Craftsmanship Across the Globe: Introducing the Winners of the 2024 WFB Design Awards

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Hailing everywhere from Italy to Portugal to Cincinnati to Washington, D.C., to Brazil to Chicago (by way of Poland), the recipients of this year's WFB Design Awards prove, through sweat and creativity, that true craftsmanship has no borders. 

Each of the projects highlighted on the following pages pushed the artists out of their comfort zones and into new levels of wood flooring excellence. We are honored to share their inspirational work and to announce the awards for Best Residential, Best Commercial, Best Stairs, Best Gym, Readers' Choice and Next Gen (for companies owned by someone 35 or younger).

Congratulations to all of the winners, who were selected by an independent panel of wood flooring experts and, for Readers' Choice, via an online survey. Thank you to this year's sponsor, LED Coating Solutions by Archetypal, which will provide each of the winners with a Vesting 24-color LED-cured oil kit, six shades of Heidelberg LED-cured oil and one battery-operated LED light. Plus, one winner will receive a $500 Visa gift card.

And, finally, thanks to all who submitted to the 2024 Design Awards, which was one of the most competitive Design Awards yet. You can bet you'll be seeing other entrants' work in future pages of WFB soon.

We want to hear from you next year, too—to enter our 2025 contest, which is open to all wood flooring professionals, in the U.S. and around the world, go to this link. To see this year's winners, scroll down.

Readers' Choice

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Universal Floors | Washington, D.C.

Since this massive project graced the cover of this magazine's February/March 2024 issue (see the detailed story about this project here), it's been on a winning streak, taking not only the coveted Readers' Choice prize in this contest but also a 2024 Craftsmanship Award from the Washington Business Congress and a "Merit in Outstanding Subcontractor" from the U.S. General Services Administration Construction Awards.

Located in the historic Mellon Auditorium, the project involved tearing out approximately 14,500 square feet of wood flooring, doing weeks of extensive subfloor prep and then installing new wood flooring in the same exact layout as the original floor, which was completed in 1935. The main area of the auditorium features white oak chevron, including diamond patterns cutting across the floor, and a stage area with straight-laid wood and a bent perimeter.

Universal Floors president Sprigg Lynn is quick to emphasize that a project of this scope and difficulty was made possible only with the incredible teamwork on the part of everyone involved. Universal Floors handled the demolition, subfloor prep and installation, and then brought in longtime collaborators Low Country Flooring for the sanding and finishing portion of the job. High-end pros Steve Bumpus, of Burlington, Conn., and Steve Seabaugh, of Cape Girardeau, Mo., also assisted with the installation.

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The timing of the project at the tail end of the pandemic, when there were still supply chain disruptions, added to the complications, and Lynn says the suppliers and distributors involved went above and beyond to make sure he had what was needed, from adhesive to spare parts for the sanding machines.

The fact that the space was occupied during work—the building is home to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency—meant there were strict limits on working hours and noise, adding complications to an already complex job. But when it was complete, an entire team from the U.S. government came on site to inspect it and did not have a single complaint. 

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While Lynn says it's always nice to win an award, "I'm happier for everyone in our company involved in it, because it wasn't like I went out there with a hammer and just did everything!" he says. "I get more enjoyment out of winning it for my guys. You can only pay someone so much, and most people need more than just pay and a steady job—they need a morale builder."

For Lynn, an aficionado of historical architecture, the greatest reward is the space itself: "This is the largest historic reproduction in the United States, and it's just beautiful, it's breathtaking."—K.M.W.


Advertisers appear in bold.

