What color stain to use for mid-century oak flooring?

A reader recently wrote to ask, “What color stain would be most appropriate or authentic for a mid-century oak floor?” Drats, I cannot find the email. And, I am not academically sure what the correct answer is. I would guess… a “natural” stain.

Natural meaning – virtually no color. Matte or gloss finish. Gloss, though, would show more scratches. When we refinished the oak parquet floor in our dining room, above, the floor guy said, “All the old floors were done with a natural finish.” We chose matte finish and have been very happy with it. Our oak is getting a nice golden hue as time goes on. Under all the carpets, it’s a lighter color — the sunlight is affecting the color.

I think I may consult with some mid-century historic homes to discern the proper academic answer. But meanwhile: Readers — what do you think? What are you finding in your homes, with original wood floors, including what may have been hidden underneath carpet that’s been there for ages? What is the “authentic” color for mid-century oak flooring?

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  1. says

    The oak floors we found under the carpet in our house were in high clear gloss with dark (ebony?) inlay around the edges (which is typical in our area). As to weather it was originally this way, no idea, but I know the previous owners had a thing for gloss (glossy oil painted walls, glossy floors, and our t&g ceiling also got the glossy treatment!

    I have a question about period appropriate trim. As we had to rip up w2w carpets to free our hardwood floors, we have no baseboards. I am wondering what are popular modern takes and/or period appropriate baseboard trims that would be suitable for the aesthetics of my 60’s rancher?

  2. mimi says

    The oak floors in my house and my mothers were natural oak color. She has a more “upscale” colonia, and the oak is nicer. Mine is a small inline ranch and has more varied color in the oak-I’m assuming cheaper “seconds”

  3. Janie says

    I am particularly interested in the feedback to this question.
    I have a 1940 kit home that has Southern pine floors and ceilings in much of the house. The floor and ceiling in the living room are painted dove gray.
    Reclaimed planks fo various widths are being installed in the two bedrooms. The coloration, patina and bits of paint vary.

    My inclination is to collaborate with the contractor to use a matte sealer/finish on the floors.

    Please send me any guidance you have. I appreciate you much,


  4. Valerie says

    The house I grew up in was a late 1950’s ranch. The hardwood floors (living room, hall, and all bedrooms) were oak (fairly narrow strips) with what I would call a medium, glossy stain and finish. The mouldings around doors and windows and the baseboards were pine, I think, but about the same color as the floor. It was maybe a shade darker than the knotty pine paneling in the family room and the knotty pine cabinets in the kitchen. Doors were flat panel, and about the color of the paneling (which is to say, a shade lighter than the floor).

    My grandparents built a new ranch house in 1965 which had parquet floors throughout except for the kitchen, baths, and laundry room. The parquet floor was maple, I think, and it seemed absolutely natural color – just a clear finish on it. Flat panel doors and louvered folding closet doors were the same color, as was trim moulding.

    Both houses had painted crown moulding, which in our two houses was painted white to match the ceilings.

  5. Deborah says

    The oak floors in my house are pretty battered. Someone had put down some ghastly peel and stick tile in the living room. Very tedious to peel up and get rid of the stick-em. Once cleaned of the goo, my floors are rather dark. I rather like the aged worn look.

  6. Mag says

    Chiming in late. My in-laws’ modest ranch, built in 59/60, has white make floors with a natural stain, and aged over the years. My 1920’s house also had white oak with a natural stain. It deepened even more over the years, considering it was a good 30+ years older than my in-laws. When we added oak flooring in the kitchen, it was stained to match the older floor.

  7. Kathy says

    I think there are quite a few options, but most I have seen favored the light to medium tones in midcentury, probably in reaction to the dark tones favored for woodwork, and maybe a bit lighter for floors, until about WWII for most homes, except those with an Art Deco/Moderne flair.

    My own 1920s floors are finished with amber shellac, apparently applied in 1962 when the entire house was remodeled. The downstairs trim was completely replaced and all the wood floors recarpeted. The trim has a platinum finish, which appears to be a sort of semi-opaque stain with white and burnt umber in it and a clear topcoat varnish, which has yellowed with time. It has a light, somewhat pinkish color, but not as pink as the 80s pickled look.

    I think it could be duplicated with a white and burnt umber painted glaze under a clear finish, something similar to the treatment for a honey finish, which has a thinned yellow paint underglaze. I found an ancient can of the platinium finish in a ReStore store, but haven’t had the guts to open it up to see. My grandmother’s house had a similar type of woodwork.

    The dark tones came back in the 70s, although I think really dark floors are a modern thing. I think in the past, they tended to be fairly light to mid-tone, which shows dirt less than dark.

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