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. sookevista says

    Very interesting comments on floors – it depends on where you are, I think. We are in Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island, and are moving from a 1947 house to a 1945 house. Wood was locally milled, and doors and trim are often old growth fir which starts an incredible golden syrup colour and darkens in about 7 yrs to a deep red. Oak floors were common in the formal areas (public areas of the house), sometimes with inlay trim around the edge and pattern work. These are typically finished with a gloss in ‘natural’ honey colour and are seen throughout Victoria.

  2. Marta says

    When we bought our sadly unmaintained ’67 ranch, the oak floors in the family and bedrooms were worn, pet-stained, paint-splashed and malodorous.

    We carpeted the bedrooms. The L-shaped kitchen/family room was harder. We gutted the VCT kitchen part to walls and subfloor, and tore out 4’x10′ of oak and subfloor in the family room water-damaged by the leaking toilet adjacent. The DH put white oak in those areas, sanded the whole, applied 4 coats of natural water-based poly, and it looked great. You could only tell old from new by age gaps between the boards. Total cost under $500 for about 300sf.

    Nine years of life/dogs/kids later, that floor’s not so attractive. The finish was too thin and wore through in spots. There are a few water stains. Really, not so bad for first-timers, but it needs refinishing, and this time the bedroom floors are joining in.

    After researching, well, let’s say extensively, I’ve decided to remove the old finish with stripper, sand the floors with a random orbiter, and refinish with shellac followed by Wood Preen (a self-cleaning wax).

  3. Vikki says

    This is a wonderful site for those of us new to mid-century home ownership.
    Does anyone have ideas about what would be appropriate flooring for a small apartment in a 1955 two-story stucco building in south Fla (that actually looks like a motel from that era)? There is carpet now with plywood underfloor and some large beige tile in the kit/bath area. Hardwood seems appealing, maybe Douglas fir and maybe some real linoleum type instead of the tile?


    • Terri says

      Red oak was pretty much “builder’s special” in California during that time period. You might find reclaimed flooring of that vintage, as I did. I think glazed tile is pretty standard for the bath, while linoleum (now Marmoleum) was common in kitchens.

  4. Terri says

    Our 1959 San Francisco house has red oak parquet and strip flooring throughout the upper (main living) level. Never stained, just clear finish. It varies from a golden amber to reddish amber. Grain also varies, much as another poster described.

    Have to share this: We have what was an unfinished room on our basement (street) level. At long last we are finishing it. We wanted hardwood flooring but were stopped cold by price and finish. A friend suggested looking on Craigslist — not a half hour after I read her message, I found 275 sf of reclaimed red oak for sale, pulled from a late-’50s house down the road in San Jose. It is an ABSOLUTE PERFECT MATCH for what’s already in our house! So close that I hesitate to sand it much after I install it — the level of wear matches too! (If I make it too nice, I’ll have to have the upstairs floors done too.) Am absolutely tickled that our renovated room will look as if the floors are original to the house.

    • pam kueber says

      Wow, Terri — What a great story! The Retro Decorating Gods sent you just what you needed just when you needed it!

  5. Terri says

    At long last, my “new” red oak family room floor is done! No stain, just a clear varnish. It is way lighter than the aged floors in the rest of the house, but if ever we have them refinished, they’ll match.
    Here’s a link: http://s689.photobucket.com/albums/vv252/terrihd/Family%20Room%20Construction/?action=view&current=3d5d02ed.jpg

    Now I’m having a devil of a time finding the baseboard to match the rest of the house. Some think it’s oak; others think it’s Philippine mahogany. Every vendor here in SF seems to know the milling style, but no one is making it anymore. Leads welcome.

  6. 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?

  7. 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”

  8. 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,


  9. 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.

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