Abrasives: Bona, Norton | Adhesives: BonaStaufWakol | Big machines: American Sanders, Galaxy Floor Sanding Machines | Cleats: Powernail Company | Distributors: Derr Flooring, Horizon Forest Products, Lynn Wholesale Flooring | Dust containment: Oneida Vortex and Cyclonic | Edger: Lägler Flip | Finish: Professional Coatings UnoCoat Hardwax Uroil | Laser: Hilti | Moisture barrier: Loba PU-280 | Multi-Head Sander, Vacuums: Bona | Nailers: Bostitch, Powernail Company | Power Stations: American Sanders, Bona | Palm Sanders, Track Saw, Miter Saw: Festool | Self-Leveler: MAPEI | Company Sourcing Wood Flooring: Premiere Finishing & Coating

Watch a video showing scenes from this project start to finish:

See a time-lapse video of the coating process: 

Best Residential

The winner of the Best Residential 2024 WFB Design Award by Fino Oficio.The winner of the Best Residential 2024 WFB Design Award by Fino Oficio.

Fino Oficio Lisbon, Portugal

The root cause of this project by Fino Oficio was a root—a massive Eucalyptus burl root, to be specific. "The design was born in my head since I laid my hands on this amazing piece," says João Dias, who runs Fino Oficio with his wife and business partner, Susy.

They found the canvas for João's brainchild in a duplex belonging to a superfan of the duo's past wood floor creations. They agreed on a lacewood and sucupira basketweave to encompass the root.

The pieces for the basketweave, which would go in the main foyer, were all cut on site with a table saw before being dry-fitted and glued down. Sanding the "very soft" lacewood alongside the ultra-dense sucupira was "an experience like no other," says João. "It's incredibly hard not to oversand the lacewood … it took all of our sanding experience and then some."

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João got the idea of burn-staining the lacewood after it was installed and just about ready to be finished. "After we saw how it would look, it was a no-brainer," João says. "We had to pull the plug on the finish and delay the job delivery for another week—but boy was it worth it." 

Perhaps the most harrowing part of the project was routing in the burl root, a task João decided to tackle free-hand. "Everyone was biting their nails, since it was really risky," he says. "It took me a full eight hours to route everything perfectly since we were taking only 2 mm in each pass to make sure we didn't splinter the basketweave."

If that wasn't arduous enough, sanding the root was "a nightmare," says João: "Our ceramic paper was clogged after literally one minute of sanding." Once sanded, they filled the routing tracks and the installed burl root's cracks with a black epoxy.

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The border installation was last and featured a strip of purple heart encompassed by satin wood. "I had yet another idea of having the border coming from the living room, interlocking with the border in the entry hallway in order to have the same exact border all around like it was one," João says. The floor was finished with three coats of a two-component oil finish.

In the end, the project pushed the team out of their comfort zone as they constantly sought ways to elevate the project to new heights, creating a floor you can't help but root for. "It's going to be difficult to have such a bold and challenging job in years to come," João says.—R.K.


Advertisers appear in bold.

Abrasive: SIA, Bona, Festool | Adhesive: Pallmann P5 Buffer: Pallmann Spider Edger: Bona Dual-Edge | Filler: Pallmann | Finish: Pallmann Magic Oil Ergo 2K | Moisture barrier: Uzin PE 480 | Moisture meter: Tramex | Router: Festool OF 1100 | Sander (Big machine): Pallmann Cobra 2 | Sander (Palm): Festool RO150 | Saws: Festool Kapex, Festool CSC SYS 50, Festool TS55 | Wood flooring: Marques & Marques 

Best Commercial 

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Stile Societa Cooperativa | Città di Castello, Italy

The new Maritime Center for Excellence at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn., was designed to transform the academy's waterfront and provide an impressive space for Swearing-In Day, Parents Weekend, Homecoming and more. Although the setting and the space are stunning, one might argue it's the wood flooring that steals the show. 

The Washington, D.C., location of nationwide architecture firm SmithGroup designed the Center, which includes meeting spaces, interactive classrooms and a Science and Engineering Innovation Laboratory. 

The compass design envisioned by SmithGroup evolved as the project progressed. "At the beginning of Stile's involvement in the design process, the client was made aware that Stile could achieve any design they wanted for the space ... This allowed for the compass to go from a simpler design to the final complex inlaid design featuring a detailed rendering of an eagle insignia, as well as letters and numbers for the identifying features," explains AJ Minite, principal at ALKS & Associates, which represents Stile in Washington, D.C.; Maryland; Virginia; and New York. "The compass design was designed to honor the U.S. Coast Guard students and alumni, along with incorporating the accompanying navigational coordinates for the location of the building."

