WFOY Winner Spotlight: The Art of Storytelling Through Wood

Victor Mulbauer of Michigan Hardwood Floors Services LLC based in Farmington Hills, Michigan, has been in the hardwood flooring industry for 10 years. He started his business with modest beginnings in the basement of his home. “I started out with hardwood flooring and painting, but after a short period of time, realized that I was more attracted to the art of hardwood flooring,” says Mulbauer. “Being on the job site all day long and working with wood, I felt like there was a magnet between my hands and the wood. It was like the wood was asking me to tell its story, to bring out its beauty and warmth.”

He continued, “I knew I had to learn more about it if I wanted to be successful. I knew there must be something, somewhere, someplace where I could go and learn and be better. It was then I found out about the NWFA and all its valuable classes.”

Mulbauer joined the NWFA in 2010 and quickly obtained his Installation and Sand & Finish certifications. He continued taking classes and made attending the yearly NWFA Wood Flooring Expo a priority, where he first learned about the Wood Floor of the
Year awards.

“I felt so honored to be among such a talented group of people, and after seeing all those beautiful floors, I couldn’t help but be amazed at the dedication some individuals have to hardwood flooring. I decided right then and there, ‘I’m going to win a trophy just like that one year,’” says Mulbauer.

At the 2017 Wood Flooring Expo in Phoenix, Mulbauer’s goal was accomplished.

Floor Focus
Mulbauer started his masterpiece by laying down a piece of paper on the ground in the size of the room in which the floor was to be installed. Next he sketched out what he intended the floor to look like, and then went to his workbench and hand-carved a number of hardwood floor tiles with different designs in them.

“I was amazed by my ability to handle the chisel, seeing that it was the first time in my life that I was doing this type of work. I then placed all those hand-carved wood tiles on my paper and played around with the design asking myself, ‘Why not a floor like this, with hand-carved tiles?’ So I decided to go with this idea: low relief hand-carved wood tiles. I was very happy to have my idea down on paper, and began working,” says Mulbauer.

The first design underwent numerous modifications as new ideas formed in Mulbauer’s head. “The initial paper I drew my first design on had so many markings and eraser marks that I wasn’t sure it would survive another draft,” he shared.

This project required intricate hand-carving and wire-brushing. The seven elevated wood tiles were given an enriching multidimensional look with the aid of the contrasting mosaic. Darker wood pieces of the mosaic slowly transitioned into lighter shades. Hexagonal wood tiles gave way to the bold frame surrounding the heart of this project. Hand-carved, the bold wooden frame provided a relaxing seat to the wooden leaves at each of the four corners. A thin border between the varied installation directions of the Brazilian cherry defines the fine line between dreams and reality.

“I needed to add nuances to the floor, so after studying the wood I was working with more closely, I realized that I should show its natural color. I wanted to give a hint of color though, between the hand-carved tiles, so I came up with the idea of making one custom color using top grain cut mosaic from the wood, as well as different wood species that would give the mosaic-part of the floor a custom stain. I used darker wood on the edges, right near the hand-carved wooden frame, then purposely chose lighter wood as the mosaic neared the center heart of this project. For the mosaic, I used hickory, pecan, walnut, and maple wood,”
said Mulbauer.

The next step was to hand-carve the seven tiles, four leaves, and two ends around the frame. Once those pieces of the project were ready, Mulbauer made another drawing of the floor in the room where the installation would take place. He double-checked the measurements would match every single piece he had worked on, to ensure the wood pieces would fit and the project would not fall apart.

The installation began with the frame, then the four leaves and two ends were installed, which are elevated. Next, the hand-carved tiles and the other 20 hexagonal pieces were installed. The next step was to fill with mosaic starting from the edge all around and inside the frame. Because the pieces of the mosaic were top grain, all the pieces were directed in the same grain direction since a wire brushed technique was used to give the floor an antique look. Once the frame and the interior were complete, Mulbauer finished the rest of the room by installing Brazilian cherry outside the frame and also by inserting a thin maple border. The entire floor was sealed and finished with water-based sealer and finish.

“My inspirations are deeply rooted in my heritage. I was born in a part of the world where wood and sculpture are deeply appreciated because they bring beauty to the homes and churches. Wood and sculpting puts food on the table, and such inspiration is what I used to convey the design ideas for this project,” says Mulbauer. “I carry with me a deep appreciation for hardwood floors, and in today’s society, where everything is increasingly automated, I take pride in having the ability to create something with my hands that is deeply appreciated by my customers and colleagues.”

Entries in this category may include scraped, wire-brushed, distressed, or any surface that is not traditional flat. Applications can include job site finished, manufacturer finished, solid or engineered wood flooring.

Adhesive: Bona | Moisture Meter: Lignomat | Edger: Bona | Abrasive: Bona |
Filler: Bona | Finish: Bona

Stacy Brown is the Editor/Publisher of Hardwood Floors magazine, the official magazine of the National Wood Flooring Association. She can be reached at

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