White Hardwood Floors: Sacrilege, or Serenity?
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White Hardwood Floors: Sacrilege, or Serenity?

Painting over your hardwoods reflects more light. But there’s a cost…

By Angelica Frey
Fri, Oct 15, 2021 3:12pmGrey Clock 3 min

In August, social media lightning rod and artist Caroline Calloway decided to do some spur-of-the-moment home renovations. With piles of clothes and books still on the ground of her Manhattan apartment, she took white paint to all of the hardwood floors. She documented the process on her social media and an uproar ensued. Commenters on Twitter, where it became a trending topic in the U.S., were entertained and mortified about the seemingly slapdash paint job.

Calloway, who has drawn attention with her homemade ornate candles and sparkly collage art, says the white floors are in step with a new aesthetic. “Before, I was a maximal maximalist, and now I am a minimal maximalist,” she says. The inspiration for her white floors simply came from pictures Calloway saw on Pinterest. “They looked really good, and I want my home to look really good.”

The hashtags #whitefloor and #painttok on TikTok show enthused home renovators—both amateurs and professionals alike—opting for stark, white floors over their traditional ones. Redoing wooden floors taps into consumer demand for sustainability and upcycling, and the bucolic-inspired cottagecore aesthetic, which came to define 2020 and a pandemic spent indoors.

“Painted floorboards create a shabby-chic feel that is both welcoming and textural,” says Gemma Riberti, head of interiors at the trend forecasting agency WGSN.

Content creator Brigette Muller posted a TikTok video in July of her finishing painting her wood floors to more than 400,000 views. Muller, who draws inspiration from French and Victorian decorative styles, had actually just moved into a new apartment that already came with white floors. She painted over them to get her desired, warmer shade of white. “White floors have this lived-in, nostalgic quality that just seems to fit perfectly with my overall style,” she says.

Painting wood floors has broad appeal across generations. Lori Guyer, who owns the antique store White Flower Farmhouse in the North Fork of Long Island specializes in renovation works on a budget. She says she’s been painting wooden floors since around 1995, shortly after she and her husband started their family. “I was trying to make a nice home for a family, and I painted floors, I painted furniture, and I did whatever I could do on a shoestring budget,” she says.

In Scandinavia, white floors make the most of available light. Interior designer Karolina Törnqvist, founder of Studio Törnqvist, based in both London and Stockholm, says that it’s something that has been done in Sweden for centuries, dating back to country cottages painting checkered patterns using white on wood floors around the 1700s. It was a cost-effective way to replicate the patterns in checkered stone floors that were found in France and England.

There is one chief concern with having white floors, immediately apparent to anyone with kids. “It’s hard to keep clean,” says interior designer Orlando Soria. During one of the many California lockdowns, Soria stripped his newly acquired cabin in Fish Camp, California of its blue carpet to paint the plywood underneath white. Due to limited options at his local hardware store, Soria used wall paint instead of floor paint.

Guyer recommends one coat of primer, and then two to three coats of floor paint, with an estimated two-day time commitment, from start to finish. She says oil-based enamel paint is the best way to do it, because it gives a durable enamel protective finish. Adding an extra layer of clear coat, she adds, will help protect the floor, especially if you have dogs or young kids in the house, but it’s not a compulsory step, especially when the paint itself already has a gloss or a semi-gloss finish.

The two main factors determining the longevity of the project are your own proficiency and the strength and quality of the paint itself. Guyer says she repainted one floor in her home after five years. Soria, by contrast, estimates that he will touch his floors up with a brush every six months, saying that the sum of the small paint fixes will still cost less than a total floor renovation.

As for Calloway, she still had to put on a top coat by mid-September and says her floor still had a dull, chalky matte finish. “Yeah, that’s on my to-do list, and I’ll probably pay someone to come do that,” she says. “I think I’ll let the professionals handle the polyurethane.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Stronger demand in some areas is pushing unit rents up faster than houses

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Renters are returning to the apartment market, leading to higher growth in weekly rents for units than houses over the past year, according to REA data. As workers return to their corporate offices, tenants are coming back to the inner city and choosing apartment living for its affordability.

This is a reversal of the pandemic trend which saw many renters leave their inner city units to rent affordable houses on the outskirts. Working from home meant they did not have to commute to the CBD, so they moved into large houses in outer areas where they could enjoy more space and privacy.

REA Group economic analyst Megan Lieu said the return to apartment living among tenants began in late 2021, when most lockdown restrictions were lifted, and accelerated in 2022 after Australia’s international border reopened.

Following the reopening of offices and in-person work, living within close proximity to CBDs has regained importance,” Ms Lieu said.Units not only tend to be located closer to public transport and in inner city areas, but are also cheaper to rent compared to houses in similar areas. For these reasons, it is unsurprising that units, particularly those in inner city areas, are growing in popularity among renters.

But the return to work in the CBD is not the only factor driving demand for apartment rentals. Rapidly rising weekly rents for all types of property, coupled with a cost-of-living crisis created by high inflation, has forced tenants to look for cheaper accommodation. This typically means compromising on space, with many families embracing apartment living again. At the same time, a huge wave of migration led by international students has turbocharged demand for unit rentals in inner city areas, in particular, because this is where many universities are located.

But it’s not simply a demand-side equation. Lockdowns put a pause on building activity, which reduced the supply of new rental homes to the market. People had to wait longer for their new houses to be built, which meant many of them were forced to remain in rental homes longer than expected. On top of that, a chronic shortage of social housing continued to push more people into the private rental market. After the world reopened, disrupted supply chains meant the cost of building increased, the supply of materials was strained, and a shortage of labour delayed projects.

All of this has driven up rents for all types of property, and the strength of demand has allowed landlords to raise rents more than usual to help them recover the increased costs of servicing their mortgages following 13 interest rate rises since May 2022. Many applicants for rentals are also offering more rent than advertised just to secure a home, which is pushing rental values even higher.

Tenants’ reversion to preferring apartments over houses is a nationwide trend that has led to stronger rental growth for units than houses, especially in the capital cities, says Ms Lieu. “Year-on-year, national weekly house rents have increased by 10.5 percent, an increase of $55 per week,” she said.However, unit rents have increased by 17 percent, which equates to an $80 weekly increase.

The variance is greatest in the capital cities where unit rents have risen twice as fast as house rents. Sydney is the most expensive city to rent in today, according to REA data. The house rent median is $720 per week, up 10.8 percent over the past year. The apartment rental median is $650 per week, up 18.2 percent. In Brisbane, the median house rent is $600 per week, up 9.1 percent over the past year, while the median rent for units is $535 per week, up 18.9 percent. In Melbourne, the median house rent is $540 per week, up 13.7 percent, while the apartment median is $500 per week, up 16.3 percent.

In regional markets, Queensland is the most expensive place to rent either a house or an apartment. The house median rent in regional Queensland is $600 per week, up 9.1 percent year-onyear, while the apartment median rent is $525, up 16.7 percent.


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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