Ralph's Blog

Producing Masterful Hardwood Floors: The Learning Never Stops

Posted on Fri, Aug 11, 2017 @ 18:08 PM

I’ve been working in the hardwood floor industry since I was a little boy, “learning at my father’s knee,” as they say.


Twenty-five years ago, when I took over Ralph’s Hardwood Floors from my dad, Ralph Lorenz, one thing I’m pretty sure I did right was to realize I was far from through learning.

The hardwood floor industry is changing all the time—with new styles, new materials, and new installation techniques. Just as with so many other fields, you can’t rely only on what you already know. You have to keep seeking knowledge, or else you fall behind the latest innovations.

I keep current with hardwood floor trends and innovations in many ways, including our company’s membership in the National Wood Flooring Association, an organization that provides many valuable training and educational services, such as guidelines, tech manuals, live tech support, and “NWFA University,” an online portal full of information to keep my installers and me continually learning about the best—and better—ways to practice our craft and keep our customers more-than-satisfied.

The NWFA also offers a trade magazine, which we diligently read at Ralph’s. And they hold annual expos, which I attend every year.  Every other year, I also attend the Surfaces trade show, which is designed for all floor coverings. From this show, I get a better take on colors and trends, whereas the NWFA expo is more about techniques to achieve certain hardwood floor looks.

Customers tell us where to focus

Customers frequently drive the course of our continuing education. When they request a certain look, and we’re not sure of the best way to achieve it, we look to sources such as the NWFA, other trade magazines, and websites to figure out the best solution for the customer. I’ll even spend time talking to other industry professionals if I know they have more knowledge about the customer’s desired look than we do.

The goal is always to find the materials and techniques that will produce the best result for the customer.

This process is nothing new for us. When I took over in the 1990s, there was big demand for maple floors stained with dark color. As I said, customer requests often focus our learning efforts, and that was the case then just as it is now. I wasn’t satisfied with our results with this style of flooring, so we got advice from any source we could, did our research, and learned through trial-and-error experiments in our shop.

We tried multiple combinations of sanding techniques combined with different stain brands—until we had figured out how to create dark-stained maple floors that made our customers go “wow!” Over the years, we’ve done the same in learning how to achieve excellent results with other consumer trends, such as hard exotic woods, lighter red material (e.g., red birch), and hand-scraped flooring

Most recently, we’ve focused on learning about current trends like wider-plank flooring, engineered floors, lighter-textured materials, and luxury vinyl tile.

I can only speak for myself, but I suspect my installers all feel the same way—this constant learning is one of the best parts of the job, a part that keeps us feeling refreshed every day.

Tags: about hardwood floors, custom hardwood flooring, hardwood flooring trends

Two hardwood alternatives that keep the beautiful wood look we love.

Posted on Tue, Oct 11, 2016 @ 18:10 PM


Vinyl_Flooring.pngHardwood is what we do best at Ralph`s and most of the time it is the flooring we recommend. That being said there are areas of the home where the incorporation of natural wood is a no-go even when they support the natural timeless beauty of natural hardwood. In some below grade rooms or high-moisture areas and such as bathrooms or pool cabanas hardwood flooring is not the best fit.

Luckily we have some wood-look alternatives that we recommend that make it possible get the function required and to achieve the stylish appearance of hardwood. Our two current favorite faux-wood floors are luxury vinyl and porcelain tile. Both options provide durable surfaces against moisture and can look great when properly installed.

Luxury Vinyl

Recently improved printing and embossing techniques means we are seeing more vinyl with surfaces that look and feel more authentic than ever. Durable and low maintenance, luxury vinyl can be made to look like a variety of species and textures in several colors.

Vinyl comes in a variety of formats including sheets (6- or 12-foot-wide rolls), tiles and planks. Vinyl tiles are easy to install and can be laid in any orientation, from checkerboard to diagonal, replicating the look of ceramic or stone. Vinyl planks are designed to closely resemble hardwood and even come in the same size as wood planks, and feature the most realistic features such as texturing and beveled edges.

Porcelain Tile

Similar to vinyl planks, wood-look porcelain tiles come in the same sizes as hardwood planks and looks like wood right down to the grain and texture. We commonly hear that well-chosen porcelain tiles look so realistic guests are surprised to hear the floor is tile!

