By: Paul Weideman
Published online: Sunday, February 03, 2013
Appeared in: Home, Santa Fe Real Estate Guide
Edition: February 2013 Vol. 15 No. 11
“One of my favorite jobs last year was the atrium next to the cafeteria at Santa Fe Community College,” said David J. Old. “That was entirely wood blocks, primarily burned pine, from the fire and flood at the Dixon Apple orchard. We did hazard tree removal there for the State Land Office.”
Old Wood did wood-block floors for the Land Ocean restaurant in Folsom, Calif. (piñon) and the Starbucks in Napa, Calif. (mesquite), and is in line to do mesquite wood blocks for the rooms in the current La Fonda remodel.
The family business is headquartered in Las Vegas and has had its 2,400-acre ranch in Pecos since 1932. That’s the Viveash Ranch, which suffered a devastating wildfire in 2000.
“We’re working with densely overgrown timber on the parts of the ranch that didn’t burn, which had been logged and mismanaged in the past. Just about everything that had never been touched, all virgin forest, burned.”
For years, Old Wood has been known for its Douglas-fir plank floors. “We specialize in a quality rustic floor,” Old said. “And regarding the reclaimed side of all this, I don’t believe in tearing down historic barns for material. Our approach is sustainable, environmentally beneficial forestry.”
Old doesn’t like the so-called floating floors, preferring glue-down wood floors. He noted that they work fine with radiant heat, as long as the wood is well-dried and made for the application. “Douglas-fir is extremely stable, but you can’t do huge wide planks glued straight to concrete, so you’re using shorter lengths.”
The company harvests, kiln-dries, machines, and selects wood to make the best floor possible. “We begin by selecting the right log,” according to a detailed description at douglasfirfloors.com. “We avoid crook, sweep, twist, wind shake and other defects. Once cut, we check each board and reject defects such as sap pockets, split and check, etc. The characteristic pink color of Doug Fir heartwood is what we seek.”
Old Wood’s flooring lumber is cut “for the quarter” to maximize vertical grain. The six-inch plank floor is the company’s bread and butter, but Old also offers eight-inch, four-inch, and 2 ½-inch — this last type sawn from smaller trees that are often overgrown on the ranch’s north slopes. These yield “a classic and very elegant look.”
Old Wood is a participant in the federal Collaborative Forest Restoration Program. “It’s almost made a liberal out of me, because without those grants, I wouldn’t be in business, but we haven’t spent any of the money paying ourselves; we’ve spent it on capacity building. This is how we’re able to do a prefinished floor for Starbucks, because we were able to buy the machinery to do the molding.”
The family works with the Alamo Navajo and Ramah Navajo on the restoration program. That involves training Navajo sawyers to cut piñon and juniper for end-block floors.
“We hope to have fully finished product made from small-diameter reclaimed timber for the mass market within the next two years,” Old said.
And then there’s the Kuwait project.
Old said he has an agreement for a 140,000-square-foot job for that nation’s Ministry of Education, but he’s struggling to obtain letters of credit to cover a $350,000 deposit fom the Kuwaitis
“We’ve been there, we’ve come back with the job in hand, for the largest-ever mesquite floor in the world, and I’m going to hire 10 people the day I start, and can’t get the banks to give us a letter of credit. I bought a sawmill and put it in Texas and the guy there is asking what we’re waiting for. I’m not in bad shape, but the banks want dollar-for-dollar collateral to write these letters of credit.”
Meanwhile, Viveash is the study point for small-diameter timber. The family, and Navajo crews, are thinning the part of the ranch that didn’t burn, both for firewood (firewoodnm.com) and for wood blocks, which Old calls “the highest best use for the lowest grades of wood. If you try to make lumber out of 7-inch wood, it doesn’t work, but we’re getting good results making these wood blocks. It’s perfect, true vertical grain, so you’re walking on the tree straight up and down, as it were. And it’s gorgeous.”
