One of the most important design elements in a home, flooring offers considerable scope for creativity. “Floors are always the item I consider first when designing a room or home,” explains Sydney-based interior designer Thomas Hamel, who uses a mix of soft and hard flooring to bring warmth, durability and style to a scheme.
Tiles offer endless opportunities to play with colour, shape and pattern. They’re also extremely strong and practical. “Keeping a floor clean and stain-free is a lot easier with tiles,” says Christie Wood from . “And as they lower the dust levels significantly, there are health benefits, especially for asthmatics.”
Made from baked clay, the porous nature of terracotta tiles makes them less suited to wet areas than some other materials. However, they provide an excellent form of simple passive heating in bedrooms and living areas, storing the warmth of the sun and releasing it at night.
Ceramic and porcelain
Black and white chequerboard tiles are a hallmark of French provincial flooring, but the latest in digital-print technology has broadened the appeal of glazed or vitrified floor tiles. Try timber- or stone-look styles in high-use areas.
Traditional or exotic motifs can be used as decorative borders in large rooms or to effect in lesser-used areas, such as ensuites or laundries. “It will enliven an otherwise characterless space,” says Garreth Cruikshank, from .
Soft and comforting underfoot, carpet is a first choice for many in bedrooms and living areas. High-tech synthetic blends provide superior resistance to stains and fading, while natural weaves like sisal, wool and alpaca are durable, luxurious and ecologically sound.
Wool and alpaca
Mid-range to dark tones will help disguise wear and tear, but even the lightest shades can withstand daily use if the carpet has a heavy-duty rating. “A quality underlay will also make a huge difference to performance,” says Don Currie, director of Woolset.
Sisal, coir and seagrass
The long, shiny fibres of sisal are woven to create rustic carpets that last and last. “Sisal also has a tannin in it that prevents dust mites from settling,” says Jeremiah Blanch from . Coir and seagrass have similar properties. For a softer feel, try sisal mixed with wool.
Useful to mark out space and soften hard flooring, rugs also provide a focal point. “I usually begin by suggesting a Turkish Oushak-style rug,” says Thomas Hamel. “Their subtle patterns are great for hiding those inevitable accidents.”
Stone floors, which have been used for thousands of years in the Middle East and Europe, can be richly detailed and luxurious underfoot. In tile form, they’re also extremely hardwearing and long lasting. Underfloor heating lays to rest any concerns about cold feet.
Stone and slate
From the creamy appeal of limestone, travertine and sandstone to the deep and variegated colour in granite and slate, the beauty of stone flooring is hard to overlook. Laid in a French pattern, for instance, using square and rectangular tiles, stone creates a “traditional, rustic effect”, according to Garreth Cruickshank.
With its distinct grain and subtle colouration, marble brings glamour to kitchens, bathrooms and living areas. And it only gets better with age. “While other surfaces may require replacement, marble can be easily repolished to reveal its original lustre,” says Christopher Falvey from .
A modern alternative to stone, polished concrete is equally durable and stain-resistant when properly sealed. It can be etched or stamped with a subtle pattern for added character.
With their warm, relaxed feel, hardwood floors are an enduring favourite. To highlight timber’s character, finish with a water-based matt stain or with wax. “They don’t yellow the floor like gloss finishes,” says Andy Mineur from . “Plus, gloss shows up every mark and reflects windows and lights.”
Laid in traditional herringbone or block patterns, parquetry flooring “provides a warm, European feel to a space that is perfect for both classic and contemporary concepts,” says interior designer Rebecca Kirkland from .
This composite flooring offers increased stability and the option of wider boards than traditionally milled timber flooring.
Whether reclaimed or re-milled, recycled hardwood is an environmentally savvy way to enhance your floor. Imperfections add charater and a sense of history.
However, Andy Mineur advises: “Buy a timber you like rather than one you want to change. Staining a floor is costly, and temporary.”