It's underfoot, but important

Floor: An upgrade can make a home distinctive, but choosing the right material and pattern doesn't come easy.

October 14, 2001|By Adele Evans | Adele Evans,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

When they purchased their new Forest Hill home, Jack and Jean Summers could have just settled for the basic package of carpet and vinyl.

But when looking at their floors, they wanted more. So they upgraded, from the foyer to dining room, from door to door - even if it meant paying about $7,500 extra. There it was: rustic oak.

"It's prettier than carpeting, easier to clean and more durable than carpeting or vinyl," Jack Summers said.

Practical reasons for sure, but for the Summerses the bottom line was, "we just think it looks better," he said.

"At least 75 percent of our customers upgrade to some combination of tile and wood - usually [for] ceramic kitchens and sun rooms," said Dale Hevesy, vice president of Gemcraft Homes in Bel Air, builder of the Summers home. The average customer pays $3,000 more for upgraded flooring, but a few pay as much as $9,000.

"If they want it, they'll spend it," said Gail Heagerty, flooring consultant at Carpet World in Timonium. "People choose flooring based on color and style. Then they consider money."

The $20 billion flooring industry offers so many natural and synthetic products - distinguished sometimes only by nuances - shopping can feel more like studying for a chemistry exam. Pinpointing the desired feel of the house is probably the first step in making a flooring decision, according to interior designer Cynde Frankel of Frankel Design Associates of Baltimore.

"The floor is the base. In a symphony it would be the bass. It gives a pulse to the room," she said.

Because it is the foundation, it's important not to choose a floor with too much personality, she said. Too much pattern means clashing with wallpaper or furniture - and the floor can overwhelm.

"Like the bass, you know it's there; it needs to be there - but it's not going to carry the room by itself," she said.

Today's most popular styles have veered from highly polished marbles and woods to warmer, textured floors in natural, knotty woods; textured ceramics or laminates; and even textured stone.

"We've gone from people wanting more of a Colonial look to more of a rustic look," said Baltimore Flooring Supply manager Robert Logan. Even the width of tiles or floorboards can dictate formal vs. casual, he added. Planks are rustic; thinner boards are for more formal uses.

Flooring should also complement the family's lifestyle.

Installing a polished marble floor in a busy great room full of children isn't the best idea because it could quickly get scratched or marred. Such a floor can also be more dangerous if someone falls.

"One of the basic mistakes people make is that they don't take into account the task of the space, its use, how the flooring will assist them aesthetically and functionally," Frankel said.

Flooring also affects physical health. Many physicians say harder floors lead to more aches and pains for those with circulatory and orthopedic problems. That's especially true in areas such as the kitchen, where people stand longer than they do in other rooms. For homeowners with such medical problems, it's better to go with a softer wood, vinyl or laminate floor with proper padding.

Today it almost takes a jeweler's scope for the layman to distinguish between many types of natural and synthetic flooring. Often, it comes down to taste and what a person is used to.

"Would you want an imitation diamond for your wedding ring?" said Joe Vinci, president and owner of Vinci Stone Products in Marriottsville. "You'll never ever create anything as beautiful as natural stone or wood. It's nature. How can you find something wrong with that? Yes, marble can crack ... so can tile. What's the advantage of tile?"

"We like marble for smaller, accent rooms; it classes them up," said Steve Churchman of Baldwin, who installed a white marble floor in his foyer and master bath. "It's been two years in the bathroom, and we haven't slipped."

Maryland has plenty of flagstone and building stone available at local quarries. Marbles and granites often come from South America, China, Taiwan, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. Vinci has great expectations for Russian materials, which he expects to get soon.

"I see awesome stuff coming out of Russia," he said. "Their natural resources are immense and untapped."

For that popular, warm-casual look, many of Vinci's customers are opting for tumbled marbles and limestones - which have a rougher, textured face. They're generally low-maintenance and durable. So durable, Owings Mills Mall installed a French limestone on its floors. Vinci uses limestone throughout his home.

"Limestone isn't all soft, like people sometimes think," Vinci said. "It's been used for years in Washington and Baltimore in 100-year-old buildings."

John Hawks and his wife, Faith Nevins, feel the same way about authenticity, but they lean toward wood.

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