When you stand on a wood floor, you stand at the high end of elegance... unparalleled luxury that speaks softly. A genuine hardwood floor is surely an investment, imparting grace, refinement and an assuring sense of permanence.

Wood comes in simply extraordinary colors, with shades ranging from blonde to espresso. Golds, orange tones and reds create warmth. Cooler tones are achieved on the other side of the color wheel, leaning towards gray with blushes of blue and purple.

Within certain wood species, there is even handsome detailing within the dominant hue – color flecks that add interest, picking up on color notes in furnishings and uniting your design.

Each piece of wood is a unique creation of nature, with distinct and subtle character marks of true beauty – grains, knots, flecks, rays, flares, mineral streaks.

Traditional tailored oak remains the classic choice for its radiant honey tones. Cherry, from American to Brazilian, is coveted for its warm browns with reddish undertones. Bamboo is also trendy. Natural blond, it can be darkened to rich medium and dark browns though a dye-free, eco-friendly steaming process. (This stylish exotic also happens to be abundant and renewable.)

Teak and teak alternatives have moisture-repelling natural oils and are resistant to bacteria. It is perfect flooring to use where moisture is a problem. It is a good choice to use below grade in a stylish bath or contemporary kitchen. Designers love the warm orange tinge next to sleek stainless steel, tile and glass.

Traditional woods like hickory, walnut and oak are now offered in varying widths and a range of finishes including soft matte, high gloss and popular satin, while exotics from around the globe, with distinctive markings and evocative shades of red, pink, blue, orange and expresso, emphasize higher glosses.

Consumers are now looking for exotic visuals that do not come from fragile tropical ecosystems. That result? Exotic looks from domestic species stained to look like gorgeous exotic varieties but made from renewable domestics like birch and ash.

As U.S. consumers spend less on frivolities and more on quality, they also insist on green construction. Hardwood is the only flooring material that is completely renewable. And through responsible forestry, hardwood in American forests today is 90 percent greater than it was 50 years ago – abundant, renewing and sustainable.

Wood is always about subtlety and distinction. (Make it a point to check out the physical, green and design advantages of cork!) Edges can be square, beveled or pillowed. New boards are even available with faint vintner’s marks and cooperage stamps, reminiscent of wine barrels, for unique character. Laser technology can even etch tile designs into prefinished planks.

Reclaimed wood from old ships, barns and other structures is also coveted for modern wood floors. And don’t forget the quiet elegance of cork with astounding color options and nontraditional plank and tile sizes.

Engineered (prefinished) wood is available in myriad colors, finishes and patterns, including mixed-width boards and distinct patterns, from parquet to herringbone to rounded geometrics. Longer and wider rustics remain popular with a trend toward greater subtlety in hand-sculpted, wire-brushed and other distressed looks. Not only can engineered hardwood be a dream to install, especially when placing radiant heat under a floor, but it can bring dramatic looks within financial reach.

Picture a breathtaking floor that alternates strips from different species... or a border or inlaid medallion – custom or pre-assembled – in contrasting colors and multiple species. Because mixing elements is today’s design trend, consider incorporating stone, leather, ceramic or metal tiles into your floor design. Any of these ideas can transform a conventional wood floor into custom artwork.

Ask flooring representatives about recent technologies, like aluminum oxide and acrylic impregnated finishes, that enhance wear layers, joint and seam integrity, and support longer warranties. Each piece of wood is a unique creation of nature, with distinct and subtle character marks of true beauty – grains, knots, flecks, rays, flares, mineral streaks.

True beauty doesn’t shout for attention. It doesn’t have to.