Extending past the norm to experiment with patterns and species can be intimidating for those new to the industry. But, for Austin Hill of Hill’s Hardwood LLC in Michigan, stepping past his comfort zone meant pushing forward when an opportunity presented itself.
“I started Hill’s Hardwood in my house when I was 21 in 2019, sanding and finishing floors, but I feel like I’ve come a long way in the past few years. When this project presented itself, I had only installed a few floors, but I had gone through NWFA training and had a sense of newfound confidence,” says Hill. “Even though it felt like a risk, I knew the importance of getting in front of people and sharing ideas.”
For Hill, the project began when a simple refinishing estimate became a discussion of an adjacent carpeted area. It turned out the homeowner was open to upgrading the carpeted floors in a 350 square foot area where he displayed his antique fuel pump collection.
“We put the refinish idea of his existing floor on hold, as he liked the idea of tearing out carpet and doing a design with a border around the room wide enough to fit his gas pumps. I had a copy of the NWFA’s Ornamental Floors publication, and I saw his eyes light up,” explains Hill. “I flipped over the paper on which I had the refinish estimate, sat with him, and began sketching a few ideas. The existing hardwood floor I had originally come to see had select-grade 2 ¼”, ¾” solid red oak in the other room, which gave us a good base to work from.”
Hill and the homeowner agreed to select grade 2 ¼” red oak in the outer border and 3 ¼” rift and quartered red oak to make it stand out from the border and the existing flooring. The feature strips would be 2 ¼” wide, long length select walnut, to match existing cabinetry. Finally, to create an eye-catching centerpiece, the homeowner also asked Hill if he could incorporate a medallion into the floor.
“I was excited about the floor and anxiously thought about installation every night beforehand. Due to the nature of the floor and my relative inexperience, I made sure to reach out to a few people for advice before starting,” says Hill. “Once at the home, I did a lot of measuring and ended up chalk-lining and then dry laying the entire layout onto the subfloor before I installed a single board. It took a lot of patience, but I felt that was necessary.”
As far as the medallion that acted as the floor’s centerpiece, due to a move from his home to a new business location, Hill says logistically, he was not in a place to hand-craft the medallion himself. However, he was still determined to find a way to get it done for the client.
“I worked with Oshkosh Designs to design and manufacture a 48” unfinished medallion made of walnut, American cherry, red oak, and ipe,” says Hill. “Installing the medallion was a great learning experience for me, and I’m glad I found a way to make it happen by using an outside source.”
Hill says because the project felt somewhat daunting due to his relative inexperience, he was careful to ensure that he gave himself plenty of time to do the work. As a result, the installation took him five full days to accomplish.
“I was careful to take my time with the installation before I moved on to the finishing process. The client asked us to match the color of the older existing floor with an oil-based finish,” says Hill. “I ended up selecting a nice, simple non-water popped DuraSeal Golden Oak on the entire floor. I used three coats of Bona AmberSeal to get a perfect match.”
The final result was a floor that the homeowner was thrilled with and an excellent reminder to Hill of why it pays to present clients with ideas that may be outside the norm.
“You must look for ways to try new things, and seek knowledge along the way,” explains Hill. “You have to push boundaries and expand your comfort zone. It’s okay to be uncomfortable because often at that moment is where you find inspiration.”