Home & Garden

Floored! From hardwood to laminate to stone, selecting flooring for the home is no simple task

Selecting flooring used to be simple because choices were limited. Until the early part of the 20th century, hardwood was the norm in most houses. In the mid-century, with the advent of super vacuum cleaners and a decline in stay-at-home mothers, carpet was considered not only easier to maintain than wood, but expected in middle to upper income houses.

In new construction, sub-floors made from composite materials were installed as the underlayment for carpet, linoleum or asphalt tile. The aged floors in many historic homes have been preserved for later restoration because they were fashionably covered with wall to wall carpet or rubber tile.

With the increasing interest in historic preservation during the 1970s, hardwood floors regained their status as the premier product for new homes. The typical floors in 18th century houses were oak or, in Southern states, wide pine, which was abundant. Those floors were uncovered and painstakingly saved when carpet was relegated to the bedrooms.

New houses in the latter part of the 20th century were once again floored in hardwoods, where they were found even in kitchens and other high-traffic areas.

But, maintaining the finish on wood floors in rooms that take the brunt of abuse was a problem. Terms like “engineered flooring” and “laminates” became part of the lexicon of flooring dealers.

ENGINEERED STRENGTH

Engineered flooring is made by fusing a fine wood veneer to plies of other strong woods. The first generation of engineered flooring, with which we are most familiar, is parquet flooring, which was popular in the last half of the 20th century -- particularly in foyers and halls.

Parquet was installed in small squares or could be arranged to create a design or pattern, but the surface was fragile and, due to its layered construction, could not be successfully refinished.

The latest engineered products are available in widths, lengths and pre-stained colors that replicate sold wood floors so well that the difference is barely discernible. The advantages of engineered flooring include resistance to warp and ease of cleaning, for these floors never need waxing.

For homeowners whose houses are built on slabs, engineered flooring is the ideal option. The finishes available are the same for custom installed hardwood floors -- high gloss, semi-gloss, matte or oiled surface. Another plus with engineered floors is the opportunity to have an exotic wood, or one that would be prohibitive in price if it were solid wood.

Julie and Todd Suttles, who own Suttles Flooring on Vineville Avenue, have discarded their racks of carpet samples and devoted the space to a display of laminate, engineered wood and hardwood flooring. According to the Suttles, the demand for alternatives to hardwood -- for which they have a longstanding reputation in the installation and refinishing business -- led to the renovation of the showroom.

Additionally, they feature vinyl tile, which can be laid in traditional squares or in planks to simulate wood or stone; a grout line can be used to separate the tiles to add to the realistic appearance one would have with natural stone or hard tile.

LOCKING IN THE LOOK

The first laminate flooring to gain widespread popularity in the late 1990s was a thin material that could be installed in sheets or planks and resembled wood or vinyl tiles. This early laminate did not interlock and there were complaints about the hollow, clicking sound of shoes on the surface, a dead giveaway that it was not the real thing.

The new laminates are a far cry from earlier products. These are denser, laid over a water and sound proof barrier and interlock just as solid wood or engineered floors do. The surfaces are available in options that mimic real wood, scraped to simulate primitive or age-worn floors, polished in an oiled finish or dyed to coordinate sunny colors. Again, unusual wood, such as teak, can be replicated in a laminate floor.

Hardwood floors are still the gold standard of flooring, and the wood can be used to create designs such as custom parquet floors. Softer heart pine floors found in so many old houses are being faithfully repaired and restored.

It is difficult to find wide heart pine for new installation, for the original floors were made from old growth pines, which are now in short supply. As old buildings such as textile mills are being razed, the old pine structural members are being cut, dried and planed for the market -- but at a premium price. Using a man-made engineered or laminate floor could be a solution to getting that wide pine, old waxed look in your house.

MAKING A STATEMENT

Stone floors are elegant and tough and can really make a statement in the design of a house. Highly polished marble -- bordered by a contrasting color or laid in an intricate pattern -- can define a space, and ages beautifully.

The colors and patterns mined all over the world make it possible to create a one-of-a-kind floor for every taste and every space. Marble floors can be used in any room in the house and can be left in a natural state or polished to a mirror finish.

Marble, like all natural stone, has to be sealed on a regular basis to prevent permanent staining. For that reason, porcelain tile, the toughest tile made, or ceramic tile is often used in bathrooms and kitchens.

Porcelain tile is manufactured in patterns that duplicate natural stone, and is a more rugged option to real stone. Contrasting colors and patterns of porcelain also can be laid to create designs or borders in public rooms of a house.

COVER STORY

If you use stone or tile in the kitchen, consider the unforgiving surface if you have to stand on it for long periods of time. Or, if you like wood, laminate or stone throughout your house, you will want to cover some of those floors with rugs for the perception of warmth, or to complement the other elements in your design.

According to Tommy Holmes at Carpet Salvage II on Shurling Drive, wall-to-wall carpet is still used but in more neutral colors and in simpler textures. Natural sisal rugs gained popularity during the “green” movement, but, according to Holmes, area rugs in synthetic sisal or patterned carpet with a decorative border are user-friendly and much easier to clean than natural fibers.

Katherine Walden is an interior designer and freelance writer in Macon. Contact her at 478-742-2224 or kwaldenint@aol.com.

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