Deciding on the right floor for a particular room is not about taste alone. You have to consider the size and shape of the room, its architecture, furnishings, style, the amount and quality of natural light, and the room’s purpose.
Once all these elements have been carefully weighed, you can consider the different materials that might work in a room, and the way each of your options provide a multitude of different results.
When you begin you flooring process, determine overall use, appearance, and personality.
This quality is sometimes hard to pinpoint, since personality (in homes as well as people) comes together from so many intangible and subtle elements. If your home is a strong example of a specific architectural style, or a combination of styles, your decorating efforts will be easiest and most successful if you know what it is and follow its directions.
You may choose a design scheme that is not customary for the house’s architecture, just as you might dress in a surprisingly unconventional way, but if this is done without knowledge and intent, the result is rarely flattering.
Architecture and Flooring: A Marriage of Style
Architecture provides the style definition. Look to moldings, window openings, baseboards, mantelpieces, and other architectural elements (or lack thereof) to determine whether the space is formal, classical, modern, or rustic.
In older houses, especially, these will mirror the house’s exterior style elements. General characteristics can be further narrowed down to a definition of the house’s individual style.
This is often a reflection of the popular tastes of the time at which the house was built. Often (though certainly not always) a shortcut to determining house style is to know the date of construction, and then to match it to interior and exterior design elements.
But if you can’t pinpoint your home’s age or style, don’t worry. Many older houses had more space added to them over time, thus changing or diluting their original stylistic statements.
In recent decades, houses were often built with design elements borrowed from a number of sources, pared down, or reinvented.
As you study the details that make up your house’s stylistic whole, you will come to recognize it as formal or informal, plain or highly ornamented, casual, urban, minimalist, romantic, country, or eclectic. In other words, you will get to know your house’s design statement, even if that can’t be pigeonholed into one recognizable style definition.
The Right Floor for the Room
Once you’ve determined your house’s style and whether you will create a stylistic whole or “work against type,” your first question is use. Form really does follow function, and your room will work best if you install the floor that is best for its intended use.
An obvious example of this is the fact that vinyl, stone, or ceramic tiles, not inlaid wood or antique Oriental rugs, are popular in bathrooms.
The first experience of a floor is tactile. Your mind registers a soft rug, hard marble, or creaky wood, and your initial preference will be biased for a floor that is hard or soft.
The room’s use, of course, will help you make this determination. Visual cues can effectively underscore this message. The flooring surface establishes the primary horizontal plane in a room and underlies the entire design scheme you want to communicate.
Gray wall-to-wall carpeting, for instance, unifies space, whereas scattered Oriental rugs establish distinct walking and seating patterns, as do stenciling, inlay, borders, or center medallions.
Give some thought to the subtle messages communicated by materials: Leather floor tiles hint at the atmosphere of libraries or of comfortable retreats; bamboo speaks of the Far East; dark gray slate evokes the severe beauty of northern winters.
Think about the effects of reflected light. Very shiny floors look cold; matte flooring gives the appearance of softness. The way light plays off the grain or wood or the surface striations in stone is part of their beauty; use these materials to highlight these characteristics.
Mood is set by color. Brown may be the color that comes to mind when you think of a wood floor, but it is just the beginning of a range of colorful possibilities. Likewise, ceramic tile is often laid in a monochromatic earth-tone or checkerboard two-tone scheme, but tiles are so colorful that you can have a rainbow on your floor. In fact, you aren’t limited to conventional effects, as most kinds of flooring are now available in great color ranges.
Take advantage of the choices for mood-altering design impact. Light-colored floors will make a room appear larger, while dark floors promote an intimate atmosphere. Texture, too, contributes to the mood; a smooth, unbroken surface feels streamlined.
A mixture of materials gives the impression of depth and complexity. Natural materials in earth tones can appear to bring the outdoors in. For a modern look, use pale neutral floor colors to give the room a clean, uncluttered appearance.
Color and Pattern
If your floor is tiled, carpeted, stenciled, or painted, choose an overall pattern that is consistent with the room’s other decorative elements in color, formality, architectural style, and drama.
The size of a pattern is important, but scale is even more important.
Generally, small patterns work best in small rooms, and large patterns in large rooms — but don’t underestimate the dramatic possibilities of large patterns in small rooms. Just make sure that the scale of the pattern is consistent with your overall design statement.
For example, in a small room with hefty architectural elements such as boldly scaled moldings or a massive overmantel, scale the floor patterns to those elements, not to the size of the room.
Keep the rest of the decor simple to achieve this successfully; otherwise, you are apt to create visually claustrophobic clutter. A small, modern room grows when pale, neutral-colored furnishings rest against a bold, overcalled pattern on the floor.
Use carpeting to create pattern. Lay area rugs to lead the eye toward a focal point or a distant view.
Pattern can be a thorny issue in today’s interior designs. Use what works for you, and if you keep your home’s innate personality in mind, you won’t go wrong.
Furniture placement determines how we move through a room. Flooring is the best way to establish sections of specific use, whether with area rugs, or by laying flooring in pathways and seating areas.
For example, place a carpet under the dining room table or outline the area under it with a different color of the same material. To correct a difficult-to-follow layout, continue the tiles from the entry to the living room threshold, or toward the stairs.
Your kitchen floor might be surfaced in hard-wearing vinyl tile, with a breakfast nook or seating area defined with a different color tile or outlined with a border.
Moving from hard to soft flooring is an excellent way to signal use areas; for example, when the wood of a hallway is broken with an area rug under a telephone cable and chair.
New Shortcuts to Flooring Personality
Aluminum, stainless steel, and zinc floors speak of a sophisticated, urban aesthetic. Decorators often us this hard-edged statement to punctuate other flooring, especially in spacious lofts. Metal flooring can be particularly effective when used to define traffic paths, use areas, and staircases in vast, open spaces or to evoke the atmosphere of a Soho loft in an otherwise traditional building.
Another cutting-edge look increasingly found in today’s architecturally designed interiors is that of stained concrete. Both metal and concrete can be softened without compromise to their industrial look with area carpets that have an exaggerated depth of pile in the new paper, natural fiber, or synthetic designs.
Computer-printed carpeting in high-tech-derived images sends an unmistakably modern message. Or, to create an avant-garde atmosphere steeped in subtlety, think of sisal or flat-woven worsted wool carpeting installed wall-to-wall in shades of taupe or mushroom.
Other materials appropriate to sleek, luxurious modernism are polished stone, rubber, neutral wall-to-wall carpeting, or a sophisticated vinyl.
For the unmistakable look of the Modern period, use cork flooring in rectangular patterns, perhaps with a border or use terrazzo in period-appropriate designs and colors. Update the look by choosing tertiary colors in vogue today — warm taupes, grayed blacks and white, yellowed greens, smoky blues and purples, and dusty pinks and peaches.
Thin stone and wood parquet flooring tiles, backed with easy-to-install mesh, are the modern shortcut to refined, classic interiors rich with moldings, silk draperies, antique furniture, and fine art. In these types of rooms, areas are defined with Aubusson rugs or Persian carpets.
At the folksy end of the design spectrum is the Southwestern or Spanish Colonial room, with its massive ceiling beams and rough plaster walls. Here, terra-cotta Mexican tile or hones stone pavers are in an important part of establishing a well-loved rural design personality.
Heighten the level of interest of this look with wood: Wood laminates and engineered flooring allow the use of mixed materials without the expensive and time-consuming custom work require in the past.