Complementing Historic Features

A potential customer calls to let you know they’ve discovered original wood floors under the outdated carpet in their newly purchased old Victorian home. Upon further demo of the old carpet, you discover much of the flooring is, unfortunately, not salvageable.

This situation played out when I began renovating my Victorian home in one of Brooklyn’s historic neighborhoods, Fiske Terrace. I had every intention of rehabbing the home’s existing oak floors. To my dismay, I discovered that the ancient radiators installed throughout the house had been leaking water into the wood for years. It wasn’t until we started renovating that we found that the floors were extremely water damaged and unsalvageable. Instead, I had to shift my design plan and focus on installing new flooring to modernize the house while maintaining its historic value.

When updating the floors in a historic property, it’s essential to understand what makes for a truly beautiful restoration. While trends may come and go, some timeless designs will never go out of style. I often see homeowners and designers opting for dark grey wood and/or stains to retain a specific, historic look. In most cases, using dark colors on the floor can make the house’s overall design feel heavy and much darker. Instead, I like to opt for neutral colors in lighter tones. Woods like white oak, cherry, and maple are my favorite to work with due to their durability. I also like to opt for less staining to keep the wood looking more neutral.

In addition to opting for lighter-toned stains, I recommend wide planks for flooring in historic homes. While thinner planks may be more traditional, I find that they look dated and can make a home feel busy and small. Planks at least 7″ wide provide a subtle, modern touch while making the space feel much more open.

After discovering the old flooring wasn’t capable of being renovated, I installed 7 1/2” prefinished engineered oak. The new flooring complements the historic features we were able to retain throughout the home and feels both modern and timeless.

Woods like white oak, cherry, and maple are Rebuck's favorite to work with due to their durabilityWhen installing new flooring rather than restoring it, simple choices can be made to ensure the home maintains its historic appeal and feels contemporary. Choosing a light-toned wood, like white oak, cherry, or maple, can provide a seamless backdrop for the interior design while simultaneously brightening the space. Similarly, opting for planks that are 7″ or wider will help to add dimension to the home while adding a subtle, modern touch. Trends change quickly in the design world, but these wood flooring options remain timeless.

Natalie Rebuck is principal of Re: Design, an award-winning boutique architecture and interior design firm based in Brooklyn, New York. Rebuck has more than 16 years of experience managing a wide range of complex commercial and residential projects across the globe. Rebekah Jenkins, administrative assistant at Re: Design, contributed to this article. Re: Design can be reached at

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