Ralph's Blog

Those floors are driving me up the wall!

Posted on Sat, Jun 27, 2015 @ 10:06 AM


People have been using hardwood as walls for many years, often very plainly but sometime quite ornately. Dark paneled hardwood walls, for example, have long been common in stately homes.

But I don’t think hardwood walls have ever been used as stylishly as they are now. I’m seeing more and more beautiful uses of hardwood walls, and we’re getting greater interest in them than ever at our showroom.

I certainly understand why. They can provide just the right accent to hardwood flooring, as well as to the furnishings, trim, and accessories in a room. Hardwood walls can also become the focal point of a room, uniting its design.

In either case, color is a key element in the look hardwood walls create. In general, the color of a hardwood wall (whether natural, stained, or painted) should pleasingly contrast in some way with other colors in the room, creating visual interest. The attractive color combinations are virtually endless, but one generalization I can make is that white walls team well with almost any hardwood floor.

Texture is another important consideration. Just as with flooring, you can have hardwood walls that are smooth and sleek or that have much texture. Some of the most striking hardwood walls that I’ve seen have made use of reclaimed wood, with all its wonderful natural texture and character. Reclaimed hardwood walls can really connect a room to the natural surroundings outside its windows.

But I’ve also seen hardwood walls pull together minimalist modern designs. I’ve seen them add spice in eclectic styles. I’ve seen them look elegant in their traditional role as dark “library-style” walls. They are just as versatile as hardwood flooring.

However they’re used, hardwood walls almost always make a room feel warmer, more intimate, and more interesting.

Stop by our showroom, and we’ll be glad to talk with your about how you can use hardwood walls in your home. They may be just the thing you’ve been looking for to elevate your interior design to another level.


Ralph's 50th Anniversary Flooring Specials




Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends

Getting Just the Look You Want: "Urban"

Posted on Thu, Jun 25, 2015 @ 15:06 PM

In the second of our series on using hardwood flooring to create certain specific looks that are currently popular, we focus on the “urban” style.

As aging industrial properties in urban areas are converted into modern housing, a trend has emerged. Homeowners are embracing the building’s former look—doing nothing to divide open spaces; leaving beams, rafters, concrete walls, etc. exposed; and adding features such as steel cabinets.

Hardwood floors fit right into this “urban” look, as it’s often called. Hardwood reclaimed from old factories, barns, and the like is perfect for this style. Hardwood can also be hand-scraped, wire-brushed, or distressed to give it a time-worn character.

The urban style is flexible, offering many chances for creativity, and even whimsy. In general, however, natural floor color (i.e., clear finish) is ideal. Other popular choices for this style include using a rustic grade of hardwood and selecting wide flooring planks that vary in length.

In the open floorplans typical of the urban look, hardwood flooring can pull all the interior design together while adding to the charm of the style. Please stop by our showroom or give us a call if you’d like to discuss an urban look for your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, special series: Getting Just the Look You Want, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends, remodeling

Christmas In June?

Posted on Sat, Jun 13, 2015 @ 10:06 AM

Christmas_in_JuneA couple visited our showroom last fall, very excited about getting new hardwood floors installed in their family room to replace the carpeting they’d been living with.

They were a young couple, with young children, and they had both sets of parents coming to visit for Christmas. They knew how beautiful, warm, and cozy the hardwood flooring would look compared to their carpeting. They envisioned a good old-fashioned Christmas—the whole family gathered on their floor, around the Christmas tree.

They also knew our reputation as the highest-quality hardwood flooring company in the area, and that we’d do a beautiful job. They specifically wanted a Ralph’s floor.

That’s why it was so hard for us to have to explain that there was no way we could have them installed by Christmas because we were already booked for the rest of the year. It distressed me to tell them that the picture in their head wasn’t going to happen this Christmas, at least not with our help.

I completely identified with their vision and desperately wanted to be a part of making it a reality, but we had already made commitments to other customers, who also had their visions and dreams for hardwood flooring in their home.

I still remember the crestfallen looks on that couple’s faces. They were understanding but clearly disappointed. I was disappointed, too. Every time someone contacts us about doing a project for them, we see it as an opportunity to put a big smile on their face, and there’s nothing we love doing more. Because of the timing, we were going to miss out on that opportunity.

I’m happy to say that this couple waited until we could do the job for them. They wanted the floor in time for Christmas, but it was more important to them that Ralph’s do the job. We recently completed the work, and they were definitely smiling big at the results, so ultimately it all worked out.

But I still wish we could have met the timeframe they wanted. And, unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. Every year, we get numerous homeowners asking us, too late, to do work before winter. As always, we do everything possible to accommodate them, but sometimes we can’t.

Speaking for myself, when it’s summer in Wisconsin, the last thing I want to do is think about winter in Wisconsin. But when it comes to scheduling a job like a hardwood floor installation or refinishing, it’s best to plan ahead and give us a call now.

The holidays might not even be the source of your time pressure. You could simply be thinking about how much you don’t want to spend another winter looking at the same tired floors you stared at last winter during those days when the weather left you stuck inside.

You might be headed to the pool after you read this, but now’s the time to start thinking about the next long, cold winter if new hardwood floors are going to be a part of it.


