Ever heard anyone walk into a home and say, “Yuck. Wood floors?”
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Didn’t think so. And you won’t. Ever.
Wood floors are always right. They are at home in any home. And unlike wall color, tile, carpet, windows, cabinets or any other home finishing or furnishing choice that is easy to blow, you can’t miss if you choose wood floors.
“People love wood floors because they are elegant, classic, timeless, go with every décor, are always in season, last and are easy to maintain,” says Marianne Murphy, director of operations for Floor Covering International.
She is preaching to the choir. “I know,” I say, then to put this in true perspective, add, “wood floors are the pearls and diamonds of interior design. Never wrong. Always in.”
“Exactly,” says Murphy, whose company has 100 stores throughout North America.
Now, back to you. I know what you’re thinking: Lady, have you priced wood floors lately?
Yes, I have, which is why my conversation with Murphy quickly veered on the runners-up to solid wood floors. In fact, in some cases, I’d argue, floors of engineered hardwood and porcelain wood-look tiles actually beat out solid wood flooring.
I have chosen both of these flooring options over solid wood recently for two different interiors. Last year, when I fixed up my parents’ home to sell, I had engineered hardwood floors put in. Solid-wood floors were out of the budget, especially for a home I wasn’t planning to live in for decades. These floors looked fabulous.
More recently, I considered porcelain wood-look tiles, which, purist that I am, I hesitated to embrace. On principle, I am leery of any product masquerading as another. Tile should look like tile. Wood should look like wood. Plastic should, well, you get the idea.
So when a friend of mine asked what I thought of using porcelain planks that look like wood — and I mean exactly like wood, down to the textured grain surface — as flooring for his second home, a condo in Arizona he was buying and renovating, I was dubious. So I checked it out. I saw samples in the store and the product on a floor. I became a convert.
“It’s one of my favorite products!” said Murphy, when I told her the story. “I love it. Those who have gone into wood-look tile are way ahead of the curve. Porcelain wins in all categories for lifestyle, look, function and price.”
“What happened?” I asked. “I remember when consumers (I did not say me) once snubbed solid-wood-floor-wannabe products.”
“Those days are over,” said Murphy, who credits technology. “Digital imagery has gotten so fine and sharp that products don’t look fake anymore.
“So flooring is catching up to plastic surgery, that way,” I said.
“Just four or five years ago, even porcelain tiles meant to look like marble looked fake. Now technology lets manufacturers add textures, like grain and distress. Technology is driving prices down and realism up.”
While many homeowners still choose solid hardwood flooring for its classic appeal and longevity, its price is causing many consumers to give other options a second look. If you are pining for a wood look, here are your options:
• Solid hardwood — This is the gold standard, but you pay for it. Besides its traditional authenticity, solid wood floors last for generations. They can be sanded, refinished, restained and restored many times. Traditional oak styles are still common, but wide-plank floors in espresso and gray tones are currently popular. Downside: Apart from their higher cost, solid wood floors can’t go everywhere. For instance, you can’t install them over a concrete slab without first installing a subfloor.
• Engineered wood — Made of actual wood, not laminate, engineered hardwood floors layer real wood over a stacked core of compressed repurposed wood. The result is a stable, sustainable floor material less likely than solid wood to change with heat, cold and humidity. Because it’s sustainable, customers also like its greenness, said Murphy. Because they’re wood, they look, feel and sound real. You won’t have that plastic click foot sound you get from laminate wood flooring. Engineered wood can also go where solid wood floors can’t, including directly over concrete. Downside: Unlike solid wood floors, which can last generations, an engineered wood floor lasts about 20 years, said Murphy. Homeowners can probably sand and refinish them once, but not multiple times, and they can’t change the color.
• Porcelain tile — This I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-wood flooring offers a fresh, clean, sleek look that can range from traditional dark brown to washed-out weathered grey. Tougher than ceramic, porcelain wood tiles come in long rectangular plank lengths, which won’t scratch, dent, fade or ever need to be refinished. It can last for decades, and, because they’re water resistant, can fare better than wood in basements, bathrooms and laundry areas. It also works better with radiant heated floors than solid wood flooring. Like engineered wood, porcelain wood-look flooring costs less than most solid wood flooring. Downside: More than other wood surfaces, installation needs to be perfect. Flaws show.
• Laminate vinyl — Not to be confused with engineered hardwood floors, vinyl wood flooring is not wood but a photo of wood laminated onto a surface. Also water resistant, vinyl wood flooring works in bathrooms and laundry areas. Thanks to better technology and higher resolution photography, today’s vinyls look more realistic. Plus, installation is easy. Many DIY homeowners can put these floors in themselves. Downside: However good they look, they still have that synthetic feel and sound underfoot.
Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press). Contact her through www.marnijameson.com.