Guide to Exotic Hardwood Floors

Get the Pros and Cons of Exotic Woods: Hickory, Cherry, Mahogany and More!

Previously, we reviewed some of the characteristics of some common wood species used for solid plank floors that are common in North America and Europe. In this second installment, I’ll review the characteristics of some less commonly used and exotic wood species that are also being used as flooring.

Exotics are always considered in choosing a flooring design due to their distinctive grain patterns, and they’re best left with natural finishes although your options are limitless. One thing to notes about exotic hardwood floors is that they change color when exposed to light! This can lead to drastic color change once the newly harvested and milled flooring is exposed to natural light. This process is called oxidation and is a natural occurrence in most exotic hardwoods. The length of time for the wood to completely oxidize will vary based on the amount of natural light it is directly exposed to, but generally speaking it takes several months for this transformation to occur. The problem occurs when you look at a sample in a store. It will be both Brazilian Cherry and aged. You love the color and buy it. Then you have the material installed and it looks completely different than what you saw in the store. Now you are confused, frustrated and maybe even angry, wanting to rip out your floors. However, at Flooring Creations we try to always keep samples of the original hardwood that hasn’t been exposed to a lot of light, and a sample that’s oxidized so you can get a better idea of the color range that it changes from once it’s installed, to after it’s been exposed to natural light for awhile.

Mahogany Hardwood Floors - Pros and ConsMahogany is an exotic wood with a checkered past and present. New World mahogany is nearly extinct in its once-extensive native range and is only now being sustainably harvested in Honduras.

Mahogany is a highly durable, water-resistant hardwood when installed as flooring. 20 years ago it was rarely encountered, but tree farms in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands have increased the supply. Interestingly enough, Les Paul guitars are made from mahogany due to its density and acoustic properties. Mahogany exhibits a medium range of color variation between a light orangey/brown with yellowish overtones to a dark reddish/purplish brown. Most of the specie falls into the medium to dark orange/brown mahogany tone.

Pros:Timeless, classic hardwood.

Cons: Verify the source, can be unsustainable

Suggested uses: Throughout the house, indoors or out

Average Price range: $5 to $20 a square foot

Light Sensitivity: Mahogany undergoes a slight degree of color change with a slight muting of the color range over time, especially when exposed to natural light for long amounts of time.

North American Cherry Hardwood Floors - Pros and Cons

North American Cherry is an increasingly common wood species used for floors. It’s beautiful, close-grained and smooth. It takes a variety of stains well and shows up on the market in colors that range from cherry in its natural state, to nearly black.

However, cherry is around 25% softer than red oak and it’s highly reactive to sunlight. It will darken noticeably in a bright room. Be careful using it in areas with a lot of dog and or kid traffic. American Cherry has a cream colored sapwood which contrasts sharply with the reddish heartwood. In the heartwood the color can range from a pinkish red to darker red. American Cherry also has small dark brown gum veins that are part of the character of this species.
Pros: Absolutely gorgeous, adds interest without dominating a room

Cons: Not as resilient as other hard woods, use caution in high-traffic areas

Suggested uses: Living rooms, dining rooms

Average Price range: $4 to $15 a square foot

Light Sensitivity: American Cherry undergoes an extreme degree of color change with pronounced darkening from a pale pink color when fresh milled to a dark reddish color when fully aged. This process occurs within a few weeks in direct sunlight and by oxidation, out of sunlight, over a six to eight month period, as shown in the below picture.

North American Cherry Oxidization Color Range

Brazilian Cherry Hardwood Floors - Pros and ConsBrazilian Cherry is not a true cherry at all, and it’s known as jatoba in Brazil. Whatever its called, it’s an exceptionally hard wood and in my opinion, has more of the characteristics of mahogany than cherry. 

Whatever you call it, Brazilian Cherry tends to be sustainably harvested and it’s always extremely resilient. 

Pros: Many of the characteristics of mahogany, tends to be sustainably harvested 
Cons: May be overwhelming for small rooms 
Suggested uses: Living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and baths 
Average Price range: $3 to $8 a square foot

Light Sensitivity:  Brazilian cherry is extremely light sensitive and in its freshly milled condition will appear in color ranges from salmon to blond, but as it is exposed to light it will rapidly change to either a burgundy or dark brown color, as demonstrated in the picture below.

