Top 6 Exotic Hardwood Floors

Exotic Hardwood Flooring - 525439899
Exotic Hardwood Flooring. Getty / Astronaut Images

Exotic!  What's not to love?  We have exotic cars and exotic fruits.  Anything with the word exotic feels sexy, seductive.  So, exotic hardwood floors must be a cut above all others.  Right?

Unlike other home products--porcelain tile is a great example--no group or association offers up a standard definition for what exotic means in terms of wood flooring.  Brazilian Pecan, with its wildly contrasting colors, or Australian Cypress, with its knots, whorls, and recesses, are both what most of us would call exotic hardwoods.

 So, there is a casual definition of exotic hardwood floors (see end of article), and all of these fit that category: 

1.  Brazilian Cherry:  Old Favorite

Otherwise known as jatoba, this fiery red hardwood hails not just from Brazil, but from Peru and Mexico.  Even though jatoba is not as popular as it once was, the good news for you is that the once sky-high prices have subsided to more reasonable levels.

  • You'll Love It:  At 2350 on the Janka scale, jatoba is extremely hard.  
  • You May Not Love It:  When even your parents say, "Wasn't this floor popular in the last century?"

2.  Tigerwood:  Showy and Dramatic

The perfectly-named tigerwood announces itself with its wildly contrasting wide grains.  Tigers, zebras, any animal with stripes come to mind with this truly exotic-looking flooring.  

  • You'll Love It:  Tigerwood is all about the drama that this flooring brings to a room.
  • You May Not Love It:  Sun may fade those darker stripes, evening out the contrasts that first attracted you to this type of wood.

    3.  Kempas:  Quietly Doing Its Job

    Kempas is a reddish-pinkish brown wood from Indonesia and Malaysia that attractively darkens when stained.  Kempas creates no drama in your home; it just provides a good, solid hardwood floor that lets other parts of the room shine.

    • You'll Love It:  A durable wood that is reasonable priced for exotics.
    • You May Not Love It:  Kempas will progressively darken with exposure to sunlight.

    4.  Sapele Mahogany:  When a Straight Grain Is Too Boring For You

    Rated a mid-range 1,410 on the Janka scale, sapele is a tight, wavy-grained hardwood from tropical Africa.  

    • You'll Love It:  You want flooring with a lush, wavy pattern that looks rich and very up-scale.
    • You May Not Love It:  Sapele is reported to be very photo-sensitive.  So, areas that are carpeted, have sofas on them, or are otherwise covered may retain an outline.

    5.  Australian Cypress:  Rustic With a Touch of Class

    Australian Cypress is a very rustic-looking wood with whorls and pronounced grain.

    • You'll Love It:  You want to give your home a cottage or cabin feeling.
    • You May Not Love It:  As far as hardwoods go, Australian Cypress is fairly soft.  Not the best wood flooring for a house with dogs.

    6.  Ipe or Brazilian Walnut:  When Hardness Matters

    Known as ipe or ironwood, Brazilian Walnut is one of the toughest hardwood floors available.

    • You'll Love It:  Ipe is so strong and hard, it's often used for exterior decking.  
    • You May Not Love It:  So difficult to fabricate, many floor installers may balk at taking on this wood.

    Exotics, Loosely Defined

    Since "coming from a foreign country" isn't a good definition for exotic hardwoods, what is?

     Most flooring retailers group their exotics by the following:

    1. Mostly Hard: Aren't all hardwoods physically hard? Not necessarily. Purpleheart and Australian Cypress, which fly the hardwood flag, fall mid-range on the Janka hardness scale, far below the hardness of products like teak, mahogany, ipe, and jatoba.  However, most tend to be hard.
    2. Expensive: Exotic hardwood flooring will almost always cost more than similar domestic hardwoods.
    3. Wide, Rich Grain: Grains are often wide and pronounced.
    4. Vibrant Colors: Exotic hardwoods exhibit vibrant, unusual colors--from reds to classic browns and even to purples.
    5. Contrasting Colors: Some exotics, like Brazilian Pecan and Tigerwood, show night-and-day contrasts between colors, from deep black to light tan, all in the same board.