The design measuring 25 feet from point to point was laser-cut from engineered wood flooring. "Teak was selected as the primary species for the flooring because of its connection with naval vessels, as well as the durability and beauty it provides as a flooring product," Minite says. Engineered wenge provides the darker accent wood.

The pieces were laser-cut, dry-fit and palletized for shipment, and then South Windsor, Conn.-based Dalene Flooring did the installation, sanding and finishing. The flooring had been presanded at the factory but was given a final sanding and coated on-site with commercial-grade waterborne finish.

The completed wood floor fits with the mission to impress. "The finished project is visually stunning and very impressive to see in person, as it beautifully incorporates within the full design of the new building along the water," Minite says.—K.M.W.


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Adhesive: MAPEI | Finish: Bona Traffic | Wood Flooring: Stile Societa Cooperativa

Best Stairs

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Parquet Nobre | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The goal of these stairs, which connect three floors in a high-end Brazilian home, was for the first set of steps to be a mirror image of the ones floating directly above them. To pull off the Escher-esque feat, architects at Miguel Pinto Guimarães Arquitetura turned to Thiago Barros and his team at Parquet Nobre. 

Barros has tackled plenty of staircases in his career, but says the amount of detail in this one was special. "This was a unique project because it involved a high degree of detailing and precision, with constant interactions with the architects to ensure that our technical solutions were still aligned with their initial concept," Barros says.

Peroba mica wood, native to Brazil, was selected for the job. The species has a "trendy medium tone," says Barros, and is valued for its medium density, stability and minimal tool wear.

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They began fabricating the treads and risers in their workshop, using a 3D modeling system to visualize the project and help piece it together. The pieces for the 38 steps were cut and numbered, and then they used a router to add a groove detail in every riser and outer string cover to match the groove that would fit the glass guardrail. The pieces were then sanded with 40-, 60-, and 80-grit and given a sealer coat before being transferred to the job site.

When they arrived for the installation, Barros and his team were met with no shortage of new-build chaos. "We had to work with great calmness and patience, consistently negotiating with other professionals on-site," Barros says. As the staircase took shape, however, Barros says a certain respect from the other trades began to emerge that made completing it easier. "They admired the complexity of the project," Barros says.

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The steps were installed with glue over the metal structure, with screws used only inside the groove details so they would remain unseen. "The most challenging part was adjusting some wooden pieces to fit into the metal structure, which was produced with little concern for squareness and welding burrs," Barros says.

Once everything was adjusted and installed, the stairs were given two coats of water-based finish. The result of the three-month job was pure craftsmanship, visible whether you're looking up or looking down. 

"This staircase is a statement about the wood's ability to adapt to grand ideas," says Barros, "and how teamwork blending digital techniques with craftsmanship can deliver great results."—R.K.


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Abrasive, Finish: Bona | Filler: Massa Fixa P51 Super Mell | Moisture meter: Lignomat | Router: Bosch | Sander (Palm): Raimann and Bosch | Saws: DeWalt, Makita | Wood flooring: Parquet Nobre

Next Generation

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Floor Master Co. | Crystal Lake, Ill.

When Matthew Szyszka sees something he likes in a wood floor, he files it away for future use. For this project, located in his own home's family room, he pulled that file open and never let it close. "I combined all my favorites into this project," Szyszka says. "I see regular floors on a daily basis, so the goal was to create something that I will enjoy every time I come back home."

And so was born this blue, entirely hand-scraped basketweave with quartersawn white oak and walnut.

Szyszka began with the field, cutting the solid 6-inch quartersawn white oak planks. He used walnut, bubinga and maple for the 103 squares. Szyszka worked carefully on nights and weekends in between jobs on the project, which was installed using glue and only a few nails over the plywood subfloor. "My baby was sleeping while I was installing the floor—I didn't want the compressor to keep running," Szyszka laughs. When the field was installed, Szyszka hand-scraped and hand-beveled the entire floor, too.