Brazilian Cherry Oxidization Color Range

Hickory Hardwood Floors - Pros and ConsHickory is starting to show up as floors too. It’s significantly harder than oak and it has a grain pattern and color variation that won’t quit. It has a tendency to add a rustic air in any room where it’s used so it’s a natural choice if you’re drawn towards country or rustic styles.

Its hardness makes it a logical choice for active households.
Pros: Extremely hard so it stands up well to high traffic areas, and it has beautiful grain pattern
Cons: Tends to lend a country air wherever it’s used
Suggested uses: Living rooms, hallways, kitchens, foyers
Average Price range: $4 to $15 a square foot

Light Sensitivity: mildly sensitive to light

Brazilian Walnut Hardwood Floors - Pros and Cons

Brazilian Walnut floors are no doubt a showstopper. But all that beauty comes at a price.

Brazilian Walnut is the name for two entirely different species of tree, with two entirely different sets of characteristics. While the Brazilian hardwood known as Imbuia is grown in the south of the country, the tree known as Ipe is grown country-wide, and is common throughout South America. They both sport the same range of brown tones, and both trees are both durable and insect resistant.

It bears to remember that, with both Ipe and Imbuia, we’re not actually talking about walnut trees. Walnut is a hardwood typically grown in the central and eastern United States, and it features a color that varies from a light pale brown to dark chocolate brown. And this isn’t it. Neither of these trees bear any nuts or fruit; the use of the word ‘walnut’ is a reference to the colour of its wood rather than to the characteristics of the tree as a whole.

So what are Ipe and Imbuia, really? The two species have the look and the feel of a classic hardwood, such as oak or teak. They are rich in color, and while Ipe is dense, Imbuia is porous.

This doesn’t mean that Imbuia is a poor example of a hardwood. In fact, Imbuia processes more smoothly and easily than Ipe because of its relative softness. This means that its grain is softer to the touch, and it can be easily worked into a number of shapes, such as for banisters that match flooring.

While Ipe is more difficult to work with, it’s wonderfully dense. Ipe is famously known for being used for the boardwalk slats along the beach of New York City’s Coney Island, where it was in place for over a quarter of a century before it had to be refinished.

Pros: Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful

Cons: While Ipe is an extremely hard specimen, three times as hard as oak and one of the likely contenders for the hardest trees on the planet, Imbuia, well, isn’t. Its hardness rating is so low that it verges on a softwood plant.

Suggested uses: Living rooms, dining rooms, stair treads

Average Price range: $8 to $20 a square foot

Light Sensitivity: Brazilian Walnut also has large color variation and like Brazilian Cherry, it darkens significantly over time.

Tigerwood Hardwood Floors - Pros and ConsTigerwood is located in Latin America, mainly Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The sapwood of tigerwood is brownish-white to dirty gray, while the heartwood is reddish-brown to light golden-brown in color. The species has a mottled, wavy or interlocked, irregular grain. Tigerwood has a medium to dull luster and is fine in texture.

Pros: Extremely hard and beautiful

Cons: Has some of the same problems as Zebra Wood does with its supply

Suggested uses: Living rooms, dining rooms, kitchens and baths

Average Price range: $8 to $15 a square foot

Light Sensitivity: Tigerwood will darken over time upon light exposure. It will become darker reddish-brown and then stabilize.

Don’t let the light sensitivity of these exotic hardwood species scare you away from them though, you can help prevent color change by following these simple tips:

  • Closing your drapes, shades or blinds during daylight hours will limit the amount of light that comes into a room and thus limiting fading.
  • Have a UV film installed on your window glass
  • Move rugs and furniture: From time to time, rearrange your furniture and floor coverings to allow sunlight to hit the previously covered areas of your floors.
  • If it’s not possible to move furniture, consider removing at least the area rugs during the sunnier months and replacing them in the darker winter months.
  • Finishes with UV inhibitors: Finish manufacturers are continually trying to find solutions to this problem of fading and color change. Unfortunately at the moment there isn’t a finish that can completely stop this process. That’s the case with prefinished as well as site finished.
    There are finishes though that will slow the fading process down and it’s definitely worth looking into using one of these products.
  • Awnings: One of the best ways of stopping the sun’s harmful rays from damaging your floors is by blocking them before they even get to your windows. Awnings work great in this regard.

Click Here To Get More Information About Why Hardwood Floors Change Color ( Darken or Fade ) When Exposed to Light, And What To Do About It