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    Today, exotic finishes are available on traditional American hardwoods. Photo: Armstrong 

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    Vinyl tile offers resistance to scratches, stains and wear. As a resilient floor, it offers a more forgiving surface against everyday accidents such as spills. Photo: Armstrong

  • armstrong

    Exotic hardwoods are prized for their unique character, striking grain patterns and depth of natural color. Photo: Armstrong

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Exotic hardwoods are prized for their unique character, striking grain patterns and depth of natural color. Photo: Armstrong


Analyze Your Needs Before You Shop

Focus in on the best type of hard flooring for your space by answering some questions:

  • Where will the flooring be used? This includes which room, but also whether it is above or below grade. Some types of flooring, such as hardwoods, should not be used below grade or in full bathrooms.
  • Who will be using the room? Will rough-and-tumble users such as children and pets be running about? Some flooring will not take the wear and tear as well.
  • What is your budget? Some choices, such as exotic hardwoods, may be ruled out simply on price.
  • What is the overall sensibility you want the room to have? Wood adds a warm look to a room, Bradley notes, while stone and tile exude a cool aura.

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  • Design Underfoot

    Explore options in hardwoods, laminate, vinyl and tile flooring.

    by Deanna L. Thompson

    When it’s time to pick a new floor, many people today are finding the easy choice is actually … hard. Hard floorings are enjoying a tremendous surge in popularity, as advances in technology have led to an array of new designs in hardwood, laminates, vinyl and tile. New “green” choices, such as cork and bamboo, also are showing up on floors throughout the house.


    Cook up an Exotic Hardwood

    There’s no way around it, hardwoods are the hottest flooring today.

    “It’s a really big trend right now,” says Sara Babinski, principal designer for wood and laminate at Armstrong Floor Products. “It’s just exploded in the marketplace.”

    Choices include imported hardwoods such as tigerwood and Brazilian cherry. In addition, more exotic finishes are available on traditional American hardwoods. To create these darker, multi-grained finishes, the woods are baked instead of stained, “caramelized like an onion in a frying pan,” says Babinski. “How long you cook it determines how dark it is.”

    Reclaimed wood is especially hot as a flooring in New York, says Benjamin Bradley, IDS, a partner in the Manhattan-based Bradley Thiergartner Interiors design firm. Other hardwood trends include a move toward five-inch planks, rather than traditional 3-inch boards.

    Some of the hardwoods on the market today look like solid woods but are actually engineered hardwood floors, made from wood layers glued together. They are more stable than solid wood and therefore don’t react as much to humidity and moisture. They can be used below grade while traditional hardwood floors should not be, notes Babinski.


    Get the Look at a Lower Price

    Want the appearance of an exotic wood at a lower price? Advances in printing and embossing technology have enabled manufacturers to create wood laminates that are near twins to hardwood floors.

    “My customers have to be told which is wood and which is laminate,” says Darian Hoyt Miller, a flooring design consultant in Sarasota, Fla.

    Laminate floors work well in places where there may be ambient moisture, such as a basement, and in rooms with uneven or problematic under-floors. The boards lock together but don’t have to be glued down so “they are more forgiving if the floor is uneven,” says Hoyt Miller.

    Laminates are affordable and can often be installed by homeowners themselves.


    Enjoy a Softer ‘Tile’

    Vinyl floors have come a long way, with new technology helping to create vivid designs that mimic the look of wood and tile. Premium vinyl is lightweight, durable, resilient under your feet and nearly impervious to moisture, making it a practical choice for a kitchen or other high-use room, says Hoyt Miller.

    “It’s basically Tupperware on steroids,” she says.

    One of the newest upscale looks is a premium vinyl tile that looks like stone and can be grouted like hard tile, says Babinksi.

    “It mimics the look of real tile, but is easier to install,” she says.

    Old-fashioned sheet vinyl is still available as well, presenting a budget-priced choice for a kitchen.


    Try Cool ‘Stone’ on a Budget

    Hard floorings such as tile, marble and stone are popular for entryways, sun rooms and bathrooms. These floorings are durable and withstand moisture well.

    Reclaimed antique stone and antique terra cotta are two popular materials, says Bradley. On a budget? You can find low-cost porcelain tiles that are “incredibly convincing” in replicating the look of stone, says Bradley. Even sisal carpeting is being replicated on porcelain tiles.


    Discover the Many Colors of ‘Green’

    Interested in a “green” floor? The trend toward “green” products—whether recyclable or made from sustainable sources—is also producing new options.

    Bamboo has gotten a lot of attention, but designers say cork is more popular.

    “A cork floor is absolutely hotter than hot,” says Margi Kyle, IDS, ASID, an interior designer in Charlotte, N.C., and national president of the Interior Design Society (IDS). “If you’re going to make a change, go with something sustainable.”

    Made from the bark of the cork oak tree—which regenerates its bark after harvest—cork flooring can be used in any room. It is comfortable flooring for a kitchen, where people often stand for long periods, because of its resiliency, Bradley says. One caution, though: Cork can handle a spill, cleaned up quickly, but not a flood, says Hoyt Miller.

    Looking to make a color statement? Cork is available in a wide array of hues, including gold with brown, grainy accents, a wine cork shade and even a pearlized pink, Hoyt Miller says.

    From caramelized wood to pink cork, hard flooring offers something for just about everyone.