Floors and walls must be suitable for the purpose or function of an interior, compatible with the style of furnishings and the level of formality, and chosen to be beautiful themselves and increase the aesthetic value of the interior. If they are not in line in these three ways, the interior will not be as aesthetically pleasing as it could be.
Floors and walls that are suitable for the function of an interior are scrutinized as to durability first. Ironically, this is often the last checklist item, yet it proves to be the key factor in longevity. It is very wise first to consider the ability of the flooring material to withstand the amount and type of traffic it will bear. For wall coverings, it is the ability to endure the amount of abuse that might take place.
Be pragmatic about the need for durability. In a high-traffic area the floor needs to withstand much more foot wear than, say, in a bedroom. Wall coverings need to be scrubbable in high-use areas; washable in moderate-use areas, and impervious to moisture damage in areas such as bathrooms, kitchens or high-humidity and moisture areas.
Be certain the glue is durable and appropriate for the installation. The quality of the installation also will help ensure the durability of these products.
Carpets that have been rated as to texture retention, crush resistance and fiber quality endurance can be sold to clients with far greater confidence than those in which we rely simply on hand tests and visual observation of the samples.
Consider also the price to be paid in upkeep. For flooring, light colors, solid colors and dark colors will show the most spots and soiling as well as traffic patterns. An old adage says, "In carpeting, choose the nicest dirty color you can find." That means a low intensity (dull) color with a medium value. Overall, dirt is neither dark nor light, but medium-dark in value. Lighter and darker colors should be reserved for areas with little foot traffic.
A shorter, denser pile generally will be more resilient than a pile that is more sparsely tufted or woven. To judge the density, bend the carpet sample backward to see how much of the backing is exposed, or "grins." The more backing that is exposed, the less dense the tufts or stitches and the more likely the carpet is to become matted.
Look at the carpet fiber or composition. Nylon is the most durable of the man-made fibers. But there are many quality levels of nylon. Look for a brand name that backs or guarantees the quality level of its nylon fiber. Olefin generally does not hold up nearly as well. Polyester fibers should be used only in low-traffic areas. Wool is a resilient fiber that compares to nylon in durability, if the quality level is high.
Price is often an indicator of quality carpeting. Lower prices can indicate a carpet that will wear out much faster. Because it's not only the material but also the labor that will have to be replaced, it often is true for both carpet and hard flooring that "cheap costs more than expensive." However, for higher-end products, the design name may be part of the price and not necessarily an indicator of quality.
One truism in the new home construction market is that the per-square-yard financial allotment is inadequate for a quality flooring and cheaper qualities must be installed if the customer is not willing or able to upgrade. This almost always means a flooring product with poorer durability and aesthetic retention.
Durability also is a part of the upkeep for wall coverings. When selecting or specifying wall coverings ask: Will the wall coverings show fingerprints or soiling easily or camouflage them? Will the wall coverings require maintenance? If so, will it be acceptable to the customers?
Second in importance in coordinating background elements is the compatibility of the wall or floor coverings with the room's furnishings in style or level of formality. Some tried-and-true rules apply here, with consideration also given to the nouveau rules which may seem to break the old rules.
First is to determine what is the style of furnishings. While I am an enthusiastic advocate of obtaining a firm knowledge of historic periods and accuracy of style, I also realize that many in this profession are not keenly aware of historic furnishings and their implications. Therefore, it is helpful to categorize styles generally in the following way:
• Traditional-interiors with furnishings from the Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival and Victorian eras and updated versions of other Old World classics.
Elegance and refinement are inherent; these interiors are relatively formal. The use of smooth, refined textures, well-developed floral patterns, adaptations of classic motifs or marbleized patterns are the hallmark of this interior. Furnishings such as Queen Anne, Chippendale, Neoclassic, Duncan Phyfe, Empire and Greek adaptations are traditional.
Textures include marble, finely grained wood, fabrics such as moire, satin or antique satin, brocade, damask, velvet and sheers. Many of these textures are created visually for wall covering selections, some with great accuracy and others with a dreamy, imaginative quality that only suggests historic motifs on a marble or cloud-like ground.
