Wood Floor of the Year Awards 2016: Stories Behind the Floors

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An African mosaic crocodile. A world-famous Russian palace. A pond of koi. A public hall in Tajikistan. What do these things have in common? They are all winners in the 2016 Wood Floor of the Year awards, along with other stunning works of wood floor artistry. All are members of the National Wood Flooring Association, and their winning floors were chosen by a panel of expert judges and announced at the NWFA Wood Flooring Expo in Charlotte, N.C., in April. The most coveted award—Members' Choice—is voted on by NWFA members through an online vote. This year that honor went to Archetypal Imagery Corp. (Bronx, N.Y.) for its floor in an improbable African oasis in Missouri.



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Out of Africa

Vartan Arutyunian was bothered. The artist and project manager for Archetypal Imagery Corp. couldn't tell what it was, but he knew something was missing from the floor his team completed in an eccentric home called the African Queen, located smack in the middle of Springfield, Mo.

What could possibly still be missing? The floor had more than 500,000 reclaimed end-grain blocks the size of Scrabble tiles in reclaimed walnut and white oak, a mosaic border with a knot pattern inspired by the company's previous work in a glamorous Middle Asian home (see that Members' Choice winner online here).

Whatever it was kept gnawing at Arutyunian until, during the night, hours before he and owner Avedis Duvenjian were set to leave Springfield for good, he shot up with a start and had a vision: a 17-foot Nile crocodile, with prehistoric scales of reclaimed white oak sapwood and walnut, and a piercing eye of jet black ebony. He immediately turned on his iPad and began swiping through photographs of crocodiles on Google, trying to find one that matched his vision. The feverish task woke up Duvenjian, who turned on the light and saw his business partner hunched over on the bed beside his. He looked at the time—too early. "What are you doing?" Duvenjian asked. Arutyunian told him he had a great idea: to inlay an enormous end-grain mosaic crocodile in the middle of the dining room floor.

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The business owner in Duvenjian immediately put up his hand; there wasn't enough time to pull it off. The visionary, however, was interested. After all, it fit the over-the-top African theme of the house, which is decorated with full-sized lion and baboon body mounts, 3,000-pound bronze elephant and rhino statues and kudu-horn chandeliers. "How the hell are you going to do this?" said Duvenjian, now deep in a Google search himself.

Vartan came up with a plan, but it hinged on approval from the home's eccentric owner, an exotic car salesman named Mike Willhoit.

Willhoit went wild when he heard the proposal, but in a good way. He dismissed Arutyunian's plan to have the crocodile blend in with the floor and instead demanded it be loud. "I want somebody to come in and have a heart attack when they see that crocodile," Willhoit told Duvenjian. And so, with less than two months to go before deadline, the Archetypal team went for it.

"I knew—and Avedis knew—we would make it happen," Arutyunian says. "We would die but we will do this. That gave us an energy to make this happen."

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Arutyunian began by drawing a huge realistic sketch of the crocodile on the job site to see how it would fit in the dining room. The drawing was transferred onto a piece of plywood at Archetypal's studio back in Bronx, N.Y., and then began the creative and labor intensive process of cutting thousands of reclaimed walnut and white oak sapwood end-grain blocks to size. The size of each block depended on where it was placed on the crocodile—the larger scales along the tail measure 1 inch square, while the scales leading toward the armpit vary in size and tightness to show the body's curvature. Arutyunian was also careful not to place blocks of the same height together—the mosaic pieces were cut in seven heights with 1⁄32-inch differences—or the crocodile would look flat instead of three-dimensional.

To add realism and intrigue, gaboon ebony salvaged from the black keys of antique pianos was used for the crocodile's nails and the vertical slit of its eye, as well as in random scales throughout its body. Bleach was put onto the eye to add a glint and accentuate its spherical shape, as well as on the teeth to make them pop. The team beveled grooves between sections of end grain, and into the bevels went filler made from ebony and walnut wood dust. Arutyunian then took a flame to the mosaic to add shadowing around the arms, scale creases and the eye lid. The mosaic was finished with hardwax oil, a process that required Q-tips to reach into each nook and cranny.

After a month and a half of many late nights, the mosaic was complete. The crocodile was put into a truck, driven 18 hours and laid into the floor in the dining room on July 2, 2015, without a moment to spare.

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Five days later, the homeowner had scheduled a fundraiser for the city zoo, and guests paid $2,500 each for the chance to tour the African Queen. The night of the party, the line to come inside reached out to the street. While the wild interior décor was a big draw, Willhoit doesn't hesitate when asked what the showstopper is in the home.

"Every time I look at the crocodile, it really stands out. The home is fabulous, but nothing stands out like the crocodile," he says. "My main thought is: How can some human being be so intricate that they could pull this off?"—A.A.


Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Abrasive: 3M | Adhesive: TEC | Buffer: Bona US | Finish: Overmat Industries B.V. | Moisture Meter: Tramex Ltd.



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Bordering the Octopus

The African Queen home is filled with peculiarities only an eccentric master of Google-fu like owner Mike Willhoit would be able to source. He found front doors from a 19th century Indian mausoleum, a 6-foot-wide lion tapestry made in Italy in 1780 and 3,000-year-old petrified wood he had made into a sink. Now his over-the-top African-themed house, located in Springfield, Mo., needed a floor that could hold its own in that material wilderness. This time, Willhoit's internet dive turned up the 2012 Members' Choice-winning floor from Archetypal Imagery Corp. He was in love.

Avedis Duvenjian, owner of Archetypal, agreed to work with Willhoit, and the project began soon after, in November 2014, and the company finished the floor, sans crocodile, in March 2015. The floor contains more than 500,000 end-grain blocks of reclaimed oak and walnut, varying from 1⁄8 inch square to 1 inch square.

"This is a crazy thing, you know," Duvenjian says. "It's not a regular job."

The end grain spans all 1,000 square feet of the floor, and a foot-wide end-grain knot pattern border designed by project manager Vartan Arutyunian forms the perimeter. The end grain rows are concentric, relative to the perimeter, rather than perpendicular to center. It was all done by hand to fit the home's challenging layout.

"It was such an octopus. Such a crazy layout," Duvenjian said. "This project is in, out, it's curving. It's so involved."

Sections of the knotted border pattern and floor were constructed on top of plywood at Archetypal's studio in Bronx, N.Y., before being transported to the African Queen and glued down. The sections were built with space between one another, and the space was filled in with end grain once the pieces were placed inside the home. The whole floor was buffed and finished with hardwax oil.

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The other part of the job that made the installation tricky was an 8-by-5-foot glass section in the floor that overlooks the creek 10 feet below. Duvenjian consulted National Wood Flooring Association guidelines and a European engineering firm he'd worked with in the past to make sure moisture from the creek would not have any ill effects on the floor above. He chose an adhesive that doubled as a moisture barrier to prevent any damage.

The floor is the perfect complement to its wild surroundings inside the African Queen. Without the floor, the home would be normal, or at least as normal as any home can be with "these African heads everywhere," Willhoit says.

"How could you put in a regular floor?" he says. "It had to be something that is out of this world. And this is out of this world, no question about it."—A.A.

Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Abrasive: 3M | Adhesive: TEC | Buffer: Bona US | Finish: Overmat Industries B.V. | Moisture Meter: Tramex Ltd.



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Yantarnaya the Great

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, was opening a new exhibit about culture in the 18th century, but the space the museum wanted to use for the exhibit was a mess, especially the floor.

Enter Yantarnaya Pryad-Parquet (Khimki, Russia), which has done more work in the State Hermitage Museum (and won more NWFA Wood Floor of the Year awards for it) than any other flooring company. The team from Yantarnaya was tasked with restoring the floor in a room originally built for Catherine the Great, the longest-ruling female leader of Russia, in the 1700s.

She decided after it was built to live in another room, so her son, future emperor Paul I, took over the space. The 540-square-foot room featured spectacular views of the Neva River and, later, the Trinity Bridge. The original floor was lost in a fire in 1837, and the second floor had been poorly maintained. Oftentimes boards needing repair were replaced with wood from different species, so by the time Yantarnaya's team arrived, the floor was a hodgepodge.

The team assessed the damage and took detailed photographs of the remaining wood. These images helped the company's design department produce replacements for floor boards that replicated the others in the room perfectly. This required the company to dig into its private stores for wood species, including oak, maple, wenge, teak and jatoba.

Using handheld routers and templates, it took only two weeks for Yantarnaya to restore the floor to its former glory. The floor wasn't the worst they'd seen, which isn't a great indicator considering the deplorable floors they've restored in the past.

Today the room displays prized items Peter the Great brought from his trips abroad, including vases of ivory and metalwork by Tula, a company that produced arms for the Russian army, as well as artistic caskets, candleholders, vases, mirrors, stamps, tobacco boxes and inkstands. The flooring still stands out, though.

"As usual, after restoration the flooring is bright with new colors," says Natalia Lebedeva, export manager. "The flooring looks vivid and alive," especially when you look at a before and after photo.—A.A.

Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Abrasive: 3M | Adhesive, Filler, Finish: Chimiver Panseri Spa | Sander: Lägler | Saws: Leitz Tooling



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Islamic Roots

This floor measures a whopping 28,900 square feet, and every element, from the smallest at 20 square inches to the largest at 63 by 51 inches, was cut by one of Yantarnaya Pryad-Parquet's 17 CNC machines.

