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The Low-Down on Kitchen Flooring

Monday, 20th September 2010

Strong, beautiful, resistant to stains and spills - we put a lot of pressure on our kitchen flooring to perform. The good news is that most of them are more than up to the challenge. The main choices are tiled, timber, laminate and stone, each suited to different kitchen environments. First, work out which ones will blend in well with your kitchen cabinetry, and than factor in special considerations such as acoustics, heavy appliances or mess created by children or pets.

Where should you start?
First, think about the style of your kitchen. The flooring should complement your kitchen cabinetry and worktop, and tone in with the overall style of the room. A country kitchen will suit classic flooring, such as timber or limestone, while a contemporary kitchen can take something more modern such as one of the new decorative laminates.

Continuity is another important consideration. If your kitchen forms part of an open-plan kitchen-living-diner, you may wish to lay the same flooring throughout. Alternatively, you could clearly define the separate zones by laying, say, a stone floor in the kitchen, and a hardwood floor in the living and dining areas.

When it comes to colour and finish, two of the most successful routes are to either opt for something that blends in with all the other elements of the room with matching colours and finishes. Or, to go for a striking contrast - a dark, matt floor, for example, paired with a pale, highly-polished worktop.

If you're living in apartment you'll need to consider acoustics too as a hard floor can be noisy for your downstairs neighbours. Always seek permission from your strata committee before laying any new floor, and speak to your flooring specialist about a quality, acoustic-rated underlay.

Some types of kitchen flooring, such as timber, will require regular sealing to provide resistance against moisture and scratching. Remember that the seal itself may alter the colour of the flooring - speak to your flooring specialist or do a small test patch first.

Underfloor heating
If you're at the building or renovating stage, this is the time to consider whether you want to add underfloor heating to banish the winter chill beneath your feet. Underfloor heating can be laid beneath most hard floors, including tile, stone and engineered timber. The two main types are hydronic heating, where the floor is heated by hot water running through pipes beneath the floor, and an electrical system where heat is emitted through a mat of electrical cables in the sub-floor.

What are the main flooring types?

It's hard to beat the natural warmth and character of timber, and there's been a real trend in recent years towards having hardwood floors in the kitchen. Timber can be particularly effective if your kitchen extends to an outside deck or timber-decked courtyard, where it will provide a visual connection between inside and out.
On the downside, timber is heat- and moisture-sensitive, and the planks may move and curl over time. The best protection against water damage is to have your timber floor sealed regularly, and to mop up any kitchen spills immediately.

Engineered timber
If you live in an apartment and love the look of natural timber, the best choice might be an engineered timber floor, otherwise known as a 'floating' floor. Engineered timber is made up of a 4mm layer of timber or timber look-a-like glued to ply-boards, which is then laid over an existing floor. An engineered timber floor won't shift in the same way that solid timber will, plus it has good soundproofing qualities when laid over a quality acoustic-rated underlay. It's also far more moisture-resistant than solid timber - a real plus in any kitchen.

An all-time favourite in kitchens for several reasons - tiles are incredibly durable, resistant to scratching and they're easy to clean. Plus, you can create a seamless flow between your walls and floor by extending the tiles from wall to floor.
The two main types are ceramic and porcelain. Ceramic tiles are practical, easy to replace when chipped, and start at a low price point. More expensive than ceramic tiles, porcelain tiles can be made to mimic the look of natural stone, metallic or even timber, and they'll give you the look - with less water absorbtion - for less. They don't require any sealing and have a uniform appearance. 
On the downside, tiles can be cold underfoot and noisy, so they might not be the best choice for apartments.
For drama, consider bold brights or dark tones of charcoal and grey. To make a small kitchen appear larger, opt for pale tiles that reflect the light. By choosing larger tiles with less grout lines between them you'll further add to the sense of space.
Whatever style you choose, make sure the tiles have a non-slip surface to reduce the risk of falls.

Stone looks incredibly luxurious, and it's available in a range of shades from creamy whites and toffee to earthy browns. Like tiles, stone can be noisy so a good acoustic barrier is essential. Popular choices include limestone, marble and travertine, all of which will easily withstand the rigours of a busy kitchen.
Stone requires more maintenance than other kitchen flooring types as it's porous and can absorb moisture if not properly-sealed. It needs to be treated with a quality sealant around every three years, and spills should be mopped up immediately.

Synthetic vinyl flooring can replicate the look of just about any surface you imagine, including wood, limestone and marble, all at a far lower cost than the real thing. It is very durable, waterproof and easy to clean. Plus, it's available in easy to lay, extra-large sheets that give you a floor with no unsightly gaps or joins. Look for cushioned vinyl for extra comfort underfoot.

Hugely popular back in the 1950s, linoleum is currently experiencing something of a revival as we embrace all things green. It is an all-natural product with a soft, cushioned texture that feels warm underfoot. It also appeals to allergy sufferers as it contains antibacterial properties.

Laminate is made from a wood composite base with a laminate finish over the top that's designed to resemble natural materials such as wood, stone and tiles, but at a lower cost. Some of the better-quality versions are so realistic it's hard to distinguish them from the real thing, such as the laminate timber planks with bevelled edges. Waterproof laminate flooring is well-suited to kitchens, and it's also fade-resistant and easy to clean. The click-lock versions can be laid in a day or two by an enthusiastic DIY-er, but keep in mind that it's generally considered a noisy surface so don't forget your acoustic underlay.

If you stand in the kitchen for long periods of time, you might consider rubber flooring. This natural product feels warm and tactile underfoot, and has a cushioning texture. It comes in a dazzling array of colours and textures, and will give your kitchen something of an industrial feel. It's non-slip, waterproof and has antibacterial qualities, but heavy kitchen appliances can dent its surface, and you'll need to deal with spills fast to prevent staining.


Georgia Madden

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