"No matter how hard you try to do something, the accident always seems to turn out better," says Peter West, president of West Flooring & Design in Calverton, N.Y.

He's specifically talking about stain colors, which his company is known for. If his clients reject the final color he presents, they always find what they want in a discard pile. This colored herringbone floor achieved perfection due to an imperfection—milling tolerances.

West was hired to produce a colored floor for a designer of a 100-square-foot space inside the local Holiday House Design Show, a fundraiser for breast cancer research. The designer wanted a green floor, which was easy enough for West. He went to Sherwin Williams, bought paint in five shades of green and painted them onto samples. He didn't like that. It was too solid, too opaque. So he created a stain from each color, applied the stain to some planks and, instead of stopping there, decided to run the boards through the company's wire-brush machine.

He set the wire brush so it would barely nick the top of the boards, but the end result was less than uniform. Because of slight imperfections in the thickness of each board, the wire-brush either scraped away most of the color, didn't change the color at all, or created a color somewhere in between.

West's employees thought the variations meant failure, but West loved it. He showed the designer and, when she couldn't choose her favorite color of the bunch, he told her to "throw" them all on the floor randomly. She loved the idea (after some convincing from West). The installed floor made an impression—so much that it was featured in Traditional Home magazine, making this floor one of West's better accidents.

"It was a nice change; rather than everything being perfect, it showed the imperfections," West says. "You've got to play with the imperfections."

Andrew Averill is the former associate editor at Wood Floor Business. A graduate of journalism at the University of Wisconsin, he had internships at newspapers across the country—San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor, The Flint Journal—before a bad case of rug burn turned him into an advocate for floors of a harder disposition.