Face Nailed Parquetry Floor Borders
Circa 1885-1920, Brooklyn, NY
This site is for face-nailed floors, sometimes called top-nailed. You see the nails. Parquetry is wood cut into geometrical design, sometimes called inlaid floors. They are ornate and decorative. The floors were traditionally 5/16" thick. The best years were 1890-1915.
Contents to Sections Below:
Old Catalogs and Other Publications
Collection of Pictures
- The 302 floor border pictures have been organized into 16 major groups, or pages. Then split into sub-groups. 55 of the sub-groups have thumbnails below.
- All pictures are listed with thumbnails on the:
- A Google Map has pins on the picture locations. See the neighborhoods in Brooklyn where the nicer houses were being built during these years.
- Spreadsheets that calculate piece sizes are listed on the List of Spreadsheets page.
Putting A Floor Down
- New World woods were used for flooring. Mostly the North American woods: Cherry, Maple, Oak, Dark Oak(?), Black Walnut, and less commonly: White Ash and Holly. The most popular South American wood was Mahogany [today it is all called Honduran Mahogany], and less commonly: Rosewood, Vermilion, PrimaVera. There is some information on the common of these woods in the NWFA Wood Species Guide.
- Honduran Mahogany is expensive. A near wood sold today is Sapele, or African Mahogany. The grain has a less consistent pattern.
- The floor wood needs to acclimate in your home for a month or two before being laid. This is much less a problem if the flooring is quarter-sawn. But it still needs a couple weeks.
- In old (non-Mansion) flooring there are generally only these shapes: right (Isosceles) triangles, squares, rectangles, parallelograms, Isosceles trapezoids, and right trapezoids. Angles are most often 45°/90°. All pieces would have been saw cut. These days not all suppliers saw cut. See next section.
Floor Border Suppliers
- Oshkosh Designs. Numerous wood choices, any thickness from 5/16" to 3/4". The more intricate patterns, circles, etc. are laser cut and the geometric cuts are saw cut. They can make fingerblock parquet in any combination of woods, number of fingers, width of fingers (minimum 1"), and length of fingers. If you order less than 50 SF, there is a $150 set up charge. They can be in any thickness from 5/16" paper-taped up to 3/4" solid. They can also sell random length plainsawn or quartersawn white oak with square edges in any thickness and width. Pushes you to go through local dealers, if there are any in your area.
- Oshkosh dealer in NYC: PID Floors. Dealer sells Oshkosh and also saws by hand the pieces for custom borders in their Brooklyn facility. Also sells flooring strips and fingerblock. All white oak can be quarter-sawn. Your thickness choice. Does not install face nailed floors.
- Rare Earth Hardwoods. Custom millwork. Can do any thickness, or anything you want. Pieces are all saw cut. Straight lines only. Has over 100 species of domestic and exotic hardwoods.
- Wood Flooring USA is a Brooklyn based company that makes and installs floors in the area. They have a selection of borders at their site. They claim they do the border fabrication. I was not aware of this company when I was doing the research before installing my face nailed floor. It would have been one-stop shopping, instead of using three outfits to do my floor. Looking at the pictures I see the oak is not quarter-sawn. Nor are there any nails visible. Thickness unknown.
- Czar Floors. Can make to your thickness. All pieces cut on a CNC wood router. Their woods. Mahogany not listed. Can use rift/quarter sawn white oak. Smallest pictured fingerblock parquet is 9". They can do 6 strips in 8-3/4". Minimum order is 100 sq ft. Does not supply strip flooring wood.
- Inlay Product World. Based in Pennsylvannia, uses three different manufacturers (two US based and one in Poland). Different woods at each supplier. Can be any thickness. Uses laser for cutting. Can use quarter-sawn white oak. Doesn't sell flooring. Can provide parquet, though fingerblock not shown. It is very expensive and starts at 12" square. Likes to prefinish.
- USA Inlays. Has wholesale price if architect or builder orders. Probably only laser cuts the pieces. I asked and never got a response. Borders can be any thickness, but other wood they sell is only 5/8" prefinished and 3/4". These are their woods. No mahogany shown, but they can use it.
- Supplier in Romania: Pavex Parquet (also click for previous page). Prices include air shipping and delivery to your door. They only use these seven woods. You could use sycamore for maple, and sapele for mahogany.
- Supplier in Poland: Renaissance Floor In-Lays. Eugene had been doing inlays in the US, but he moved back to his home country. Any thickness you want. Inlays are 1/4" pasted to whatever backing needed to get to your desired thickness. [long lead time]
- Supplier in the Ukraine: Premier Parquet.
- Borders can be custom made by Premium Wood Flooring (aka P.C. Hardwood Floors) on 3rd Ave at 31st St. According to the curt guys on the floor, the only border woods available in 5/16": White oak, Peruvian walnut, and Santos Mahogany. They also sell in 5/16" the 2" wide field wood in strips and 12" square parquet blocks (with 2" wide strips). No other field sizes are now available through them. Red oak or white oak only. However, if you get to Michelle, she should be able to order Oshkosh products.
- The couple running Premier Inlays have retired. However, you can still see their borders in the archived website.
Wood Flooring Board Suppliers
- Face nailed floors are 5/16" thick. In the Roberts 1903 catalog they state to use 1-1/4-Inch, 15 Gauge Finish Nails. These nails can go into the air-powered Finish Nailer. Then with a punch, sink each brad 1/16" below the surface of the wood. Here are some Tips for Top-Nailed 5/16-Inch Floors. Don't make the mistake of buying stainless steel nails. Besides being expensive, they won't darken as they should.
