During the Middle Ages in Europe, twelfth to sixteenth centuries, wood planks were used for floors in upstairs rooms. Rooms were large and multipurpose with interior walls made of wood and plaster. Wood screens were used to separate spaces and keep drafts of cold air out. The lower part of a wall, the wainscot, consisted of wood boards held vertically between upright planks. By the sixteenth century, wall paneling was framed by vertical wood pieces called stiles and horizontal wood pieces called rails. The panel had thinned edges that fit into a cutout in the frame pieces.
During the Italian Renaissance, ceilings took on many forms, and wood was used in the well-built rooms in the mid-fifteenth century. For flat ceilings, the simplest design had small beams spaced closely together across the room in one direction, resting on larger beams that were widely spaced running the other direction. The large beams rested on corbels protruding from masonry walls. The arrangement of beams could create a variety of shapes known as coffered ceilings. These coffers were usually rectangular shaped, made of carved wood, and were highly decorative around the middle of the fifteenth century. Later, plaster was used for ceilings.
In the French Renaissance, mid-fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, interiors were influenced by Italian designers who brought with them the idea of having a unified theme.
Wood flooring laid in a parquet herringbone pattern was used in the gallery at Fontainebleau built in the 1530s. The wainscot walls were walnut panels of various sizes with inlaid designs of different materials. The French Baroque period, seventeenth century, continued to see exposed wood beam ceilings. Wood also continued to be used for geometric parquet floors. Occasionally, marquetry designs were used, or the geometric and representational designs were mixed.
The Baroque period in England, late seventeenth century, saw the use of elaborate wood carvings applied to paneling, door frames, chimney pieces, balustrades, cornices, and wall panels. Carving was done with fruit woods and applied to panels of other woods. The French concept of a unified theme carried throughout was prevalent, meaning that all the details worked together to support the interior architectural theme. Wall paneling covering the entire room was common and the wood panels became larger. The principal woods used were oak and pine, with walnut and fir as secondary. Oak was left untreated or waxed to keep its natural color. Pine was usually painted, but a treatment imported from Sweden was to rub pine with cold water and slaked lime to produce a smooth white surface. Oak planks with wax were used for flooring on upper floors, keeping it away from the ground where it would deteriorate easily. The first parquet wood floor used in England was installed in 1660. In the late eighteenth century, parquet designs were still used in England, made of unvarnished fir or pine and sometimes oak.
During the nineteenth century, the more desirable woods were walnut and cherry, but oak and pine were used for most wood paneling and trim in U.S. homes. By the early twentieth century, the Craftsman style was fashionable, using dark stained oak or pine for floors, stairs, handrails, baseboard, door and window jambs, and crown moldings.
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