Floor coverings include fine Oriental or French rugs over hard wood or marble flooring.
• Upscale Country-a step down in formality, but not in cost, from traditional interiors. Less smooth, these interiors have a rustic elegance and sophistication combined with beautiful though earthy textures.
Upscale country can take many directions: Country French, probably the perennial favorite; American Country, which may combine a few elements of traditional; Hispanic Colonial, African Colonial, Caribbean Colonial . . . the list goes on and on.
A few things seem to be common to this style: Walls may be rough, stucco, covered with a ticking or toile de jour, trimmed with darker trim or cleaned up with crisp wood trim and accents.
• Modern-interiors that can take either of two directions: the International Modern or the Organic Modern looks.
Clean and spare, International Modern focuses on white and black, crisp sculptural lines and sleek sophistication with very little pattern but some natural texture-slate floors for example. Younger clients, Generation Xers and the 30-something crowd, often love the 1950's Scandinavian Modern look with abstract patterns on walls and floors and unusual or one-of-a-kind shapes and materials in furnishing.
The Organic Modern look is accomplished with William Morris-inspired patterns on walls, floors, draperies and furnishings; the Frank Lloyd Wright look of mostly hand-woven textures with some surprisingly bright colors amid the earthy palette; or the now-famous Stickley-style of Mission furniture, with its straight lines of oak with leather seats. This look seeks wall and floor textures that are real and natural such as tile and wood in rich, mellow tones that create the look of years of tender loving care and enjoyment, even if the interior is new. *Environmental/Country/Ethnic-not surprisingly lumped together because the floor and wall textures can cross over so beautifully. These are very real, very earthy interiors with broad plank floors, ethnic rugs (from any of dozens of places around the globe) and natural fiber rugs.
Walls can be simply textured-grass cloth, denim, corduroy or chambray-rough and deep or subtle and sophisticated. Ethnic, tribal, abstract or geometric patterns on the wall may give this interior a masculine feel.
• Eclectic-one-of-a-kind interiors. Every furnishing element is selected for its individual beauty and intrigue and none are from the same period so no theme can be clearly identified.
The key to success is to pay close attention to the application of the Principles of Design: proportion and scale, balance, rhythm, emphasis and harmony and of the Elements of Design: space, light, color, form, mass, pattern and texture. When carefully crafted to achieve a sense of rightness, an eclectic interior can be a delightful experience.
In addition to the general categories above are new ways of decorating involving nouveau rules. Simply, it is to combine elements from categories in a way that creates sometimes surprising but always interesting and delightful. For example, in a traditional interior an environmental rug or mat may be used as a floor covering. In an upscale country setting very traditional treatments may be seen side-by-side with a rustic, ethnic piece.
However, there is an overall sense of theme to a nouveau interior, unlike the eclectic interior, which defies categorization. The nouveau interior may have a fun or unusual theme, or an unexpected twist for the sake of interest, practicality or economy.
Beauty is the final consideration in coordinating wall and flooring coverings. Aesthetics, or beauty as seen in the eye of the beholder, is based on three timeless elements: pattern, color and texture. Rules of these three elements are extensive, and the topic of another article, but one sure rule is to ask questions, such as:
• Of pattern: Do the patterns coordinate and is the scale harmonious and not conflicting?
• Of color: Are the colors interrelated and give depth, interest, clarity and continuity to the interior?
• Of texture: Do the visual and tactile textures evoke the feelings I am trying to achieve in this interior, and do they support the pattern and color in order to create a harmonious interior?
A word of caution: Remember the danger in selecting from a small sample then being surprised and perhaps disappointed with the results. Try to obtain the largest samples possible and try them out under different lighting circumstances. Remember, colors intensify and darken in large quantity and pattern becomes stronger, more aggressive or repetitive in larger areas.
Karla J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding Fabrics. Nielson is a regular correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion, education and merchandising.