engineered hardwoods are greener, so easier on the earth!
- It is easier to put down wider planks of engineered hardwoods successfully because they are stronger and more resistant to buckling. They don’t warp the same way white oak can warp, so you can go a lot thicker!
My husband thought engineered hardwoods could be equally as beautiful as solid hardwoods in our home. In his Realtor’s opinion, he does not believe they take away from the value of a home. (This is because while one family may not prefer them, another family – say with big dogs and kids – might prefer the engineered over the solid hardwoods.)
That being said, he was never in favor of using engineered hardwoods in our home. His reason wasn’t about whether engineered hardwoods would cheapen our home. It was simply because you can’t sand down and re-stain engineered hardwoods the same way you can with solid hardwoods.
Depending on the thickness, you might be able to sand them down once if you’re lucky and have a particularly thick engineered hardwood. We were told anything less than 5mm is a big no-non for sanding down and retaining. If the top layer is thicker than that, you could get away with it.
White Oak Flooring Stains
(Read about our paint colors in our kitchen here!)
I told the crew who was helping me pick out our stain that I loved the way white oak looks naturally, and with a touch of white. The perfect color to me has no red undertones, no pink – light, natural with a little bit of white.
Duraseal Stain Colors for White Oak Flooring
Our builder recommended using Duraseal stain colors. Duraseal is owned by the same company as Minwax, but Duraseal offers quite a few more stain colors and takes less time to cure. You can find this on Amazon, Walmart, or use their store locator to find out where to buy Duraseal stain.
When it came time for us to pick out a hardwood floor stain color, I was told the stain color “Neutral” might be something I liked. It was supposed to be a nice medium to light stain that most people preferred, very on trend and likable.
Shouldn’t that stain color favor the natural color of raw white oak? It doesn’t. Not on its’ own, that is. Although not a bad color, it is significantly darker than the color of white oak without a stain. It was not my version of a “light” floor- instead it looked very dark in my home. I was disappointed.
The colors we tried with patches on our floors were Duraseal Weathered Oak (too gray), Classic Gray (also no – this felt like a trend that would end soon), Neutral (too dark), and Country White (too washed out for what we wanted).
None of these were right on their own for what we envisioned. Most were too dark, and on the other end of the spectrum, Duraseal Country White was far too washed out. Country White really did make our floors look white. It was a Scandinavian look.
We ended up mixing various combinations until we found a winning combo that resembled the wood in its natural state. We created a custom stain made up of half Country White and half Neutral. This easy combination of using half and half of two different stains ends up being VERY close to the look of the white oak already on its own.
White Oak Floors With No Stain
Update: since I originally wrote this post we began renovations on an older home. I considered doing the same custom mix of stain here too.
But instead, we chose white oak floors (to match the white oak flooring in other rooms) with no stain at all. If you choose no stain, the true beauty of the wood floors can be seen. This is such an obvious choice that I didn’t consider too much on our first go round with white oak.
This is an image my wood floor installer (Frazee out of Durham – love them!) sent me when the floors were just installed, with no sanding or finish on them of course. I was out of town (a risky move) and was so excited to see this progress and their beautiful install.
I love having wood floors with no stain. They are beautiful.
This is after my white oak floors (with no stain) were sealed with Bona Traffic HD, a waterborne wood finish. This did bring out the color just a touch but in the best way. We’re still undergoing construction so the floors aren’t cleaned well here but the color is beautiful. Highly recommend if you love a natural floor.
I also am excited about using the Waterborne wood finish in place of the oil, another change we made! The oil finish will make the floors amber and darken over time – I was sure this was happening when we used the poly (although my husband didn’t notice!). A water based finish is lighter than oil based polyurethanes and doesn’t have that same effect, or at least not as strong.
What White Oak Flooring Stains To Avoid For 2021+
If you’re overwhelmed with stain choices, my biggest piece of advice is to avoid any white oak stain that has gray in it.
Gray is a passing trend on its’ way out. While I can appreciate what gray can do in a room, it can leave the room feeling cold and sterile. You will always be faced with trying to warm the gray floors up and make it feel cozy.
Gray is technically a neutral, but in my opinion it’s just too cold for the floors. And on top of that, if gray is already on it’s way out now, this is a large investment to make on the whim of a passing trend.
We have been so pleased with our pretty floors! I get questions on them all the time from guests or blog readers. The white oak hardwoods themselves have held up beautifully so far. We do put furniture pads under the chairs, etc, and I think that helps somewhat. They aren’t perfect after a few years of living here, and they’re scratched just from life with 4 kids.
I hope this post was helpful! If you are considering white oak hardwood flooring or considering stain colors for oak, your best bet is to use a highly recommended installer who understands your vision. If you are local we have used Frazee Floors for years and I personally recommend them.
Share pictures with your installer, lots of pictures, and be sure to watch the stain go on in person. A lot of times what you think is in the can isn’t how it looks once the hardwood floors have soaked up the stain.
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