Both of these solutions look all right and are reasonably durable, but they really don't allow the designer an opportunity to do something truly attractive with the floor -- something that will enhance the overall design plan.
So let's take a moment to discuss other types of flooring and the different areas that must be considered.
These home work spaces consist of the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry room, mud room and foyer. They tend to be high-traffic areas or areas where a lot of water and chemicals are present.
The kitchen probably is the room requiring the most durable flooring surface. Not only is the floor tracked upon multiple times every day by every family member, it also must bear a perpetual barrage of things dropped onto it. Tableware of all types, food stuffs of infinite variety and miscellaneous abrasive items that end up in the kitchen all hit the floor regularly.
Most common today are vinyl surfaces. Although sometimes loosely called linoleum, these floorings actually belong in a different product group. They are made of petroleum-based raw materials, and the range in quality is wide.
Better quality, more expensive vinyl has the design manufactured through the depth of the surface. Inexpensive vinyl has a surface decoration only. Both are coated with vinyl to protect the design. The more expensive the vinyl, the better the surface layers of protection.
Although vinyl is easy to walk upon (it is considered a resilient flooring) and easy to clean, it tears easily. Anyone who has ever pulled out a refrigerator for cleaning may testify as to how the flooring was ripped. Once ripped or gouged, dirt collects in the indentations making the floor much more difficult to keep or look clean. Still, it is a favorite of many a client and designer.
Linoleum is making a big comeback, and for many good reasons. From a design perspective the look of these floorings have been updated and rejuvenated. And designers are doing wonderful things with insets and designs, which can be cut crisply into linoleum. Also, linoleum is made from renewable resources and is bio-degradable. This makes the environmentalists among our ranks very happy.
There has yet to be made a vinyl that has the durability of linoleum. Often, linoleum is used in high-traffic commercial situations, which definitely makes it strong enough to take the abuse of the standard family. It also has found a welcome home in hospitals and clean rooms. With its easy cleaning capacity and its resistance to chemical damage it can't be beat. Quality linoleum tends to price out in the same range as the better vinyls.
Wood floors can be great in any style of kitchen. They add a feeling of warmth and richness that no other flooring can match. Price is a key issue and will only increase as we continue using up our trees and diminish our resources.
Another key issue with wood floors is finish. Because of the high use of water in the kitchen, a poor wood sealer will create a horrible maintenance problem. Wood floors should be sealed properly with a quality product and then waxed and maintained regularly. Water or other liquids should never be allowed to remain on the wood surface for any period of time no matter how good the finish.
Ceramic tile floors can be so creative and not necessarily too expensive. There are wide price ranges in both domestic and imported tiles. Often an inexpensive floor design can be created then spruced up with a few imported designer tiles placed in strategic locations. Like linoleum, tile is a work horse. When properly installed, a tile floor can last 20 years or more. Maintenance is easy, a mop and some basic cleaning compound do the trick.
Challenges for this surface are two-fold. The floor tends to be cold under foot all year round. This is great in the heat of summer, but less appealing during the winter months. Ways to cope with this problem include under-floor radiant heat (boy, does that feel good on the feet!) or quality insulation under the subfloor.
Also, tile floors are not as resilient as all of the other kitchen flooring surfaces. Because there is no "give" in the floor, it might be wise to place rugs, mats or pads in locations where one might be standing for a long period of time such as in front of the kitchen sink. When items drop onto this floor, they will break. Of course they will break on the other surfaces too, it's just that they make a louder noise when they hit the tile so it is much more dramatic.
Kitchen carpeting had its heyday in the '70s. True, it was easy on the feet and it looked great when it was new, but the drawbacks seem to be too great. Stains were difficult if not impossible to remove. A snagged loop in some carpeting could leave a "run" across the carpet that was not repairable. It was impossible to get the carpet truly clean, generating a doubt that the kitchen was truly clean either.
If some type of carpeting is desired in this utilitarian area it would be best to use area rugs that can be removed for cleaning and easily replaced if damaged or worn.
Bathrooms are not too dissimilar from kitchens so reviewing the above would be most appropriate. Wall-to-wall plush carpeting has been popular in some of the more elegant or larger baths and dressing areas. If this look is desired consider not tacking down the carpet. That way, if the carpet gets too wet, it can be picked up easily to dry out, thus preventing a mold and mildew problem. Also, find a fiber that can withstand high levels of humidity. Less expensive nylon and especially polyester carpeting will untwist and mat down from moisture. The only solution: replacement.
