With real wood floors dating back hundreds of years, it is no wonder that our industry often has ties to history. As word spread of former United States President Jimmy Carter entering hospice care, John Stern of Louisville Wood Floors in Louisville, Kentucky, recalled his role in several wood flooring projects for the nation’s 39th leader.
It all began in 1978, not long after Stern had formed Kentucky Wood Floors. The company’s distributor, Cherokee Wholesalers, located in the Washington, D.C.-area, offered the chance to quote the wood flooring for the East Room of the White House as Carter came into office. Kentucky Wood Floors got the job, which Stern notes was a pretty high-profile order so early in their existence. It was 3,200 square feet of quartered white oak Fontainebleau, and became the first of many White House floors they would provide.
“We said we were a bipartisan flooring company because after we did the East Room for President Carter, we ended up doing the Oval Office for President Reagan,” says Stern. “Eventually, we did all of the wood flooring for the White House from 1978 to 2006, which not only was the East Room and the Oval Office, but also the Red Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, the State Dining Room, the Private Dining Room, and the Executive Office off of the Oval.”
For these jobs, Stern dealt directly with the White House Chief Usher’s office. He says there was quite a bit of back and forth with the specifier to find out what they were trying to achieve aesthetically. These prestigious projects also meant a lot to his team.
“Anytime we were doing a White House floor, our production and office employees got tremendous satisfaction. I’m not saying they gave it special attention, but they knew who it was for, and they took great pride in being the ones who manufactured the floors, handled all of the logistics, and all of the administrative details that were involved,” explains Stern.
After Carter’s presidency, Kentucky Wood Floors provided the wood flooring for his private office in the Richard B. Russell Federal Building in Atlanta, Georgia. The floor was a 5/16” Mayan Cherry finger block. This was back in 1981, but Stern remembers there was a request for a reddish color floor. Upon completion of the project, he was surprised when he received in the mail a personal letter from Carter thanking him for the beautiful floors.
Kentucky Wood Floors also answered the call when teak herringbone flooring was needed for the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta. Opened in 1986, the library and museum is around 70,000 square feet and houses research information and educational materials about the life and presidency of Carter.
Stern credits opportunities such as these to tactics that remain important today – building strong relationships and tapping into the architectural and design market.
“Back then, we really had the upper end of the market to ourselves,” he says. “We felt that specifiers, interior designers, and architects were key to our business, and we marketed to them way before other manufacturers did.”
Over the years, Kentucky Wood Floors’ resume included hardwood flooring for a laundry list of notable installations. A sample of that list includes Churchill Downs, Nordstrom, Disney World, celebrities such as Bruce Springsteen and Tiger Woods, and embassies and governmental buildings, to name a few. Still, to Stern, not many floors were more meaningful than floors that were for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.