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PERSONAL ASSISTANT

Look rough? It's ready

More flooring's now hand-hewn for some instant history.

September 20, 2007|Janet Eastman | Times Staff Writer

IN wood shops across the country, strong-armed workers are roughing up new lumber, hewing floor planks by hand with an adz or some other old-school tool. Often called hand-scraped floors, these faux-old planks are now the most popular choice in high-end Southern California houses, according to suppliers and the National Wood Flooring Assn.

The subject of this week's cover story, Laurie Frank, chose hand-scraped flooring with a beveled surface that catches sunlight beautifully. The teak planks were purchased from Lumber Liquidators, a national chain that recently opened its second store in L.A., but other giants have jumped into the business too. Mohawk has its Artiquity collection of hand-beveled engineered wood. Armstrong's Homerwood is hand-scraped and signed by Amish craftsmen.

For those who want to take the lived-in look even further, manufacturers employ scrapers, wire brushes, carpenter punches and the like to wear down the soft grain. Others employ a tumbler that swirls chains, bolts and metal blocks around smooth wood.

"The first time I saw a distressed floor being made, I said, 'You just took a perfectly good floor and brutalized it,' " says Chris Phillips of DuChateau Hardwood Flooring (formerly Hertog), which has an office in San Diego. "Now an industry is built on it, and it's the fastest growing segment of the wood floor market."

Adding saw marks and bullet holes, creating splits and even smoking and torching the top surface give a fictional story to the wood, says Pat Oakley of Mullican Flooring. Worn flooring feels good to bare feet and, he adds, "you can't hurt it. We beat it up, then you live with it and beat it up some more, and it looks better."

Phillips says the trend started in California five years ago, especially among contemporary homeowners who wanted to contrast modern architectural and furniture lines with a casual floor. Owners often mix board widths and lengths in the same room.

Crews used to do the work on site: The unfinished wood would be installed, then banged, scraped and stained. Most suppliers have set up factories to process wood before it's installed.

Workers plane each plank to bevel the edges for that notched appearance. Using several types of blades makes the surface look hand- finished. These products mimic real wear-and-tear better than machine-distressed planks, which usually have a detectable pattern, says Michael Kuhn of Pegasus Custom Hardwood in Costa Mesa. Planks can be solid wood or engineered, with thin layers of wood plied together and topped with a veneer, usually made of oak, ash or pine.

The cost at Pegasus starts at $14 a foot, depending on the wood and treatment -- about the same price Kuhn charges for high-quality reclaimed wood milled into flooring. Other companies offer new hand-scraped floors for less than $5 a square foot, though quality can vary.

"What pushes people away from it is the price," says Steve Seabaugh, technical director for the National Wood Flooring Assn. and an installer whose projects have included Vice President Dick Cheney's residence in Washington, D.C. "When it was only accomplished by hand, only people with lots of money could consider this level of custom work. Now with the pre-finished brands, it's more affordable."

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janet.eastman@latimes.com.

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