Saturday, December 15, 2007

Stone, wood floors can be modern or traditional

Stone, wood floors can be modern or traditional


Q: I can't decide which type of flooring to put down in my house, stone or hardwood. I love the look of both. What are the pros and cons?

A: This is a great question, and something to think about for the upcoming renovation season. Until recently, stone wasn't used in North American homes except in the bathroom and kitchen. But times have changed, and travel has brought many style ideas into our homes. Stone traditionally has been the main component in hot-weather homes. It is cool to the touch and resistant to heat and moisture. However, the hard surface is tiring if you are standing or walking on it constantly, and it's completely unforgiving to anything that drops on it.

There's a gorgeous selection of marble, granite, limestone and slate, so you can go as light or as dark as you please. And you also can devise patterns and captivating designs according to how you lay the stones. For example, create a central pattern or trim with mosaic tiles. Tile and stone can dictate whether you are going modern or traditional by the way it's laid. A clean, straight pattern with very narrow grout will evoke stylish modern, whereas a brick pattern with wider grout will be more in keeping with a classic look. The travertine floor at the London Hotel in New York City is timeless and elegant, a stunning choice for a living room, dining room and main entrance hall.

Stone is heavy, so you might need to consider a proper weight-bearing subfloor to accept the added weight.

For the central living areas, hardwood is always a favorite, whether you are going modern or traditional, and for good reason. It's warm and comfortable underfoot, and its many natural hues incorporate well into any design scheme. Ash and maple are light woods that work well in contemporary settings, pine floors are synonymous with country or rustic style, and dark-stained oak is classic for formal or traditional homes. Yet move into chocolate and black stains, and you're modern again.

There is quite a price spread, too. My first choice is having the wood laid in your home, then sanded, stained and varnished. This is the traditional and, in my opinion, classic way to a true wood floor. But today it's less time-consuming and not as messy to apply finished hardwood planks. They are costlier, but the stronger, long-lasting finishing coat is worth it. There's also engineered wood or wood laminate flooring that is easy to install and affordable. Choose the thickest wood laminate you can afford, as it will last longer. It's imperative with these laminate floors that there is no dampness or wetness underneath. Laminates do not have the ability to breath, as do real wood floors, and gaps will soon appear between planks. The laminates also will wear in places in a far less natural way than real wood planks.

Your choice is not an easy one. If you love the look of stone, you can always add area carpets to warm the space in the cooler months. Or consider a heated floor. Maintenance is an important factor, and this comes down to the type of traffic in your home. High-gloss stone or wood floors can be dangerous. Tumbled stone has a dull finish that is more slip-resistant.

Your budget will guide you, too. Granite and mahogany floors are high end but timeless. Fortunately, there is enough variation in available materials and costs to give you plenty of options.

Debbie Travis writes home decorating books and hosts "Debbie Travis' Facelift" on HGTV. Her syndicated column appears occasionally.

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