- Oshkosh Designs has a General Installation Guide #5 for unfinished parquet floors.
- Non-water based adhesives are necessary for unfinished parquet:
- Use 1/8" × 1/8" × 1/8" Square Notch Trowel. At Home Depot.
- To get off the paper tape that is on the top of the parquet one uses a Drum Floor Sander.
- For flooring work:
- The Brownstoner blog used to have a forum on flooring. Now all forum posts are in one large stream. Flooring forum participants recommended Jose Zambrano of Better Wood Floors and Carlos Salazar of Carlos Wood Flooring. Not sure how much face nailed flooring they do.
- The person I found that has done the most of these floors is Stafford Elliot.
- A fellow that owns a brownstone in Bed Stuy recommends George Louis at 347-737-2364. He's sanded, buffed, stained, and sealed both original wood floors for restoration purposes as well as newly installed unfinished wood floors and wood stairs. Great quality work, the ultimate professional (reliable, always prompt and gets the job done quickly without sacrificing any quality), and a great guy to work with.
- I visit Open Houses, mostly on Sundays. I have two main sources for listings. I go through the room pictures looking for borders.
- New York Times Real Estate Search. Now the best, as you can scroll through the pictures without entering the listing. Neighborhoods selected: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park, Midwood, Park Slope, Park Slope South, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park South. [No year built filter, so can't filter out new buildings.]
- StreetEasy Search. Neighborhoods selected: Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, Ditmas Park, Midwood, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Prospect Lefferts Gardens and Prospect Park South.
- Zillow Open House Search. Click on pins in locations known for floors. Tedious. But there will be some lesser places here that are not on the other two.
- House Tours to see Floors (in month order):
- Fort Greene First Sunday in May. May have ended. [Only rare refloors, neighborhood was built before these floors came in vogue.]
- Clinton Hill Was biannual in even years, 1st Sunday in May. Appears to have ended. [Only rare refloors, neighborhood was built before these floors came in vogue.]
- Park Slope [3rd Sunday in May] [Not a friendly tour. Most owners disappear. You are prohibited from even asking to take a floor picture.]
- Prospect Lefferts Gardens [was 1st Sunday in June, unless five Sundays in May, then 4th Sunday in May. Now second Sunday in May.] [The best floors. Many from the tour are here.]
- Victorian Flatbush. Now biannual, held in even years. [2nd Sunday in June, unless five Sundays in May, then 1st Sunday in June] [The best floors. Many from the tour are here.]
- Crown Heights North [had been early October. website now states Spring 2017] [floors will be good]
- Prospect Heights [had been biannually in the Fall (2nd or 3rd Sunday in October). last held in 2009] [neighborhood is old for borders]
- Bedford-Stuyvesant [3rd Saturday in October] [Almost all houses are fully renovated. Few, if any, will have floors worth seeing.]
Finding House Years
- Landmark Designation Reports: If the house is in a landmark district, the year and more information are usually available in the district's report. You need the district name. There is a unified map with all individual and district landmarks: Discover NYC Landmarks. Click on a district and there is a link to the designation report, with text recognition done on the old ones.
Before I found that page, I put the reports and maps conveniently on my own page: Selected Brooklyn Landmarks Designation Reports and Maps. The city's site is Designation Reports (but it doesn't always find valid addresses within the district).
- Department of Buildings: Newer houses will have the build date in the DOB's Building Information System. Easiest is get it from StreetEasy. DOB does provide years for all houses. 1899 is used for all houses before 1900. For 1900 to 1930 the years are near guesses. After this they are good.
- Researching Year from NYC Property Records:
- Find Block and Lot in ACRIS. Lot numbers weren't in use back then. You need to add up from the Tax Plat Map the distance from the side streets. It will usually be the shorter one used. Also note the lot size as shown on the map. Using Google Streets it might be helpful to have addresses of matching houses built at the same time.
- You can then visit DOB at 210 Joralemon Street, 2nd Fl. The problem is a few years ago all the books were sent to the NYC Dept of Finance's Queens Business Center in Jamaica, Queens. The microfilms left behind make the task a hard fishing expedition. And only Queens has the WPA books, which is where you want to start. (First I photograph the house's page in the WPA books.) A trip to Queens is recommended. It is 10 miles each way by bicycle from Park Slope. The department is the City Register.
- N.B. You often find in the early years they didn't even record the distance to the side street. What you have to do is to find an entry for the house in a later year (from WPA page), then knowing the grantor you go back in time looking for when the grantor was a grantee. To get the earliest entries possible.
- My 1892 John Magilligan house in Park Slope only has the parlor with a hardwood face-nailed floor. The room has the common knotted corner. The first owner of this house chose to carpet the house with broadloom instead, leaving me with pine sub-floors. Back then wool broadloom carpet was new (introduced in 1877) and more expensive. The wood floor sellers called this unremovable carpet unhygenic. Powered vacuum cleaners didn't get started in the United States until 1908. Wooden push-pull floor sweepers would have been used.
I had been admiring what I didn't have. I wanted to install a face nailed floor with a border in my new kitchen. I needed some examples to pick from. And learn how to do it in an authentic way. No centralized information existed online. I keep my notes in basic HTML and this website ensued. I picked #23.