It took 13 people three months to complete the hall, located in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. The project started with Yantarnaya's designers studying the décor, plants and ornaments inside the Islamic country's many mosques. The dark reds and blacks in the final floor are tied closely to Muslim culture, says the company's export manager, Natalia Lebedeva.

One species used in the floor is directly referenced in the Quran: the olive tree. The other species include pear, ash, walnut, wenge, maple, oak, merbau, jatoba, beech, kempas, lemon, amaranth, padauk and plane.

It was necessary to build the hall floor with the people of Tajikistan—of which 98 percent identify as Muslim—in mind. Today the hall is used by Tajik President Emomali Rahmon to present awards and decorations to the military and for achievements in sports. Yantarnaya designed the floor so its largest element would be immediately visible to ceremony attendees upon walking through the two grand entrances in the middle of the hall.

The biggest challenge was assembling all the elements because each element needed to bleed seamlessly into the next. With the laser-precision of the CNC machines and a little patience, the team was successful, Lebedeva says. "[It's] one, harmonious composition."—A.A.

Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Abrasive: 3M | Adhesive, Filler, Finish: Chimiver Panseri Spa | Sander: Lägler | Saws: Leitz Tooling



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Naturally Stunning

Most wood flooring contractors would run away from a 15-inch plank wood floor on a slab in Miami, particularly when it involves custom treads and risers in a metal staircase that never actually touches the floor, but, as Natural Wood Floors & Design (Miami) owner Fernando Avila says, "We are not like a regular wood floor company."

The fact that Natural Wood Floors just won its third Wood Floor of the Year trophy puts an exclamation point on that statement. Since the company's founding in 1989, Avila has encouraged local architects and designers to consider wood flooring an integral part of their designs from the conception of a project, and to push the boundaries with species, color, width or concept.

This award-winning project in Miami Beach epitomizes that idea with a custom-fabricated staircase that hovers over the floor. The Natural team worked with the designers and architects, as well as the metal fabricators, as the design for the entire space was developed.

The room is so large that Avila recommended the ultra-wide flooring to suit the scale of the space. The client wanted to see no character in the floor and liked the color of European white oak. She also wanted it to be unfinished. "The client didn't want any finish—she wanted it to look very natural. So, we convinced them to use the Woca so it would have some protection," explains Natural Marketing and Sales Manager Lisa Poklop.

The flooring was 1-inch-thick engineered flooring with a European white oak top and bottom layer. The lengths were so long—from 12 to 20 feet—that it had to be delivered into the job site by a crane. The client approved every board before it was glued and nailed down over two layers of plywood on top of soundproofing over the slab.

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Fabricating each individual step and riser for the hovering stairs was a particular challenge. "Making the treads out of different pieces and another piece for the riser—having that all match and meeting the expectations of the client who wanted to not see any grain—was challenging," Poklop says. Avila credits the experience of his team, most of whom have been at the company for more than 10 years, for succeeding with another unusual project. "The owners and the architects—everybody is extremely happy," Avila says. "I was really proud."—K.M.W.

Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Adhesive: Bostik Inc. | Finish: Woca USA | Nailer: Stanley Bostitch | Wood flooring: Wholesale Hardwood Products



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Going with the Flow

The first thing to know about this award-winning floor is that those aren't "fish;" they are "koi." Those semantics were important, says Edward Tsvilik, vice president of Czar Floors Inc. (Huntingdon Valley, Pa.), for these clients, who explained to him that koi are intelligent, social creatures, each having its own personality. Koi are so valued by this couple that, after they added a sunroom with walnut flooring next to their koi pond, they decided they needed inlays of the fish … err … koi installed in the floor, and contacted Czar.

"He wanted us to take pictures of the koi so we could see what they look like," Tsvilik says. "We probably went through a dozen drawings because he wanted something specific with how they flow under each other." Once the drawings were approved, renderings including photos of the actual wood species in the correct positions were created. With the renderings approved, the process of creating each fish from bloodwood, wenge, white oak and maple began. It was a painstaking job done entirely by hand with a scroll saw due to the relatively small scale of the inlays—they are the same size as the koi, which are 18–20 inches long.

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The five koi inlays have a thickness of 5⁄16 and were glued to a plywood backer board to match the full 3⁄4 inch thickness of the existing walnut. After three months of design work and construction, a plywood template was cut for each individual koi, and a map was created to guide placement of the templates on the floor to connect the flowing koi. Once the koi were installed, the floor was lightly buffed and coated with waterborne finish.

The owners were "ecstatic" with the upgrade to their floor, and, although Czar specializes in creating custom inlays and floors—to such perfection that this is the company's ninth Wood Floor of the Year award—Tsvilik says winning the trophy doesn't get old. "We still get excited," he says. "We need a larger shelf!"—K.M.W.