Not unlike Luxury Vinyl, specialized scanners, graphics, and printers are helping to produce many realistic and beautiful wood looks in a durable tile. The nuances in color and grain provide design flexibility because they mirror the color and patterns of real hardwood meaning you are likely to find one that fits your personal wants and needs and even to closely coordinate with natural hardwood in other parts of the home.

Wood-look alternatives can add a look of elegance, old-world charm, modern trendiness, or just about any other design aesthetic you may be trying to achieve in rooms that aren't ideal for real hardwood flooring. They can be versatile, easy to clean, and comes in a variety of colors and styles.

And they look like wood. We like that the best. In fact, we’ve dedicated a large section of our showroom to luxury vinyl. 

Tags: about hardwood floors, hardwood flooring trends

A Smooth Flow: Hardwood Floors and Open Floorplans

Posted on Thu, Jun 23, 2016 @ 15:06 PM

Open floorplans and hardwood floors go well together.More and more new homes being built these days feature open floorplans, and homeowners across the world are knocking down walls to create open floorplans as they renovate older homes.

This global trend has clearly taken hold here in Wisconsin. Many of our customers building new homes or renovating want an open floorplan. That means the living room, dining room, and kitchen aren’t separated by walls—in other words, a kitchen that’s open to a “great room.”

This popularity of open home designs is driven by several factors:

  • Sociability. The lack of walls encourages conversation and interaction, which appeals to today’s busy, active families who like to spend time together when they’re all at home, as well as to homeowners who like to entertain.
  • The decline of formal dinner parties. Formal dinner parties just aren’t as common as they used to be, so there’s no need for a separate dining room.
  • A connection to nature. Open floor plans allow natural light to spread throughout the home, and the lack of walls allows everyone to see particularly beautiful outside views that would otherwise be visible from only one room.
  • Spaciousness. Leaving out the walls obviously creates a larger open space than if the area was divided. In many people’s eyes, this makes an entire home seem more spacious.

When it comes to hardwood floors, homeowners who choose open floorplans usually reinforce the roomy, flowing feel by selecting the same type of hardwood flooring for the entire area. Instead of creating some distinction between the areas by using a different style of flooring or decorative borders, they go for a uniform look that unites the whole space.

In general, that’s what we recommend to our customers who want an open floorplan. That’s not to say there aren’t creative possibilities in mixing things up—for example, by staining the floor in the kitchen a different color. But for most people seeking an open look, uniform hardwood flooring gives them the appearance they want. Furnishings, rugs, and the kitchen counters/bar are enough to define the areas of the open space for them.

A hardwood floor crosspiece is ideal for separating areas in an open floorplan.If you do want some distinction between the flooring in rooms, but want to keep an open, flowing atmosphere, you can use a simple hardwood crosspiece, which creates a subtle transition.

Light-colored flooring (maybe even whitewashed) lends itself well to the natural, airy feel of open floorplans. Wide plank hardwood floors are also a good match.

Any grade of wood can look great, but lower grades that show natural characteristics often appeal to homeowners who like open floorplans because both choices work together to create a causal, inviting feel.

Please visit our showroom to learn more about how hardwood flooring can enhance an open floorplan in your home. Or give us a call at 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902, and we’ll talk about the possibilities.

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

Love at First Sight: Hardwood Floors and Kitchen Cabinets

Posted on Thu, May 26, 2016 @ 16:05 PM

Paint is often used on kitchen cabinets to provide a contrast with the hardwood floor colors.Kitchens are a great place for hardwood flooring. They’re also a perfect opportunity to use hardwood floors in conjunction with other interior design elements to create a look that’s more than the “sum of the parts.”

Kitchen cabinets are usually the most important part of achieving this enhanced appearance. The way in which they complement the flooring can establish the entire feel of the kitchen, and a good pairing can elevate the room’s beauty and unite all its features.

The traditional thinking about how to pair kitchen cabinets and hardwood floors has been to make the cabinets a shade lighter, with a similar grain pattern in the cabinet and floor. There were a lot of kitchens with dark cabinets and dark flooring!

Likewise, we saw homeowners going for a casual, “breezy” look stick to light tones in both the flooring and cabinetry.

But tastes have changed, and homeowners are being more creative than ever in using kitchen cabinets with hardwood floors. It’s now stylish to use cabinets in a way that complements the flooring but doesn’t “match” it in the traditional sense.

