Designing your home’s interior— from the ground up

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Men laying new hardwood flooring

When building or remodeling a home, flooring materials are often chosen for function and general aesthetic, sometimes without regard to the space’s other interior-design elements. This common mistake can lead to a decrease in your home’s resale value. Be aware that choosing a flooring material and design is your opportunity to create a cohesive, amazing interior with a floor you’ll be proud to show off. Whenever it’s time for remodeling or designing the interior of your home, remember to start from the ground up and focus on flooring first.

“The floor of any room should be the visual base for the style and function of the room,” says Sara Ann Busby, CKD, owner of Sara Busby Design and representative of the National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA). “The floor ‘grounds’ the space, and should have the feeling of supporting the components of the room.”

“You need to have a long-term design plan,” says Elisabeth Stubbs, owner of Enhance Floors & More. “Without a design plan, you can end up limiting yourself.”

Read on as flooring and interior-design experts weigh in on the latest trends and advice for creating designer floors in your home.

Component choices

The first decision to make when designing your home’s floors is the material you will use. “Keep it simple,” recommends Sarah Barnard, LEED AP and interior designer with Sarah Barnard Design. “Choose one amazing material and use a lot of it. Resist the temptation to mix materials over large areas to maintain an upscale and timeless appeal.”

Be choosy

Don’t be afraid to take your time. Flooring is the foundation of your interior-decorating needs. What kind of flooring would best suit your needs? Think about everyone who lives in your home—from cats to dogs to kids. “Take the time to sit down and discuss your situation with several flooring consultants. Make sure you are being listened to and not being sold the latest promotion,” Stubbs says.

“Flooring is a blind purchase for most people because you only purchase flooring a few times in your life and won’t know if a room of carpet costs $100 or $10,000,” Stubbs says. “Make sure you are making a smart purchase—not spending too much, but also not buying low quality that will not perform well over time. If you don’t get a quality installation, or the wrong product was recommended, or you hate the color, it doesn’t matter how inexpensive it was. Many times, higher-priced goods and services pay for themselves over time because they last longer.”

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Walking the planks

With all the options available, it’s no surprise that the wood-floor look is a major trend in homes today. Between all the options, two specific factors play a role in determining which wood-floor option to choose: budget and eco-friendliness.

When deciding a budget, remember you will get what you pay for. “Going with the cheapest flooring is not necessarily the most economic choice,” says Laura Mireles-Anzures of Daniels Floors. “Hardwood flooring is economical because

it never needs to be replaced. With proper care, homeowners will not even need to refinish their floors for many years. Most hardwood-flooring companies install hardwood flooring in phases so that homeowners can create one area at a time. Unfinished wood can be installed and finished in the home for as little as $5 per square foot,” Mireles-Anzures continues.

“Traditional wood floors are increasingly giving way to engineered products due to improved performance and reduced cost,” says Carol Goodwin, co-owner of Goodwin Heart Pine Company, a manufacturer of reclaimed heart-pine and original-growth heart-cypress floors. “With some advanced processes, you can have an engineered-wood floor that truly looks and lasts like solid wood, and can be installed where solid wood is impractical.”

Going green doesn’t mean doing without hardwood flooring. In terms of the environmental impact a wood-flooring product has, several green options are available, including bamboo (a sustainable source of wood) and reclaimed hardwoods (a reused/recycled choice).

“A 100-percent reclaimed-wood floor not only lessens the need to harvest live trees, but it weaves pieces of American history into any room while also carrying the age-old character markings and strength that render it truly unique,” says Tommy Sancic, founder and owner of Olde Wood Limited, a manufacturer of 100-percent reclaimed, antique hardwood-flooring products. “Another advantage is that this wood was originally harvested from old growth—virgin forests that produce some of the strongest, most beautiful and unique wood with the tightest grain.” Barnard agrees, saying, “I often work with reclaimed wood. Reclaimed hardwoods have a charm and character that new boards can never achieve, not with any amount of distressing. There is a certain warmth and some kind of magic that historic hardwoods bring to a project.”

“Ask your flooring company if the wood has been certified by the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC), or another organization that certifies responsible production and consumption of forestry products. This ensures that each tree harvested is replaced by multiple seedlings,” Mireles-Anzures suggests. Stubbs agrees, saying, “Looking for the FSC symbol on wood flooring ensures that you are buying from a manufacturer that is environmentally friendly.”

Cork chic

Offering a unique texture, cork is a great option from both an aesthetic and functional standpoint. As an interior designer and LEED AP (the U.S. Green Building Council’s program for certifying professionals for their eco-friendly knowledge and practices), Barnard is familiar with many green-flooring choices, and she lists cork as one of her favorite wood substitutes. “It is soft underfoot, available in tiles, planks, rolls and sheets, and has the visual warmth of wood,” she says, adding that cork is available in many colors, but can also be stained in custom colors.