Ralph's 50th Anniversary Flooring Specials

 Photo courtesy of Cassandra Frater



Tags: stories, installation

The Evolution of Hardwood Floor Finishes

Posted on Thu, Jun 11, 2015 @ 16:06 PM

red oak stained Swedish finishThe hardwood floor finishes on the market today are “not your grandfather’s,” as the saying goes.

I’ve been working at Ralph’s Hardwoods since I was a young boy. My father actually started the company the year I was born, 1965, so it’s always been a part of my life, and I’ve been the company’s president for over 20 years.

Therefore, I know from personal experience that the finishes and finishing techniques available today have come a long way from what existed when I first started working with Dad. Advancements have enabled us to produce floors that are both more beautiful and more durable.

Hardwood Floor Finishes Through the Centuries

Before I get to that relatively recent progress, I’d like to share just a bit of the long history of hardwood finishes with you. A lot of advancement occurred before my time—but not really all that long ago considering that hardwood floors first began to be used in homes in the 1600s.

For several centuries, up until the late 1800s, you typically only found them in the homes of the very wealthy, and they were usually intricate, hand-crafted parquet. The only hardwood flooring you could find in the homes of ordinary people was made of roughly cut, unfinished planks that were simply laid down side by side.

Then with the development of tongue-and-groove “side matchers” to attach planks together, along with advancement in milling techniques to lower costs, hardwood flooring began to have mass appeal. And people began using wax to protect them and make them shine. These wax finishes were hard to maintain—more wax had to be applied every six months or so, and any water on the floor would cause it to spot—but that was the best option at the time.

With the introduction of the electric portable wood sander in the 1920s, hardwood flooring popularity again grew.  However, it wasn’t until polyurethane finishes were developed in the 1920s that they really took off.

 The Latest Developments

When polyurethane first began to be used, it was oil-based. Today, you can still find oil-based polyurethane—it remains fairly popular, and we still can use it to create gorgeous floors for our customers.

However, the development of water-based polyurethane has made it a more popular choice. Relative to oil-based polyurethane, water-based is more durable, holds its color better, and has a low level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). It also dries faster and has relatively little odor when applied.

Our most popular finish is another modern technique—the Swedish finish, in which the floor is cured by chemical processes. A Swedish finish has a deeper, richer color than polyurethane finishes and is resistant to developing amber tones over time (as oil-based does) or lightening over time (as water-based can do—sometimes with cool effects, sometimes not).

In terms of durability, a Swedish finish is superior to oil-based polyurethane and comparable to higher-end water-based finishes.

Which finishing option is right for you? It all depends on your situation. At Ralph’s, we work with homeowners to decide on the right finishing option for the color they have chosen and the lifestyle they live.

An Old Finish That’s New Again

One of the recent trends in hardwood floor finishes makes me chuckle. That’s because I’m talking about natural oil finishes, which have been around since long before polyurethane. What’s changed is that better natural oils for hardwood floors have been developed.

Unlike the natural oil finishes of the past, which required buffing, today’s natural oil finishes can simply be squirted on the flooring and rubbed in. As the oil dries, it hardens. This ease of self-maintenance makes natural oil finishes an appealing choice for many. Natural oils’ lack of VOCs, as well as the unique looks the oils can create, are other factors contributing to the growing popularity of this type of finish.


The evolution of hardwood floor finishing has progressed so that homeowners today can get finishes that are more beautiful, durable, and eco-friendly than the finishes used just a few decades ago. We use them all because there is no one perfect finish for each situation.

Tags: hardwood flooring trends, finishes, stains & textures

Getting Just the Look You Want: "English Pub"

Posted on Thu, Jun 04, 2015 @ 14:06 PM


Welcome to the first in our series of blogs on using hardwood flooring to create certain specific looksr. The first style we'll consider is the "English pub" look.

Many people today want the charm, comfort, and coziness of an English pub in their own home. I think it has something to do with creating a sense of familiarity and ease—like the Cheers bar in the classic sitcom, where “everybody knows your name.”

People like walking down into their basement and entering another world—a space that’s warm, inviting, and intimate, where they can relax and entertain in an easy-going atmosphere.

If you like the idea of having an English pub look in your basement, here are some tips on how hardwood floors can help make that happen.

Use medium to dark hardwoods.

Of course, it’s a matter of personal taste, and we’ve seen the pub look pulled off very well with relatively light floors.

Use flooring with texture. 

Hardwood reclaimed from old homes, barns, factories, schools, etc. are wonderful for creating an authentic English pub feel. The same is true for wood that is hand-scraped, wire-brushed, or distressed to give it an aged character.

Use flooring with pronounced grain.

Distinctive grain adds to the casual, informal environment typical of an English pub.

Complement and contrast the flooring to other elements in the room.

The bar, walls, furnishings, and décor should all work together with the flooring to create the English pub look. 

Be careful about choosing soft species of wood.

If you’re going to be doing a lot of entertaining in the room, you can expect things to get dropped on the floor, and soft floors more easily dent.

The right hardwood flooring can be just the element that really pulls off the English pub look, immediately conjuring a sense of hospitality and good times. Please stop by our showroom our give us a call if you’d like to discuss an English pub style for your home.

Tags: hardwood floors & interior design, special series: Getting Just the Look You Want, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends, remodeling

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