Suppliers:Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Abrasive: 3M | Adhesive: Bostik Inc. | Filler, Finish: Bona US | Router: Festool



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Free Rein & Funky

There's a reason everyone in the wood flooring industry thinks the sign "Husbands picking out stain colors must have note from wife" is so funny—they know the majority of the time it's the woman making design decisions. And a wife who gives her husband free rein to do whatever he wants with their floor? Unheard of. But that was the situation for this award-winning Limited Species floor. When Artistic Floors by Design (Parker, Colo.) husband-and-wife duo Joe and Joni Rocco finally had an open bedroom in their home to dedicate as an office, Joe told Joni, who handles their sales and marketing, that he would create a custom floor as her "cool Mother's Day present."

"I had no idea what the floor would look like," says Joni, but that didn't faze her. She says she learned to trust her husband's design vision early in their marriage; her only request for this floor was that it be an "environment that was artistic and reflective of Joe's work." That was fulfilled beyond her expectations. "I'm a storyteller—I work with words; I don't work with spaces. He laid it out, and I was like, holy crap, the floor looks amazing."

The original floor is a "funky modified chevron pattern" in white oak. Joe cut the pieces for the geometric pattern on a jig, a skill he learned from Bobby Humphreys during the NWFA's Jigs & Medallions class years ago. He then prefinished the pieces in contrasting colors—some sanded flat and dyed and oiled gray, others wire-brushed and dyed and oiled white. A straight-lay white oak border surrounds the geometric flooring.

"It was a great surprise; I loved it," says Joni, who waited patiently over the four months it took Joe to complete the floor in spare hours after regular jobs. "Normally wood flooring families are like the cobbler's family never having shoes." That's no longer the case, as their house now sports the basement floor-growing-into-a-bar-top that was a social media sensation (and featured in the August/September 2015 issue) last year and this award-winning custom floor, with more in progress. Joni says Joe is hard at work on another project in the basement that will again push the boundaries for creativity. For details, though, everyone will have to wait until they see the entries for Wood Floor of the Year 2017.—K.M.W.

Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Adhesive: Stauf USA | Finish: Arboritec USA Inc. | Wood flooring: Muscanell Millworks



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Envisioning Possibilities

The flooring that was originally envisioned for this house wasn't Wood Floor of the Year-caliber. When Steve Brattin, president at SVB Wood Floors in Grandview, Mo., got involved in the project, the designers were discussing a simple machine-sanded heart pine or reclaimed wood floor. But once Brattin visited the site—an old world traditional estate set on acreage with its own private lake—he knew it deserved more than a typical floor. "I chatted with the designers and said I would love to meet with the homeowners and have them in our showroom," he recalls. "I said I would really like to do something artistic with it."

Brattin's mind was already envisioning the possibilities—something he says usually happens for him within a half hour of walking through a space. "I don't know how certain things come to me," he says, adding that often he draws things out and the designs don't end up being in the clients' budget. That wasn't the case here, however, and the final plans for the flooring called for five designs in various areas, including this Bordeaux parquet in the foyer.

With the designs finalized, Brattin turned to Distinctive Floors' (Nashville, Tenn.) Dan Antes to create the walnut flooring, which called for hand-beveling with a circle-sawn and wire-brushed surface; in some areas the flooring was 10-inch plank. The width presented a challenge for Antes, as he had planned to contract out the circle-sawing, but the company he had in mind could handle widths only up to 81⁄2 inches. He decided he would have to do it himself. "We spent maybe $1,500 modifying $20,000 worth of equipment to end up with this awesome distressed product," he says. Due to a tight time frame to complete the job, once the flooring was milled, it was shipped to WD Flooring (Laona, Wis.) to be finished with hardwax oil—a choice Antes says he loves for its maintainability.

The actual installation of all 3,000 square feet of flooring was uneventful, Brattin says, crediting his crew, experienced with high-end projects, for a great job. "They had a blast," he says. "They had so much fun out there on the project, and they do it quite frequently; it comes naturally for them at this point."

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Given the complexity of this job, from scribing around stone to large-scale chevron and mixed media, that's high praise. Antes, himself a Wood Floor of the Year winner and supplier to many more winning projects, sums up the scope of this job: "I think he could have entered any room in this house, really, and won."—K.M.W.

Suppliers: Advertisers in this issue appear in bold.

Adhesive: Bostik Inc. | Distributor: The Master's Craft | Finish: Rubio Monocoat | Moisture meter: Delmhorst Instrument Co. | Nailer: Bostitch, Senco | Router: Festool | Saws: Festool, Bosch | Wood flooring: Distinctive Floors (flooring), WD Flooring LLC (prefinishing)

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