One of the other longtime purveyors of wood flooring is Alpine Builders Supply on West Water Street. Started in 1947 as a lumber yard, it’s a third-generation business today.
Alpine sells several varieties of hardwood and softwood tongue-and-groove flooring in widths ranging from an inch and a half up to eight inches.
“We have 2 ¼-inch white oak and red oak, typically in a number one grade, then we carry a select and better grade; that all sells for $3.95 a square foot,” said general manager Jamie George. “We have 1 1/2-inch red oak for $4.30; 1 x 8 Southern yellow pine is $2.30; 1 x 4 fir is $3.40, and for 6-inch it’s $3.60. This fir is all old-growth, clear vertical grain material. We also have 1 x 6 clear cedar, which is a little on the softer side.”
George said the company’s oak flooring is from the Midwest and the fir and cedar comes from the Pacific Northwest.
Floor Mart, 2911 Cerrillos Road, is also a third-generation business. Ralph Norman Raby founded it in 1958. The Santa Fe showroom (there are two more in Albuquerque) began in the Valdes Business Park in 2000, then moved to the current location seven years ago.
What’s popular? “Hard surface, and I mean tile and hardwood and laminate,” answered salesman Jeff Cole. “Laminates come in the plank look or block look. We sell more laminate and hardwood than anything.
“When I began selling flooring at House of Carpets here in 1994, we sold 70 percent carpet and 30 percent hard surface and in the time since then it has reversed, to where we now sell 70 percent hard surface and 30 percent carpet. It has completely flipflopped.”
People want real wood if they really want that look, but it is the most expensive flooring, he said, “Most of what we sell in that realm is engineered hardwood, which works on any kind of surface, including concrete and a radiant-heat subfloor. The only type of hardwood floor that’s recommended over radiant heat is your engineered or floating floor. That goes over an eighth-inch rubber cushion that has an integral moisture barrier. People like the floating floor because it’s easy on the knees.”
Hardwood flooring ranges from $4 to $14 a square foot at Floor Mart. One factor to look at is the hardness rating of different types. “Maple is at the high end and that might be what you want if you have large dogs with claws. You might want a floor with a high hardness rating for your entry hall and other more public areas, and then you can have a softer wood for the bedrooms.”
Hand-scraped wood, which has a weathered or distressed surface, is popular these days. There’s also more demand for sustainable bamboo — this flooring is $4 a square foot for the natural or darker “spice” colors, $4.70 for hand-scraped, and $8 for the strand-woven type.
“One thing you have to watch out for,” Cole said, “is that a lot of companies don’t warranty bamboo in this dry climate. But I haven’t seen any problems with splitting or face-checking on the glued-down floors.”
What’s new and interesting? “In materials, nationwide anyway, it’s vinyl planks and tiles with the wood appearance. Mannington Adura luxury vinyl tile looks great but it hasn’t really caught on here yet, and the adhesive and grout are expensive.
Floor Mart sells four types of stone: granite, marble, travertine, and slate. “Slate is very handsome, but it can flake apart on the surface, and we have a through-body porcelain tile that looks just like it.” The latter costs at least $7, whereas slate is about $3.
“What we sell more than stone is glazed-porcelain tile and glazed-ceramic tile. Tile starts at a dollar a square foot. We have granites and marbles both for countertops or floors. The 12 x 12 tiles of marble for bathroom floors go for between $4 and $15. Onyx is more like $24, whereas the travertines range from $5 to $9. We also have Saltillo tile from Mexico.”
That morning, Cole was in Eldorado measuring a house for a contractor who was buying materal from Floor Mart. However, 90 percent of what the company sells it installs, using more than a dozen crews that are based in Albuquerque.
On typical installed prices, Cole said a laminate floor is around $7 a square foot. “For wood, it’s more like $12. And carpet is about $6, although the best carpet, New Zealand wool — that’s the only thing Karastan and Godfrey Hirst use for their high-end wool carpeting — can be $16.
See floormartnewmexico.com for more about this family-owned business and its products.