Whether you prefer the feel of tiles or timber underfoot, you are spoilt for choice when it comes to flooring.
Our floors are the stage upon which our daily lives are played out. As such, they don’t only need to complement the interior design of our homes, they need to be durable, comfortable underfoot, easy to maintain and, especially if in high-traffic areas, resistant to stains and scratches. The choice is surprisingly diverse, from tiles and laminate that look like wood to natural hardwood or engineered timber flooring. For those who like to keep things cool, there is polished concrete; for those who like things cosy, there is carpet. We talk to those in the know and discover the myriad flooring solutions at your disposal.
Ideal for wet rooms, living areas, hallways and more, tiles offer an ever-expanding array of style savvy flooring solutions. “In 2019 you’re going to be seeing everything on a much larger scale. Slab and large-format tiles are getting bigger and bigger due to advances in technology, with sizes in slab tiles now going all the way up to 1000mm x 3000mm. They are breathtaking to look at and you’ll see them shine in terrazzo, concrete and marble looks,” says Vanessa Thompson, strategic designer at Beaumont Tiles.
And on the subject of terrazzo, it’s making a comeback. terrazzo is no exception,” says Tony Victor, director of CDK Stone. “Terrazzo makes a statement that perfectly synergises with other architectural elements and this timeless texture is being featured in this year’s best contemporary designs.” CDK Stone’s latest terrazzo tile collection, Northstone, made using up to 80 per cent marble, is a case in point. “Timber-look tiles have also exploded in popularity and will continue to dominate in 2019,” says Vanessa. “I think their popularity can be attributed to huge developments in printing and manufacturing technologies, which has allowed them to not only look incredibly real, but also come in large plank sizes. Couple this with the fact that they are waterproof, termite and mould resistant, do not warp or dent, and you can see why Australians are embracing them. The on-trend way to lay them for main floors would be herringbone style. “Looking more broadly, colours to watch are blues and greens that are soft and aqueous. Organic colour palettes are also big; embracing raw imperfections and organic tones is very ‘now’.”
The good wood
We never tire of timber, although today, the decision tends to be between natural hardwood and engineered timber, made from layers of real wood. “In the 10 or 15 years that engineered timber has been around, the quality and finishes have improved immensely and you now have a product that has all the natural beauty and texture of traditional solid timber with all the advantages of stable engineered timber construction,” says Elle McCarthy, general manager of Tongue n Groove. “One of the main benefits is increased stability due to the cross-grain lamination structure which prevents the timber from moving width-ways as it responds to climatic changes.
This also makes it possible to have much wider boards than with traditional solid timber and you have greater flexibility with installation due to the broader choice of thicknesses.” “Open-plan interiors and larger living spaces are ideal for the wide-board look and Boral recently introduced a wideboard product in blackbutt and spotted gum,” says Leon Travis, national sales and distribution manager of Boral Timber.
“Engineered flooring has become a popular choice for both new builds and renovations, delivering a striking timber floor with the benefit of a quick and easy installation. Engineered timber is being used for a greater percentage of the home because its grain, structure and colour tones have the wow factor.” Adds Elle, “We supply an all-oak structure engineered flooring which is different to most other alternatives. We use the same species of timber through all layers of the board for greater stability and, depending on the thickness of the board, you can sand back our floors three to five times over the life of the floor.”
If a timber floor is more than your budget can bear, laminate flooring could be a perfect alternative. “Laminate is a cost-effective option for homeowners who want a timber floor look but either cannot afford the real thing or prefer the more family-friendly option of laminate,” says Michelle Dow, marketing manager of Flooring Xtra.
Jozefien De Baere, marketing manager of Premium Floors Australia, agrees. “Newer-generation laminate is almost indistinguishable from real timber flooring,” she says, “and this is for numerous reasons: the high number of unique planks, the use of advanced press plates which result in realistic wood structures, pressed bevels where the design runs right into the joint, the sharpness of prints, better click systems and the appealing matt finish.”
“A key feature of today’s laminate is water resistance,” continues Michelle. “This means it is engineered to ensure spills do not penetrate into the laminate core causing swelling, bubbling, and affecting the overall appearance. Laminate flooring is made from woodchips processed into a high-density core board. It then has a print of a timber design applied to it, followed by numerous wear-resistant transparent coatings that create a barrier to stains and topical moisture.”
The colour range is wide but at present, laminate with the look of rustic oak, European oak and Australian timber is very much on-trend, says Michelle. And there is another look that is gaining favour. “Gaining in popularity is Emboss In Register (EIR), where embossing follows the grain of the print on the wear layer, creating a true-to-life timber look in terms of texture and printed design. Our Audacity laminate has EIR technology,” she says.
Vinyl hasn’t always been popular, but with the advent of luxury vinyl, the quality and range of choice has increased considerably. Its affordable price makes it appealing for those on a budget, but that’s not the only advantage. It is quieter underfoot and has a warmer feel than, say, tile laminate.