So we’re seeing a lot of contrasting tones, often created using paint on the cabinets. Dark cabinets and light flooring (or vice versa) have become very popular. Bright, vivid colors are sometimes used on the cabinets. And matching the wood species of the flooring and the cabinets is certainly not a priority for most people.

Sure, we still get people looking to match design elements—such as installing cabinets with an antique look to match reclaimed hardwood flooring. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the traditional idea of matching the cabinetry colors with that of the flooring. It’s all a matter of taste

But whatever that taste is, the cabinets in the kitchen will play a major role in displaying it. They’re a lifelong partner with the flooring in creating the look you’re after.

We’re happy to talk with you about how the hardwood flooring in your kitchen will relate to the cabinetry. Please stop by our showroom or give us a call at 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902 to schedule an appointment or start a conversation.

Tags: hardwood floor colors, hardwood flooring trends, hardwood floors & interior design

Getting Just the Look You Want

Posted on Sat, Mar 26, 2016 @ 08:03 AM

The “look” of hardwood flooring is something that’s hard to put a finger on. That’s because it depends on who’s doing the looking.

If you’re deciding on hardwood floors for your home, trust your personal taste. If you want a casual look, for example, rely on your judgment about what looks casual and relaxing to you—not on what a magazine or website calls “casual.”

Nonetheless, despite the personal nature of how a floor looks, there are certain “looks” that can be defined. While the exact color, grain, sheen, etc. can vary somewhat, these looks are created using a combination of characteristics known to produce a specific style.

In a recent blog series, we focused on some of the most popular of these looks.

English Pub. You can enjoy the cozy warmth of an English Pub without having to leave home. Many homeowners are choosing this look for their basements.

Urban. Aging industrial properties are being converted into homes, and the right hardwood floors help maintain the character of these urban spaces.

Victorian. If you want to recreate the refinement of the Victorian era in your own home, you need elegant hardwood floors. Parquet borders are often used to enhance this look.

Rustic Cabin. Because hardwood flooring is a natural product made from trees, it harmonizes beautifully with the natural surroundings around a home in the woods—particularly if the flooring looks like it belongs in an old cabin.

French Country. Light, naturally colored hardwood floors help create the open, airy look of a home in the French countryside.

Beach House. Many people with homes near water want flooring with an informal, care-free look that puts people at ease.

Ralph’s can help you create these styles, and many others—always keeping in mind that what really matters is how it looks to you.

I invite you to visit our showroom. We’ll help you get just the look you want!

Tags: about hardwood floors, hardwood flooring trends, picking the right floor for your lifestyle

When Less Sheen Is More

Posted on Thu, Mar 10, 2016 @ 15:03 PM

Low-sheen hardwood flooring looks casual and hides wear and tear.Most people like things that are shiny.

Shiny new cars. Shiny jewelry. Shiny smiles.

But what about shiny hardwood floors?

Well, many people do like shiny, glossy hardwood floors, or what we call “floors with high sheen.” But shiny isn’t for everyone, and there’s undeniably a trend toward low-sheen matte finishes.

The increasing popularity of floors finished with natural oils has something to do with that. A natural oil finish has a very warm, natural appearance, with no “shine.” 

But the use of natural oils isn’t the only reason that low-sheen finishes have become so stylish. The low-sheen appearance is in tune with the broad trend toward natural-looking flooring, and even people selecting traditional finishes are going low-sheen.

It’s all a matter of personal taste, but some people want hardwood floors that are more casual than formal, and the formality created by a glossy sheen just isn’t for them.

Practical concerns also play a role. High-gloss and even semi-gloss floors will show wear and tear more than low-sheen floors. That’s because high-sheen floors look so elegant and “shiny” that any little scrape, ding, or dent will draw the eye, similar to the first scratch on a new car.

That’s no problem for hardwood floors that see little traffic. But a high-sheen floor in a heavily trafficked area will begin to look worn in the areas that see the heavy traffic. You’ll be able to see where people walk the most, such as by the front or back door (or the path to the kitchen!).

For people with children and/or indoor pets, a low-sheen finish is particularly appealing because the wear and tear they cause blends in so much better than it does with high-sheen floors. That means they can enjoy their flooring longer without having to refinish it!