“Cork flooring creates a Craftsman look,” Busby says. “It has a consistent small grain, and you can create various looks by the size and shape of the piece of material. Install larger pieces with a natural wavy edge that meets up to another floor material such as stone—it becomes very organic.”

The industrial look

In recent years, finished concrete floors have become a rising star in residential flooring. Paige Rien, interior designer for HGTV’s Hidden Potential TV show and principal of Rien With An Eye Design Consultancy, calls this trend the “industrial crossover.”

“People are now choosing flooring options for their home—like epoxy—that have previously been used in commercial/industrial applications,” she says. “I put polished concrete in this category, as well—it’s expensive but durable with a multitude of options for color and texture.”

The popularity in finished concrete is mainly due to its budget-friendly cost and ability to mimic the look of expensive stone or tile. “For a clean contemporary look, color the concrete and score it in 4-by-4-foot squares,” Busby says. “For a traditional look, it can be finished to look like stone, a great Tuscan look.”

Despite it’s ability to mimic the look of other materials, Barnard advises homeowners to “avoid the urge to emboss any sort of faux-stone or other pattern into the concrete. The beauty of concrete is it’s simplicity,” she says.

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Focus on flooring

There are several ways to design flooring to include a focal point for the room. Whichever method or material you choose for the focal point, it’s important to first determine the placement and size of the focal point.

“Look first for any room elements you might want to emphasize,“ Goodwin says. “If your room has a special shape, the floor can follow that shape.” She suggests considering a flooring focal point in the foyer, in front of a bar, in front of a doorway or threshold, around a fireplace or underneath a skylight.

“When the floor is the focal point, consider furniture placement on that floor and traffic patterns across it,” Busby says. “It is important that those items do not interfere with the floor. Also, when the floor has a focal point, make sure the other architectural elements in the room complement it instead of taking away from it.”

Wood-flooring focal points

Inlays are a great option to create a focal point in wood floors. “There are many wood inlays, such as a compass, that are available to lay into a floor,” Busby says. “There are also wonderfully detailed laser-cut borders that could outline an island or a dining table for a focal point.”

Rien and Goodwin also suggest adding visual interest to a wood floor by installing tile, metal inserts or borders. Another option is to add visually unique wood pieces to the floor. “For homeowners who want to centerpiece floors,

we encourage them to add instant eye appeal by installing wide planks, distressed boards, contrasting colors or reclaimed-wood elements,” Sancic says.

“The fun really begins in areas of the home that should be highlighted like staircases, foyers, basements, a home office, study, master suite, kitchen and master bathroom,” says Jason Seltzer of Great American Floors. “[You can get] different patterns such as herringbone, a Brazilian cherry border and/or borders in these areas when using hardwood floors.”

Wood substitutes

“I am a fan of laminates,” says Stubbs, who prefers laminates for her two 90-pound dogs. “Newer, higher-end laminates are extremely realistic and practical. And if you want an exotic look like merbau or mahogany, but don’t want wood harvested from these vulnerable areas—or cannot afford their price—laminates are the way to go.”

Would you rather have carpet? Mohawk offers two different eco-friendly carpets. SmartStrand with DuPont Sorona is made from corn sugar that requires 30-percent less energy to manufacture than traditional nylon carpet. This flooring is made of a new type of fiber called triexta, which features stain resistance woven into the fiber rather than applied.

Mohawk’s other eco-friendly line, EverStrand carpet, is made from recycled plastic bottles. One out of every four plastic bottles recycled in North America becomes a Mohawk carpet. Most of the materials are used to create EverStrand carpets.

Tile patterns

To create a focal point in a tile floor, Rien suggests setting the tiles in a certain pattern or layout. “A traditional square tile of any size laid in a grid pattern is boring and sort of recedes into the background,” she says. “However, a layout on the diagonal creates a sense of movement. Also a mix of reflective and non-reflective tile can create a great dynamic of contrast, even if the color is the same.”

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Create with paint

Those who are partial to either a worn-in, rustic charm or a highly creative and unique floor should consider painting their existing wood or laminate floors. “Painted floors work best when they enhance existing flooring that is less than perfect,” Sancic says. “Painted floors become a more effective part of a room’s design when the technique of selective painting is used to add color, form and atmosphere.”

On the design front, Barnard recommends painting existing floors for a specific style, color or image. “Painted floors always remind me of the country,” Barnard says. “I have seen everything from a solid-red plywood kitchen floor to an old vinyl floor painted over with an abstract rendition of outer space, as well as cute white borders on wide-plank pine floors.”

Lovely layers

When creating the design of your flooring, Rien says, “The key is to choose a flooring plan that is multilayered. So, for the entire floor of a home, I suggest a base that works room to room, and then choices for area rugs that can define space for rooms or spaces in an open-plan layout. This is the most basic approach. I try to encourage a strong investment in the base—and that it be reflective, so that light carries from room to room. Then, when it comes to area rugs: texture, texture, texture. The key is to choose something that will highly contrast with the base flooring. Contrast will create a focal point in the flooring.”

