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What's Underfoot? A Guide to Flooring

Saturday, 03rd July 2010

Choosing the right flooring for your home is one of the biggest decorating decisions you'll ever make. After all, flooring is not only expensive, but next to walls it's the largest single expanse of colour in any room. But what are the different options for design, colour and finish, and which styles will work best in your home?

Before you Start
The first thing to consider is how will the room be used. Is it a busy area, such as a hallway or living room? Is it a quiet spot for relaxation, such as a bedroom? Or a utility area with lots of moisture and possibly mess, such as a kitchen, laundry or playroom? An apartment or townhouse may have the additional consideration of noise control, which needs to be factored into your flooring choice.

When it comes to choosing colour, remember that next to walls, your floor takes up the largest expanse of space in a room. Whatever colour you settle on for the floor will have a huge impact on the tone of the rest of your room scheme, and for this reason most designers recommend building your scheme from the floor up.

Assess the amount of light coming into your home - a light-starved room will benefit from a pale carpet that reflects the light, while a sunny room can take a darker base tone that will give drama to your furnishings.

Budget will also play an important part in your decision-making. Flooring prices vary greatly depending on what you choose - a timber veneer or vinyl is likely to cost far less than, say, wall-to-wall woolen carpeting. But if insulation and acoustics are both issues, you may with to combine the best of both worlds with an affordable hard floor peppered with cosy and eyecatching woolen rugs.

Wall-to-wall woolen carpet feels divine underfoot and comes in a range of patterns of textures to suit different needs. It tends to be expensive, and will require regular vacuuming to keep its good looks, but with the right care will look fabulous for years.
Get to grips with the different textures available. Plush, cut pile has a tendency to shadow and will show every footprint and is therefore best suited to low-traffic areas such as bedrooms. A hardy loop pile in a flecked colourway will withstand moderate footfall and won't show up every scrap of dirt between vacuums, and is therefore suited living rooms and hallways.
Pure wool is the luxurious choice, but nylon carpets are getting better all the time and can be more affordable and easier to clean. It's always a good idea to stainproof any carpet with Scotchguard or a similar product, and be sure to act fast with common household spills and stains.

Laying a rug over hard or soft flooring will give your room an instant lift. Rugs are also easy to clean and versatile enough to move around if you want to change the look of your room. In addition to traditional rug designs such as Aubussons, Orientals and kilims, there are a host of fabulous modern designs on the market today - check out Designer Rugs and Cadrys, for example. If you live in an open-plan home, you can use rugs to define zones for different activities, such as living room, home office and play area.
Avoid choosing rugs that are too small - they should ideally extend out far enough that any tables and chairs sit comfortably on on top.  A good tip is to lay masking tape to the size of your chosen rug on the floor prior to purchase.

Your home may already have a timber floor, or you may want to add the look of natural timber over a bare floor. Choose from solid timber, timber overlay or a floating timber floor. You can also get the look of a timber with a robust vinyl flooring in a timber design.
Solid timber floors are generally about 19mm thick and can be laid over bearers, joists and concrete. A timber overlay is much thinner at about 12mm thick and can be laid directly over concrete slabs or existing floors. A floating timber floor is a far more affordable option. It's made with 3-4mm of timber veneer adhered to plywood, which is glued or clicked together and can be laid over most types of existing floors.

Tough and easy to look after, tiles are a great choice for high-traffic or wet areas, such as hallways, laundries or bathrooms. They come in all manner of styles and textures, and can be laid in an understated or dramatic pattern. Make sure your tiles are non-slip, and avoid choosing very light or dark ones that will show up every scrap of dirt or muddy footprint.

Good old-fashioned vinyl flooring requires very little effort to keep clean and dry, it's warm to stand on and comes in just about every colour and contemporary design imaginable. The trick is to avoid the very low-cost vinyl, which probably won't age well. 

Eco-Friendly Choices
As we embrace all things 'green' in the home, there has been a resurgence in popularity for certain types of environmentally-friendly flooring. Cork has come back to the fore - it comes in squares or rolled sheets and can be glued down or installed as a floating floor. It's a highly renewable product that is tough, insulating and comfortable to walk on. It also has great sound-proofing qualities, which makes it an attractive option for apartments and townhouses.  

Plant fibre flooring such as sisal, jute and coir has a wonderful natural appeal, but can be scratchy underfoot. New technologies are producing softer and more stain-resistant designs, but they're still not recommended for wet areas as they mark easily.

The design world is going gaga for all things bamboo right now, including bamboo flooring. It's an inexpensive and eco-friendly product that has all the benefits of a hardwood, plus a few others too - it's naturally moisture resistant and won't warp or twist as it's actually a long-growing grass rather than wood. Bamboo comes in light tones, but the trend right now is to have it stained dark to reveal its rich, contrasting grain.


Georgia Madden

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