To compare the “shininess” of various finishes, stop by our showroom. We’re not going to push low-sheen over high-sheen—they both have their place, and high-sheen floors can be absolutely gorgeous. But you will be able to compare and see the possibilities.

Whether for stylistic or practical reasons, low-sheen hardwood floors might be exactly the look you’re after.

Tags: hardwood flooring trends, picking the right floor for your lifestyle, finishes, stains & textures, natural oils

Hardwood Floor Trends: Long Boards

Posted on Thu, Feb 25, 2016 @ 15:02 PM

Long plank hardwood flooring is back in style!A recent trend in hardwood flooring is the use of long boards. Homeowners, home builders, and interior designers—inspired by European styles— have been increasingly attracted to the look created by length.

Long boards are actually nothing new. Before shorter boards came into style in the mid-20th century, long planks were common in the U.S.

For the rest of the century, however, most hardwood floor planks were less than 9 inches long. Some were as short as 2 inches.

Now boards from 9 inches to 8 feet are common, and some homeowners even want planks as long as 12 feet or more. As a design element, long boards are striking the right chord with many people.

I think the increased popularity of prefinished hardwood flooring is also a factor.

Unlike hardwood flooring finished on site by professional installers who can sand boards to make them an even height, most prefinished hardwood floors have a beveled edge to compensate for slight irregularities in the subfloor and small differences in milling thicknesses. With short (and narrow) boards, the beveled edges become very apparent and make a floor look too busy in many people’s eyes. Longer and wider boards help “hide” the beveled edges to create a more seamless look.

Whatever the reasons for this trend, there’s no denying that long boards are back in style! Are they right for you?

To see samples of long hardwood floor boards, please visit our showroom. Call 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902 for an appointment, or just stop by. We’ll be glad to talk with you about the use of long boards or any other aspect of hardwood flooring.

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

Hardwood Flooring Trends: It’s A Wide World

Posted on Thu, Feb 11, 2016 @ 15:02 PM

Wide planks are increasingly popular as a hardwood floor option.Hardwood flooring planks are growing wider.

Planks just a little over 2” used to be standard, but now planks wider than 5” are common, and many homeowners are even choosing planks as wide as 10” or greater. Wide hardwood flooring has become fashionable interior design.

This trend isn’t a matter of a specific design style. Whatever look you’re after— casual or formal, contemporary or rustic—wide hardwood floors can help you achieve it.  Many people simply love the appearance of wide planks, regardless of their other stylistic preferences.

And that love is spreading. Homeowners are seeing wide hardwood floors in other families’ homes and deciding they want them in their own.

Many interior designers, as well as home design magazines and websites, have helped to spur and spread this trend toward wide hardwood floors. But, ultimately, the trend wouldn’t be a trend if large numbers of homeowners didn’t like the way wide hardwood floors look. 

Are You Okay with Engineered Flooring?

If you’re one of those enamored with wide planks, an important consideration is that wide hardwood flooring typically performs best when it’s engineered rather than solid wood.

It’s possible to use solid wood cut wide, but the wider the cut, the less stable the hardwood flooring will be. That means it’s more likely to cup or gap over time.

Engineered wide-plank hardwood flooring, on the other hand, has greater stability because of how it’s manufactured. For narrower planks, this usually isn’t a big issue. But for planks wider than 5” or so, we generally recommend engineered hardwood flooring.

Large or small room?

Another consideration is the size of the room(s) where the wide hardwood flooring will be installed. Wide planks look great in large rooms, making them seem even more spacious and open. But in small rooms, a smaller width might be the best choice.

Not only do wide planks usually fail to make a small room look bigger, they tend to overwhelm it, highlighting its smallness. You might want to think twice about wide boards in a small foyer or powder room, for instance.

To see samples of wide hardwood flooring, please visit our showroom. Call 920.984.3383 or 800.354.9902 for an appointment, or just stop by. We’ll be glad to talk with you about the use of wide planks or any other aspect of hardwood flooring.

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

Ralph's wins Best of Customer Service Award from Houzz

Posted on Sat, Jan 30, 2016 @ 09:01 AM


At Ralph’s, we pride ourselves on first-rate customer service. Throughout our 50-plus years, delighting customers has been our constant goal.

That’s why it was so gratifying when we learned that we have received a Best of Customer Service award from Houzz, the leading website for home design and remodeling.