“Vinyl is starting to lose its ‘plastic image’ with the introduction of luxury vinyl, which comes as modular planks. This is opposed to traditional cushion vinyl flooring that comes in rolls. In general, the latter is not as good in its ability to closely mimic the look of natural materials, such as wood or stone,” says Jozefien.
Luxury vinyl is water resistant and can be used in most rooms of the house. It’s also very handy for renovations. “Usually the planks are only 2mm to 4.5mm thick, so they are ideal if you want to install them over an existing floor without having to undercut your doors,” says Jozefien. “If using in wet areas, you just have to make sure the slip resistance is high enough, which it normally is, and then you can have the look of a real timber floor.”
Premium Floors Australia offers two premium ranges: Quick-Step and Titan. The Titan long plank, wood-look range offers two thicknesses and a choice of colours, from the light tones of Classic Oak Light Beige through to Blackbutt and Spotted Gum. Quick-Step vinyl, which boasts an extra matt finish and increased stain and scratch resistance, offers a similar degree of choice, ranging from the deeper hues of Cottage Oak Dark Brown to a selection of greys.
There’s no denying it. When it comes to durability, polished concrete wins hands down. It requires little in the way of cleaning, thumbs its nose at stains and scratches, is smooth underfoot and provides a seamless look as there are no distracting joins. “Concrete flooring is getting more popular every day. The trend started with people renovating existing warehouse spaces. The old surfaces were pulled up, exposing concrete slabs which were either left rough and sealed or ground to make them smooth,” says Reg Lark, a Sydneybased architect.
Today there are two main approaches to concrete flooring in new builds and additions. “The first is to lay down a standard floor slab and make it as flat as possible,” says Reg. “Then, after hardening, grind the surface to make it smooth.
Taking the top off the concrete exposes all the pebbles in the concrete, usually blue metal, creating a look of grey concrete with black flecks through it. Or you can pour another concrete slab over the first rough one. This gives you the chance to mix the new concrete with coloured oxide or put colourful pebbles through it. This is called a topping slab and you can achieve almost any colour or texture like this. When everything is ground, you put a concrete sealer over it — flat, satin or gloss.”
Polished concrete flooring suits very contemporary homes or those with an industrial vibe, but Reg has a warning. “It can make a house feel cold and barren,” he says. “If there are concrete floors you need to balance them with, say, warm timber ceilings, walls or joinery or lots of soft furnishings.”
Wall to wall carpeting creates a sense of comfort, even indulgence. For many, wool remains the preferred choice. “People like the soft feel of a wool carpet underfoot. It feels great, looks great and will last for years and years,” says Marlo Litchfield, design consultant at Prestige Carpets. “Wool carpet is naturally fire-retardant. It also helps keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter, and it’s a great noise insulator.”
“There is a clear trend towards natural fibres such as wool and sisal,” agrees Michelle Dow, marketing manager of Flooring Xtra. “With wool it is all about texture. Chunky, bold texture in a natural heathered wool yarn is currently popular. These products create a wonderfully warm and interesting space and wool has a number of inherent qualities, including natural moisture resistance.”
Synthetic carpets also have their place. “While synthetic twist pile carpets are still very popular, we have seen the emergence of synthetic textured loop-pile carpets which provide a unique and serviceable alternative. Another option is our Soft.e range, produced from recycled and virgin PET fibre, creating a strong, durable and colourfast carpet suitable for a busy family home.”
“As to colour, grey has been popular for a few years now, however we are seeing more interest lately in greens,” says Marlo. “That said, natural and neutral colours are always popular. When it comes to pile, plush pile carpets have always been in fashion but so too are chunky loop pile carpets.
Traditionally, carpet was installed wall to wall in living areas and bedrooms. More recently, people seem to carpet their bedrooms and media rooms while having wool rugs through the rest of the house.”
Why is underfloor heating a good idea? “Underfloor heating is the only way to heat both the floor and the entire room. It is totally invisible, produces a low, comfortable heat, and there is no noise or dust. The heat is evenly distributed throughout the room and floors remain dry and clean,” says Sandra Skelly, general manager of ComfortHeat. “The best transfer of heat is from hard floors such as tile, polished concrete or stone. Carpet and timber reduce heat transfer by around 10 per cent.”
When should you consider it? “If you plan to use hydronic floor heating, this needs to be part of the original home design plans as its installation involves certain structural requirements during the building process,” says Sandra. “Electric floor heating does not have the same impact on the structure of a building and can be added as a last-minute inclusion, but will require some roughing in by an electrician.”
Which costs less — electric or hydroponic?
“Electric floor heating is a low-cost inclusion with major lifestyle benefits,” continues Sandra. “Larger electric floor heating systems have been installed in living areas and kitchen renovations and new slab extensions, but as the floor area increases, so does the electricity required to run it. When a floor is larger than 70sqm, a hydronic floor heating system is best. While the installation cost is greater, the electrical load can be eliminated or diminished.”
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