Wood and Its Look-Alikes Are a Top Choice

The right type of flooring can add visual warmth and character to a home. Read about the latest trends and get tips from area professionals on how to choose the right type of flooring for your abode.

Interior designers often discuss the importance of drawing the eye up by utilizing floor-to-ceiling details like fireplace surrounds, extra-tall curtains or interesting ceiling applications.

But wouldn’t it be nice to have an extraordinary floor that drew your eye down?

Certain floor coverings are made to do just that, and with recent innovations, more and more of those trending flooring options allow you to have fabulous-looking floors that are scratch- and/or stain-resistant and, in some cases, almost completely waterproof.

Here are some of the trendiest flooring options available, along with tips on how to choose the right floor for you and your lifestyle.

Top Trends: Wood

Plain and simple, the biggest trend in flooring today is hard surfacing, especially wood or wood-like products, says Kathleen Lenhardt, who co-owns Tri-State Carpet and Floor in Elgin with her husband, Andy.

Chip and Joanna Gaines of television’s “Fixer Upper” stardom nearly always installed hardwood or wood textile floors in their home renovations, throwing rugs over the floors for added texture. Though the show no longer airs new episodes, faithful viewers still follow the Gaines’ example.

Jon and Judy Hoffman, owners of J. Hoffman Lumber Co. in Sycamore, have found a niche in wood flooring by offering wide-plank reclaimed flooring. The two were pioneers in what was a developing market when they opened more than 25 years ago.

“In the mid-’90s, we were one of the first companies involved in reclaimed lumber,” Jon Hoffman says, noting that by the early 2000s, green and eco-friendly trends in construction were gaining momentum. “Now, there’s even more of an eco-green demand.”

J. Hoffman Lumber offers Douglas fir, Heart Pine and mixed oak gathered from old factories, warehouses, barns and other buildings that no longer are in use.

“We travel all over,” says Hoffman. “Last year, we were in Pennsylvania taking down a naval facility, reclaiming large timbers which will go into timber frame structures and timber trusses. The smaller stock is cut up for flooring and paneling.”

The quality of the old-growth lumber is what customers are after, particularly when it comes to Heart Pine and other species that were harvested to extinction and now can be found only in turn-of-the-century buildings.

“It’s a higher grade of lumber to begin with, and being so old, it’s got a beautiful patina,” Hoffman says. “There’s no comparison between new and old.”

J. Hoffman Lumber offers a second source of reclaimed flooring as well. Its “Urban Collection” is lumber salvaged from local tree cutters, and it comes in species including white oak, red oak, ash, elm and walnut.

The company typically produces wide-plank flooring, between 4- and 10-inch widths, which currently is in vogue, Hoffman says. Customers can choose what type of grade they want, from a “clear” floor, which is more uniform in color and grain with fewer markings, to “character” flooring, which has knots, variations in color and other rustic attributes – and is the most popular right now.

More and more businesses are choosing reclaimed lumber to design their spaces, Hoffman adds.

One of the company’s first major contracts was to install floors, siding and other interior products at Bass Pro Shops stores, including the Gurnee location.

“Those floors are just as beautiful today,” Hoffman says. “Now, we’re heavily into more restaurant chains and breweries, providing flooring, bar tops, table tops, paneling. Reclaimed wood gives it that nice, warm feeling when you go in.”

Top Trends: LVP

If hard surfaces are the biggest trend in flooring, luxury vinyl planks – or LVP – are the biggest innovation in hard surfaces.
LVP is becoming more popular because it offers the look of wood with the added benefit of being water resistant at a fraction of the cost of real wood.

But sometimes it takes customers a minute to wrap their heads around the concept of using vinyl as a trendy floor covering.

“Everybody thinks of vinyl as the old roll of sheet vinyl,” says Lenhardt. “The printing and embossing techniques have gotten so sophisticated that much of this vinyl, when it’s installed, you couldn’t tell it wasn’t wood – it’s that good.”

Some brands offer up to eight printed patterns in each carton, which lessens the chance of the floor looking like a cookie-cutter printed vinyl, she says.

Vinyl engineering also has received a complete makeover.
“The core products have a foam insulation and micro-foam or cork padding on the back, which cuts down on some of that plastic-y sound,” Lenhardt says. “They’re putting together lots of different products that kind of alleviate that ‘tink tink tink’ sound.”

Some LVP is even equipped with noise-deadening cores, which fulfill many condo association requirements for soundproofing, she says.

Finally, installation methods have vastly improved. Sheet vinyl used to be glued straight to the floor and required a perfectly smooth surface to ensure the product wouldn’t tear or bubble over imperfections. But newer LVP with a hard PVC core is available in planks that click together and “float” over surfaces, which is more forgiving and can cut down on installation costs.

Sticking with Old Faithful

While reclaimed wood floors and new wood-like hard surfaces are the trendiest flooring options right now, one product still surpasses all others at Tri-State Carpet and Floor, and it’s in the company’s name.

That’s right: carpeting makes up about 60 percent of the company’s sales, says Lenhardt.

Before you dismiss this affordable flooring option, look at carpet’s newest innovations.

“Carpet is always about the fibers and the backing,” says Lenhardt. “There’s polyester, the least expensive, which is often made of recycled materials like water bottles and generally has some sort of stain inhibitor sprayed onto it. Nylon is another great fiber; it wears really well. Most commercial carpets are nylon. Generally, the biggest beef is that people think it’s scratchy, but there are new, softer nylons coming out.”

