If you remember your high school English class, you remember reading about Tom Sawyer tricking the other kids into whitewashing the fence for him. It’s a famous scene, and the term “whitewash” has come to mean many things. However, it also still refers to the original practice of whitewashing wood. It is an old practice that was popular in the 19th century, especially across the northeast and midwest. It went out of favor for many reasons; largely, whitewashing was replaced by newer practices that were said to be more attractive. As with many 19th century traditions, it is popular again. Whitewashing wood floors is experiencing a serious resurgence.
What is Whitewash?
Whitewash is a primitive and inexpensive form of paint that was used by lower-income homeowners. Paint is a mixture of solvent, binder, and pigment. Whitewash, on the other hand, is simply a solvent, chalk, and lime. In most cases, the solvent is water itself. The lime and chalk are dissolved in water and then brushed onto the wood. The water dries, leaving behind a layer of lime. The lime leaves the wood stained a light white color. You can apply more layers of whitewash to make it whiter. If you only apply a layer or two, you will get the iconic grayish look that is so typical of late 19th century constructions.
Why Is It Popular?
Whitewash is synonymous with late 19th century and early 20th century working class American construction. As homeowners began to earn more money or move into the middle of the 20th century, they wanted to shed their working class image from the past. That led to vinyl flooring, painting hardwood fences, and other sorts of more modern innovations. Those innovations are typical of the 1950s, but the working class American look has become more popular for hardwood flooring.
Hardwood flooring itself has been growing in popularity because it evokes images of the past. Whitewashing your floor will solidify that image. It will give you the washed out, grayish seaside look that many modern paints and stains attempt to mimic at much greater cost.
If you want to pair your whitewashed hardwood floor with furniture and walls, there are several options. Pairing it with whitewashed wooden walls or whitewashed wooden furniture will make your home look like seaside New England homes. Pairing it with distressed wood and rustic furniture will lend towards a rustic look that might evoke Tom Sawyer’s Missouri upbringing.
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