If using ceramic tile, look for textured, glazed finishes. The glaze will keep the water out of the tile and improve maintenance. A texture also will reduce the possibility of accidents when wet.
Linoleum and vinyl can be attractive and durable in any bathroom. Either can withstand the moisture, and neither should have a mold or mildew problem. As with ceramic tile, the textured surface would be preferable to prevent accidents on a slick, wet surface.
Wood is used infrequently in most bathrooms though it's not an impossibility. As with kitchens, surface finishes will be key to the success of such a floor over the long term. The color of the wood or the detailing in the floor can add much to the look of the room. Area rugs can be added in strategic places to increase safety and warm the floors.
Laundry rooms and mud rooms are more similar to kitchens than baths or other work spaces. The use of detergents and other cleaning agents requires that any selected floor surface be able to take this abuse. Typically carpeting is not appropriate, but vinyl, tile and linoleum should all work adequately, some better than others. Wood also is an option, but will require more care and maintenance.
Foyers need to be treated more as a utilitarian space because of the traffic that occurs there. Typically there is no use of detergents or chemicals to consider and a more formal but inviting atmosphere is desired. Ceramic tile, wood, creative linoleum and carpeting could be the best options. Area rugs and bordered carpeting (see below) can be choices to add textural interest to whatever dominant flooring is selected.
These are the real havens for wall-to-wall carpeting. Living rooms, dining rooms, family rooms and bedrooms are perpetually "painted" with a solid color carpet. Often it's the same color throughout the house, which can add to design unity and the feeling of an expanded living space but tends to be so boring.
Of course there are reasons why wall-to-wall carpeting is used so often. First, specifying the color usually is a snap because there are so many hues from which to choose. There also are many grades of carpeting so there is a carpet for any and every budget. Because of today's relatively carefree, durable, man-made fibers quality carpeting can have a relatively long life when properly maintained. Proper maintenance has become easier as the fibers have been enhanced.
There was a time, before the '50s and '60s, when carpeting, especially wall-to-wall, was only affordable for the very wealthy. Made out of wool it would not easily fit into the budget of the average consumer. Having an area rug in the living room/parlor often was the most many could afford.
The flooring of the masses at this time was wood. Look under the carpeting of just about any house built before the '60s and you will find a wood floor. It may be in good condition too as it has been protected by carpeting and pads all these years.
There is an easy, creative option with carpeting that will work well in almost any room. Consider using a large piece of carpet in the center of the room and bordering the floor next to the wall with an alternative surface. Wood or tiles of ceramic or earthen styles make wonderful borders. The carpet can be inset in the floor so it is even with the hard surface.
Of course tile or wood for the whole floor can be extremely attractive. These options usually cost more than carpeting but wear better for longer. Add area rugs to define the conversation area. You even could consider specifying two different rugs for a seasonal change to keep the room exciting year round.
If the budget permits, wood floors of parquet patterns or borders are an eye-catcher. The maintenance does not differ, but the level of sophistication definitely increases. Of course such a floor should not be hidden under area rugs.
For these more formal spaces, tile can be an alternative. There are many choices: marble, terrazzo, travertine and other stones are elegant and opulent. Prices can be so high the client will need a flexible budget. Ceramic tiles come in a vast array of designs, only one's imagination can limit what can be done. For more informal rooms, earthen tile such as Mexican pavers are fabulous. Many of these are unglazed so a sealer may be needed to increase the ease of maintenance and prevent permanent damage from daily use.
If you stay with wall-to-wall carpeting, you can choose a coordinating color and border the main area with the second hue. Sometimes a textural change can be added as well, such as changing from a Berber to a plush, to really energize the look.
If the room is a basic shape such as a square or rectangle, an unbound area rug with an interesting design can be ordered the size of the room. The installers can then install it on a pad with tackboard as a wall-to-wall carpet. This is not only unusual, it can look stunning.
Vinyls and linoleums are not often used in living spaces. The occasional exception is the family room. If the family is very active or the activity range for this room is diverse, these solid surfaces may be appropriate to ease maintenance and clean up. Area rugs of carpet or fibers such as sisal or coil could be used to soften and define the conversation area.
With a little bit of research and some enthusiasm on behalf of the client and a whole new realm of the design plan can be yours for the mastering. The pay-off will be a more attractive and dramatic room and, just possibly, an increase in income too!
Susan Dudics-Dean is owner of Celestial Designs and an interior designer who has worked in the San Francisco Bay area of California for more than 11 years. She also is a newspaper columnist and seminar speaker.