Top carpet brand Karastan offers a very soft nylon blend called SmartStrand that is stain- and water-resistant.

“They say you can’t stain it,” Lenhardt says. “They had a rhino living on it in a zoo for two weeks in Birmingham, Ala., to prove its 25-year warranty.”

Mohawk, which owns Karastan, has an additional new carpet it markets as hypoallergenic. Airo comes with an antimicrobial pad instead of a traditional foam pad backing, which can trap mildew and dust.
Other innovations have improved carpet’s texture and appeal.
Cornrow Berber carpeting, the looped carpet that was a popular basement flooring covering for decades, is no longer fashionable, Lenhardt says.

“Now, there are a lot of cut and loop patterns made out of all loops, but then they cut some of them and you get real interesting textures and patterns,” she says.

Additional Options

Engineered hardwood is a “wood” option that is great for basements or commercial settings where solid wood can’t be nailed or screwed directly into a concrete floor.

“It’s a versatile product because you can put it right down,” says Hoffman. “Basically, it’s a plywood product with a small, thin wear layer of what wood you want. You can use that on concrete or basements where you’re worried about expanding or contracting from moisture.”

Engineered hardwood also costs less to install than regular hardwood.

Laminate flooring is another way to get a hardwood look at a cheaper price point, and technology has vastly improved this flooring option, too, Lenhardt says.

“The same printing and embossing techniques that have made vinyl so good have improved laminate,” she says.

In fact, the only difference between laminate and luxury vinyl is the base layer. Each has a wear layer and printed layer, but the base of vinyl is PVC while the base of laminate is pressed board.
There’s also ceramic or porcelain tile, though they’re not as popular as they once were.

“The knock on tile is that the materials are relatively inexpensive, but the installation is expensive with all the mortar and the grout,” Lenhardt says.

Luxury vinyl tile – similar to LVP, but a tile lookalike – is a more economical and DIY-friendly option, she says.

Choosing the Right Flooring

Lenhardt and the team at Tri-State Carpet and Floor have a three-pronged approach to help families decide what flooring is best for them: usage, budget and quality.

First, Lenhardt asks customers to consider the usage of the space. Take into account who is in the family – young children, pets, just a single person? The potential for wear and tear should be a major consideration.

Similarly, how much effort will be put into flooring upkeep? Generally, vinegar and water or a pH-neutral cleaner – substances that don’t need to be rinsed off – are best for wood floors so they don’t take off the finish. But cleaning with these products can be more time-consuming.

A customer’s personal taste also should be discussed in this first step, Lenhardt says. If a family wants a wood look, she can show them three categories: wood, luxury vinyl or wood laminate. Each provides a similar look but requires different care. Hardwood might not be best for high-traffic areas or bathrooms, whereas LVP could provide the desired look with the benefit of being water resistant.

Second, the budget must be discussed. True wood – particularly reclaimed wood – can cost more than other products, but its character can’t be duplicated. LVP or LVT is generally less expensive, but even those options can have a wide price range.
That’s why Lenhardt makes sure her customers understand how to measure the quality of products.

LVT, for instance, can be found at almost any hardware or flooring store at a range from 99 cents a foot to $5 a foot.

What’s the difference? Both vinyl and laminate have a wear layer, which is the protective surface coat that keeps a product stain- and scratch-resistant. This durability measurement, defined in mils, is a great way to predict how long floors will last.

“The cheapest option you see on super-sale at a big-box store might only have a 2-mil wear layer and won’t last a long time if you have a lot of traffic,” Lenhardt says. “Products we recommend have 6-, 8-, 12-, even 20-mil wear layers. Twenty is a commercial rating. You need to consider, is it going to wear out and you hate it in two years?”

Customers also should check the FloorScore of products they’re considering, to see if the flooring is certified and meets indoor air quality standards.

Unfortunately, some vinyls are made with chemicals that can leach into the home and threaten a family’s health, Lenhardt says. Steer clear of these and stick with 100 percent virgin vinyl, the highest grade available.

“Every reputable product that has been tested by the FDA and has been deemed safe has a FloorScore,” Lenhardt says. “It says, ‘Hey, this product has been tested and is not giving off any bad gases.”
Once a customer has chosen their flooring, installation is key.

Whether you choose to lay your flooring lengthwise in a room, in a trendy herringbone pattern or a mix of other styles – like laying the flooring in the opposite direction around the outside of a room – make sure it’s being installed correctly.

“What makes floors look good, no matter what they’re made of, is good installation,” Lenhardt says.

“If you’re doing it yourself and you take out those luxury vinyl planks, and you start each row at the wall, it’ll look like a bowling alley. Cut one board in half so it’s shorter or longer, and you’re not getting that ticky-tack pattern where all the boards are the same length.”

If You Choose Wood

If your heart is set on wood floors, that’s terrific. But there are still a few considerations to make, says Hoffman.

“If you have kids or large pets, you may want a tougher, harder species that can withstand the pounding and scratching of toys and paws, such as our character white oak,” says Hoffman. “Douglas fir, white pine or Heart Pine will dent easier. But some people want that look, that rustic character, and if it gets a dent, even better.”

Next, it’s time to decide if you want some type of clear coating or a stain to bring out the character of your reclaimed floors.

“I’ve seen it both ways,” Hoffman says. “Either way, the character of the wood will shine through.”