Yes, I love light-colored floors! And I often receive questions about our bleached floors. So let me share what I know. Let’s get started!

Whitewashed floors have been around for hundreds of years in Sweden and Scandinavia. Because the Nordic winters are so long and dark, having light-colored floors help to keep interiors bright. They are also quite versatile, and can work with traditional or modern furnishings.

Throughout Ekensberg Manor outside Stockholm, Sweden, many of the pine floors were whitewashed (above and below photos, both by Simon Upton for House Beautiful). Built in 1790, Ekensberg is being restored by Lars and Ursula Sjoberg, both respected scholars on Swedish antiques and the decorative arts.
The pine floors above and below seem to have a lyed soap appearance. Both photos scanned from the book: Rum for Mobler by Lars and Ursula Sjoberg, photography by Staffan Johansson.

Scandinavia is covered in spruce and pine forests, and much of the flooring comes from these blonde-toned woods. Staining these woods can be problematic as the sap from the knots tend to create blotches. Instead, the floors are often given a clear wax finish or whitewashed treatment involving a lye soap mixed with chalk / lime pigments, calcium carbonate, etc. The combination of the lye (sodium hydroxide) prevented the wood from yellowing while the chalk / lime pigments left a whitewashed appearance. I do not know the exact formula…..anyone? I do know it requires upkeep and refreshing often.

What I love most about this look is its quiet texture. Unlike painted floors, which are opaque, the variation of the grain and character of lyed wood are all there, only lighter. I find that bleached floors have a similar appearance, and require less maintenance. Let’s quickly compare the two:

 In the above kitchen, the knotty pine floors have a milky finish. In the dining room below, the hardwood boards (most likely oak) have been bleached, whitewashed, and oiled for protection. We had pine floors in parts of our former home, and it didn’t bleach well – a bit streaky and peachy. Therefore, I suspect the pine floors above have been lyed due to its consistent appearance.
Notice how lovely the light-colored floors look in modern settings. Quite different from the 18th century manor homes above, but equally beautiful and appropriate.
 From the airiness to the furnishings, I love everything about this modern home by NORM Architects in Copenhagen, Denmark. All photos from NORM.
 And for comparison, below is a drawing room with painted floors designed by Albert Hadley. See how the monochromatic painted finish is different from bleached and lyed surfaces?
When we renovated our home, Tom and I installed new 7″ wide white oak boards in random lengths. As with the floors in our former home and many of my projects, I entrusted the finishing work to Classic Floors.
Our floors were sanded, cleaned, bleached (to lighten the wood), stained white twice, and sealed with a Danish oil treatment. Here are some tips:
1) Order extra stock as there will be unattractive boards which should be rejected.
2) Try placing darker boards in the centers of the rooms which will be covered by area rugs.
3) Try bleaching darker boards twice, but be sure to do a test as over-bleaching can turn the wood green.
4) In lieu of an oil treatment, bleached floors can be sealed with a water-based urethane in satin finish.
5) Stay away from red oak which tends to bleach pink!
In our family room, the floors are complemented by a neutral Oushak. The painted sideboard and trestle table are both Swedish from the 1800s. To keep the room from being too pale, I included a few iron pieces with blackened finishes.

Darkwood furniture looks even more stunning on light-colored floors. The chestnut sideboard is French, and the oak child’s posture-correction chair is English Victorian.
At our shop, we have a small room with bleached floors. Sometimes, I like to leave it bare, and currently, there is an antique Oriental rug that is beautifully worn.
Do you remember Michelle and CD’s home which I decorated? Look how beautiful their bleached floors are with an antique Oriental.
In Linda and Kit’s former home, I had the bleached floors sealed with a water-based urethane. I love the serenity of this home which is decorated with Swedish antiques from Tone on Tone. A big thank you to photographer Lydia Cutter for sharing these photos from Home and Design Magazine. Lydia was such a pleasure to work with, and her portfolio is amazing – check it out here!
I hope you have enjoyed this post. If you have information on light floors, please feel free to share! Thanks!!
PS – Bleached floors are quite easy to maintain, and require very little dusting!