 “Anyone building, remodeling, or decorating looks to Houzz for the most talented and service-oriented professionals” said Liza Hausman, vice president of Industry Marketing for Houzz. “We’re so pleased to recognize Ralph’s Hardwood Floor Company, voted one of our ‘Best of Houzz’ professionals by our enormous community of homeowners and design enthusiasts actively remodeling and decorating their homes.”

Houzz has more than 35 million monthly unique users. The Best of Customer Service award is based on several factors, including the number and quality of customer reviews a company received in 2015.

We are honored by this recognition and all the positive reviews we’ve received. It’s confirmation that we’re living up to our mission of always leaving our customers with not only beautiful hardwood floors, but also with memories of a pleasant and satisfying customer experience.

We strive for no hassles and no headaches, and when problems do arise, we take responsibility and make things right. That’s the way we’ve always done it, and that’s the way we’ll always do it.

Thanks to Houzz and its users for letting us know that our effort is appreciated!

Follow Ralph’s Hardwood Floor Co., Inc. on Houzz: http://www.houzz.com/pro/ralphshardwoodfloors/ralphs-hardwood-floors

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors, hardwood flooring trends

Getting new hardwood floors? Don’t go it alone.

Posted on Sat, Jan 16, 2016 @ 10:01 AM


Every time I walk through a big-box store and see their selection of “low-cost” hardwood flooring, I get a bad feeling.

I start thinking about the people who buy this flooring. They think they’re getting a deal because they’re buying at a cheap per-square-foot price. But I know from my lifetime of working with hardwood floors that these folks are likely in for an unpleasant surprise.

The same is true of people who buy “budget” hardwood flooring online. It troubles me to think about how this buying decision will taint their experience with hardwood floors. They’re essentially trying to create their own customized hardwood floors, so their expectations are high—and I worry that they won’t be met.

I’m not even talking about the quality of the flooring, although that can be a significant issue with the pre-finished and engineered hardwood flooring on the big-box store shelves and the “bargain” websites. A lot of poor-quality products are being sold.

What really gets me is that—even if homeowners buy the best-quality flooring available in big-box stores or online—they’re missing out on the value of working with a full-service hardwood flooring company.

I know what you might be thinking: As the president of Ralph’s, of course I’d say working with a full-service hardwood flooring company is the way to go. So let me explain exactly what I mean.

The value we offer begins when you walk into our showroom or we visit your home to discuss your project. We’ll ask questions about the look you’re after, your lifestyle, your budget, and any other factors that will determine the best flooring for you. We’ll answer questions and offer advice as you make choices about hardwood floor characteristics such as species, finish, color, and plank dimensions—always listening to your vision for your dream floors.

Then we do the installation or refinishing. When you work with us, you have a one-stop solution: There’s no need to buy flooring one place and then hire an installer.

More importantly, you get the advantage of our highly skilled installation team, whose crew leaders average 15 years of experience. In our more than 50 years of serving northeast Wisconsin, we’ve built up a sizable amount of hardwood floor knowledge that’s shared among the entire team. Our installers are dedicated craftsmen who take tremendous pride in their work—or else they wouldn’t be employed by Ralph’s. They eagerly learn the expert installation techniques we’ve picked up over the years, and they all stay on top of the latest trends and techniques.

This knowledgeable installation is critical because the quality of installation plays a major role in the overall quality of the flooring. Poor installation can not only cause issues with appearance, it can negatively affect the floor’s durability.

Another benefit of working with us is that we have long-standing relationships with top architects, builders, and interior designers in the area. We’re used to working in concert with these professionals to get your floors done on budget and schedule—with a result that puts a huge smile on your face.

We may even be able to help you avoid hiring a specialty contractor to get just the look you’re after. We offer services such as installing base shoes in kitchens to match with cabinetry or installing tile or cork in a foyer or bathroom to blend with hardwood flooring. If you do need a specialty contractor, we can help you find the best.

All you need to do is stop by our showroom to get a feel for how we can help you get your dream floors, within your budget. That’s how you can get the best deal on hardwood floors. After all, there’s no sense in buying hardwood flooring that you’re not going to be satisfied with. What’s the savings in that?

Image courtesy of Tim Beverley

Tags: stories, custom hardwood flooring, about hardwood floors, hardwood flooring trends

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