Stubbs agrees. “The first thing you will say [after installing] hard-surface floors is ‘I need some rugs’ because the room will be loud and will echo,” she says. Rugs help to absorb sound plus have insulating properties. They are like a piece of artwork on your floor.”

Selecting the perfect rug can take just as long as choosing your flooring. According to Stuart Spencer from World of Rugs, the key things to consider are budget, look and style, palette, size and the use of the room where the rug will be. “The hot look in traditional rugs continues to be Peshawar, a faded, washed antique look. Another popular look is transitional rugs,” Spencer says adding that the best part about rugs is the ability to combine the old with the new. “Traditional and transitional rugs are not locked into any singular types of furnishing,” he says. This means you can pair traditional rugs with modern furnishing, or a transitional rug with traditional furnishing.

A big decision

Choosing your home’s flooring is a decision that will affect the design of your space for years to come. “A well-designed floor can make a room feel larger, warm, inviting and interesting,” says Jennifer Zilka, CEO of Grass Elements LLC, a member of the National Wood Flooring Association and manufacturer of bamboo-flooring products. “Selecting the appropriate floor for a room is not a decision to be taken lightly. Let your senses and feelings about a room guide your decision.”


A Bounty of Bamboo

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When it first became a popular flooring option, bamboo was a light-colored wood with distinct lines in the planks. Now, a number of options in bamboo exist, making it just as versatile as any other hardwood. Jennifer Zilka, CEO of Grass Elements LLC, a member of the National Wood Flooring Association and manufacturer of bamboo-flooring products, shares three popular options in bamboo:

Horizontal bamboo: This construction of bamboo lends itself to contemporary and Asian styles of design with clean lines and a calming appeal.

Vertical bamboo: Offering a more diverse style than horizontal bamboo, vertical bamboo has both uniformity to appeal to Asian-design enthusiasts, as well as orderly construction that provides a visual balance for a room that’s classically designed.

Strand-woven bamboo: Rich in visual texture, this type of bamboo works well in traditional, rustic and tropical designs. Strand-woven bamboo is also just as hard, if not harder, than traditional oak-hardwood floors.


Cleaning Tips

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Remember, wood is only an economical choice if you take care of it. David Flesher, owner of Flesher’s Hardwood Floors, suggests buying cleaning products specifically approved for hardwood floors. “An inexpensive home recipe for cleaning and sanitizing your hardwoods is to mix a white-vinegar-and-water solution (one part vinegar to four parts water). Be sure to only use a dampened mop when cleaning your floors,” Flesher says.
In most cases, spot cleaning will do the job. Laura Mireles-Anzures warns, “Don’t use a vineger and water solution on floors with a polyurethane finish, [only use it on] hardwoods with a tung-oil finish.”

Mohawk’s Hardwood and Laminate Floor Cleaner is an eco-friendly way to clean your hardwood floors. Made specifically for hardwood and/or laminates, it’s also biodegradable. You can even use it on vinyl surfaces.


Inlay Information

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Inlay flooring products are made of high-grade materials including exotic and regional hardwoods such as walnut, mahogany, sapeli, yellow heart, maple, wenge, cherry and oak. The inlay design is created using industrial scroll saws, lasers and computer-controlled routing equipment.   
The inlay is typically bonded to a cabinet-grade plywood substrate, which gives each medallion or border a stable base to match your floors and allows the inlay to be a lifelong object. The net effect of medallions and borders is to provide a focal point and a rich alternative to an otherwise plain floor—one that will last as long as your floor.

Medallions and borders can be installed in either new or existing floors and then finished with the floor. Inlay floor products have also been used frequently in pre-finished or engineered floors and therefore would be finished before they are installed. The process of installing the medallions and borders is comparatively easy. Installation manuals are available for both homeowners and professional installers.
—Kathy Andersen, Inlay Product World Inc.


Expert Tips

“Flooring defines space and gives a room boundaries. It’s also a major determining factor for how light is reflected and the mood that is created in the room. If the room is already dark, consider not only light-colored floors, but reflective materials, as well.”
—Paige Rien, interior designer with HGTV’s Hidden Potential, principal of Rien With An Eye Design Consultancy


“Use area rugs in front of entryways, in hallways, in front of the kitchen sink and in other high traffic areas where the floors will wear down.”
—Laura Mireles-Anzures, Daniels Floors


“The installation has a great deal to do with how the finished product looks, how well it performs, and even if it will be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty.”
—Elisabeth Stubbs, owner, Enhance Floors and More


“Reclaimed hardwoods have a charm and character that new boards can never achieve, not with any amount of distressing. There is a certain warmth and some kind of magic that historic hardwoods bring to a project.”
—Sarah Barnard, LEED AP and interior designer, Sarah Barnard Designs


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