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p>When Szyszka decided to incorporate a blue-tinted "Midnight Indigo" hardwax oil, he was met with voices of concern from family members and fellow pros alike. "It was so hard to explain how everything was going to look," he says. But Szyszka trusted his gut and, after some experimenting, decided he would also fume the floor for an added effect. To keep the maple light and pristine, Szyszka coated it with a clear hardwax oil before taping it off and applying the fume color to the rest of the field. Then he applied the blue hardwax oil—and the earlier voices of concern turned to praise. When he removed the tape on the squares, he re-scraped them and applied a "white" color on the maple and a "walnut" color on the walnut and bubinga.

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The maple and wenge border, which features 2,600 hand-cut elements, was the final and most challenging part of the project. The maple feature strips were inspired by designs in Ancient Greece and went through multiple iterations. Once installed, Szyszka used acrylic black paint to create the French bleed along the maple and then applied a clear water-based finish.

The result of Szyszka's vision is a one-of-a-kind wood floor that remains engaging even after a long day of looking at wood floors. "It's a play of colors," says Szyszka. "This floor looks different at different parts of the day and at night."

To other young wood floor pros, Szyszka advocates for trusting your gut. "Follow that dream, follow that thought," he says. "I did that with the blue, and it turned out crazy."—R.K.

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Adhesive: Wakol MS260 | Buffer: American Sanders | Finish: Loba, Rubio | Moisture barrier: Wakol PU280 | Moisture Meter: LignomatRouter: Festool, DeWalt | Scrapers: Hardwood Industry Products | Vents: Top Step Vents | Wood flooring: Graf Custom

Best Gym

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Hero Flooring LLC | Cincinnati, Ohio

It wasn't just Luis Perez who went the extra mile for this project, both literally and figuratively: When the timeline got compressed around the holidays, his wife and children all came to Charlotte, N.C., for Christmas so he could get the floor done in time for the big reveal party.

With his experience at creating out-of-the-box court designs, the wild design of this court didn't faze him. When that design didn't get finalized, though, until right before Christmas, the biggest challenge became getting all the custom products in hand over the holidays so the court could be done in time for the the event scheduled for Jan. 13.

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Once again, Perez was doing the court in conjunction with non-profit Project Backboard, which creates works of art in public basketball courts. This time, the court was in the Simmons YMCA in Charlotte, with a design created by local artist Kalin Devone that is based on the Puma x Lamelo Ball MB.03 Toxic men's basketball shoes and the Rick and Morty portal.

"I started the artwork on Jan. 3, and then I had seven days because the event was Jan. 13," Perez says. "I was pulling 15-hour days. My feet were aching, my legs were aching, and I couldn't sleep because even though I went home to try to get rest, I'm thinking about the court!" The last night he was doing little touchups at 3 a.m. making it perfect—"That's what it's about," Perez says.

Despite being exhausted, Perez said that, as always, the reveal party, with community members, children from the community, artist Devone and professional dunker Jordan Southerland, made the long days worth it. "It just feels so good to give back again. Every time we do these, we get to see it full circle, and see how happy the kids and the community and the people who work at the facility are," Perez says. "People are going away so amazed and grateful for it, and I'm just proud to say I was able to give that to you. I left a piece of me down there."

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Going forward, Perez has questions: How will he top this? How can he scale up his business to create more projects that push the boundaries? And, most importantly, how can he inspire more people to enter the gym floor finishing trade? To that end, he's working with Carlos Mongalo of the National Flooring Contractors Apprentice Program to start a training program through the Cincinnati Job Corps, and they are also brainstorming with Izaiah Barrow of iSandNewYork. "There's so much just hidden within the cracks of our trade, and we need to get more exposure out there," Perez says. "The future is in the kids and our youth …  we are the three musketeers trying to make the future happen."—K.M.W.

Branding Partners

Foot Locker, Puma, LaMelo Ball 


Advertisers appear in bold.

Abrasive: Norton | Buffer, Big Machine, Edger, Multi-Disc, Vacuum: American Sanders | Finish, Paint, Tints: Bona

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