Floors are on the front line of every good design. You'll want to choose your flooring with aesthetics and practicality in mind.
Based on the style of your room, do you require a long-lasting hard surface that is made from a material such as wood or stone? Or would a resilient modern flooring material that marries good looks with easy care do the job?
In general, lighter-colored flooring -- no matter what it is -- will make a room seem larger, and so will laying tiles on a diagonal rather than parallel to the walls. Hardwood floors last a lifetime and fit every decor.
Favorite types include oak for country rooms; maple and cherry for traditional rooms; and beech, birch, and ash for contemporary spaces. Soft woods like pine exude down-home charm but don't hold up as well.
Purists recommend natural oil treatments to protect wood floors from moisture and staining. But an impervious finish like polyurethane makes wood safe even for a busy bathroom.
Along with natural wood-tone stains, wood floors can be color-washed with stains that let the grain show, painted a solid color, or decoratively painted; faux-stone combined with checkerboard squares are classic.
Stenciling is another popular route, and spatter-painted wood floors (a solid-color ground flecked with dots of many different colors) were trendy in Colonial days and look surprisingly modern today. For the best results, floors should be repaired and sanded first.
Decorators praise wall-to-wall carpeting's ability to flow through a house and pull it all together. A home with an assortment of small rooms will look more expansive, even when window treatments and furnishings change from room to room, if the same carpet is used throughout. Carpet also provides insulation against noise and cold.
But what will it be? All sorts of textures, colors, and costs are available (including many stain-resistant new blends). Natural matting made of materials like sisal and coir can be elegant or casual depending on the setting, furnishings, and accessories.
However, natural coverings like these are tough on the feet and easily stained. To ensure years of service, look for carpets that are closely tufted or woven. A solid-colored carpet with a subtle pattern will have a more relaxed air. A patterned carpet -- florals, checks, or stripes -- is an energy boost for a bedroom or study.
Stone floors, such as marble, granite, slate, or limestone, are timeless when they are mixed with antiques or modern furnishings. What you give up in softness underfoot is more than made up for in beauty.
Still, most require sealing to prevent staining and cost is a factor. To lower the price tag, choose granite (less slippery than marble) for the master bath, and carpet the bedroom. Or lay slate tiles in the entry and economical sisal down the hall.
Terra-cotta tiles made of fired clay are like chameleons in that they will take on whatever mood you wish. Have them installed in a traditional kitchen or a Southwestern family room. The tiles can be left as they are, sealed for more durability, or glazed to heighten their lustrous sunset color.
Solid-colored or hand-painted, ceramic tiles are also long-lasting and versatile. With hundreds of colors, patterns, sizes, sheens, and grout colors to choose from, don't relegate charismatic ceramic tiles to just the bath and kitchen. Transform the floor in a sunroom, dining room, or high-traffic family room.
Sheet vinyl or vinyl tile is affordable and, like ceramic tile, available in hundreds of colors and patterns. Everybody's favorite, black-and-white squares exude pizzazz in a retro kitchen or formal hall.
Solid-color vinyl -- vivid blue, say, like a tropical sea -- is less popular but very effective in a bath or child's room. Realistic faux vinyls mimicking brick, granite, and terra-cotta tiles are also stylish.
Popular in commercial situations and comfortable to walk on, rubber flooring will lend a slick look to kitchens, laundry rooms, or mudrooms.
Rubber flooring is also slip-resistant, which makes it great in a kids' bath. And inexpensive, hard-wearing linoleum is definitely back in a very big way. Made from all-natural products, this flooring appeals to young designers who are discovering innovative ways to combine colors and patterns.
Laminate flooring is a newer synthetic option that can look like marble, stone, or even distressed wood for a country room since the pattern is really a photograph of the real material. More durable than countertop laminates, this new flooring provides the look without the cost.
Don't forget that rugs of all sizes layered on top of any kind of floor can add comfort and interest, define sitting areas, or help plan a mood. For example, a floor cloth befits a Shaker kitchen, and a shag rug is perfect for a retro '50s den.
Floors aren't the only thing that can plan a mood. Window treatments and doors aren't simply functional elements of your home. On the next page, learn how you can make a design imprint on your windows and doors.
To learn more about interior design and get tips and information on decorating your home, visit:
- Interior Decorating: Get tips on how to decorate your home and read about organizing a project and selecting an interior design that fits your lifestyle.
- Home Decorating Tips: Learn about home decorating styles and get tips on how to plan and complete decorating projects.
- Decorating Styles: Are you traditional or eclectic? Learn about decorating styles for your home.
- How to Design a Kitchen: Create a kitchen that works for you and get tips on how to choose and place appliances and create a decorating scheme.
- Kids Rooms: Get tips on decorating your child’s room, with information on colors, smart strategies, and money-saving tips.