We appreciate history at Real Wood Floors. Of course, we like the intriguing narratives about solid wood flooring, but we also enjoy architecture, design and world history.
When we think about and talk about our Saltbox Collection, with its weathered texture and varied plank widths, we immediately contemplate the vibrant history of New England. The region’s iconic saltbox houses have dramatic pitched roofs that slope in the back, resembling wooden boxes that once stored salt.
The flooring in our Saltbox Collection is special. We have given it this name in honor of the saltbox house with its historical significance, architecture and, well, its creativity when time came for property taxes. We hope you’ll be entertained by the following stories and that you will consider using Saltbox in your own home.
Design and taxes
Tax policy has shaped architectural design of houses around the world. We know that may sound a little strange, so let’s look at some examples.
Let’s first journey back in time to jolly old England. If you traveled about England in the 1700s and early 1800s, you would find homes with very few windows even though builders had the capacity to implement as many functional or ornate windows as a homeowner desired. So you might ask, “Why then so few windows?”
In 1696 the English government began to levy taxes based on how many windows made up your home. This method allowed for a quick estimation by the tax assessor. One need only look at the house on the outside, count the windows, get an approximation for the number of rooms and then tax accordingly. So guess what? Homeowners and builders figured out how to outsmart the tax code and as a result, many houses built in that era had very small and very few windows.
In Vietnam you can travel to a very rural area and discover narrow houses three to four stories tall. They look like row houses that you find in San Francisco. So why in a remote area of Vietnam do you find such urban-looking structures? You probably guessed it. In Vietnam, property house taxes are determined by the structure’s width. Thus, a great number of folks build houses that are narrow and tall so that they pay less taxes.
If you journey to Egypt, you may note this particular phenomenon. Many homes have a top floor with concrete beams and rebar jutting out this way and that as if a builder was in the middle of construction on that floor—however, this is often not the case. So why aren’t builders and laborers working on that top floor? Again, we have a feeling you know. In Egypt, property house taxes are not paid in full until the top floor of your home is finished.
Lastly, if we travel to the Northeast United States, we find the saltbox house that originated in the mid-seventeenth century. Typically, it was a two-story home, but on the back side of this non-symmetrical house, the roof came all the way down to the first story. So again why? Because of this roof feature, it implied a one-story building, and was thus exempt from the typical property tax.
The Saltbox Collection
The Northeastern saltbox houses inspired our Saltbox Collection with their unique asymmetrical look. Our floor collection has a similar asymmetrical design with three different widths, creating an alternating floor pattern. (Some refer to this style as random width.) The four, six and eight inch widths in each box create a balanced look as they’re installed across the floor.
To view a saltbox house from its side, you see the roof at a peak above the second story then it falls dramatically to the first story. This is achieved by the increasing width of that pattern.
When we considered what species of wood to use for this flooring line, it was easy. Given the abundance of hickory and maple in the Northeast, we knew that’s what we would use. It was also fun to implement a species that was true to one of the region’s mid-seventeenth century house designs.
We kept with this theme when we contemplated the floor’s texture and decided on a very light tumbling in order to distress the wood.
In the US in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was common for floors to be hand-scraped with a 1-inch to 1 1/2-inch wide scraper. This provided narrow and heavy undulation as well as a good deal of texture to the floor.
Given our historical inspiration, however, we chose a different route with our Saltbox Collection. When saltbox homeowners cleaned their houses, they brought in sand, threw it on the floor and swept it out. In essence, over time they were continually sanding their floors, and in doing so, the floor did not wear evenly and had a light, rolling undulation. We created a similar effect by using scrapers, 3 inches or wider, to achieve that gentle tumbled look.
For example, maple is a smooth floor but given our scraping process, you will see a slight undulation in the wood. For the hickory, we do some light wire-brushing and some modest undulation. The method with hickory is certainly a nod to the past. If you owned a saltbox house and put down sand on hickory, over time with wear, the sand would pull out some of that softer wood ring (called summer wood) and provide what we have achieved with our wire-brushed process.
You can order samples today.
We have taken this saltbox style to market with modern-day colors and aesthetic, while acknowledging its historical roots in name and method. We hope you’ve enjoyed this historical journey! To find out more information about the Saltbox Collection, visit its collection page and order your samples today.