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New This Week: 2 Ways to Rethink Kitchen Seating

Article by: Mitchell Parker

Kitchen seating seems simple enough. Scoot in a few bar stools around an island or a peninsula and you’re done. But when you’re trying to create something flexible for small and large gatherings, accommodate a view or make the most of a compact layout, it’s time for something a little more outside the box. Here, two designers explain how they rethought mealtime in the kitchen.

1. Compact Combo

Designer: Dianne Berman of Delo Interiors
Location: Toronto
Size: 320 square feet (about 30 square meters) 
Year built: 1975; was renovated in the early ’90s, and this recent update was completed in 2015

Kitchen seating: Given the small footprint and square shape, designer Dianne Berman knew she had to make every inch count. By grouping the dining space with a large island and connecting the bench seating to it, she created one path of travel around the entire kitchen rather than two. “This layout also created a more intimate feel,” Berman says. “The homeowners can cook and prep while family and friends gather around the table, bar area or island. Everyone faces toward the center of the space, which makes conversations flow.” 

Homeowners’ request: Clean lines, minimal ornamentation and a calm color palette. Functionally, they wanted space to entertain small and large groups of friends and family. The entrance to the home opens to this space, so storage for coats, boots and shoes was a must. Berman integrated built-in cabinets and drawers beneath the stairway.

Why the design works: To make the kitchen feel larger, Berman carried the backsplash to the ceiling. She also kept space open on either side of the vent hood so the area by the cabinets didn’t look crowded. The waterfall-edge countertop on the island adds to the clean lines requested by the homeowner.

What wasn’t working: The previous kitchen had a dropped 7-foot ceiling over a peninsula, an out-of-commission wood-burning fireplace and a dining table that felt like an afterthought. Berman removed all these hindrances to open things up. She then added recessed LED lights, undercabinet lighting and decorative drop pendants to further push the openness. 

What goes on here: Intimate meals, large parties for family and friends, and quick breakfasts while watching the morning news. In the summer months, the family opens double French doors to extend the space to the patio. 

Who uses it: A health system researcher and a product development chemist.

Designer secret: “Storage is always key in urban environments,” Berman says. “We added a ton of concealed storage to keep all belongings tucked away and out of sight.”

Splurges and savings: The homeowners splurged on the three colored hand-blown Italian light fixtures over the island while saving on pendant lights from West Elm for a nearby bar area. 

2. Airy and Adjustable

Architect and designer: Jill Neubauer
Location: Oak Bluffs, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts 
Size: 264 square feet (24.5 square meters); about 12 by 22 feet (3.6 by 6.7 meters)
Year built: 2008

Kitchen seating: Two tables at varying heights offer traditional sit-down dining or more casual bar-height dining. The lower table can be wheeled out to combine with a second, identical table to create room for dinner parties of 20 people, while the higher table works as extra prep space. 

Homeowners’ request: A large, open, social and hardworking kitchen that has full views of Martha’s Sound off Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. 

Plan of attack: Making the most of a narrow house, designer Jill Neubauer placed the main elements of the large, open kitchen along the street-facing side of the home to open the space to the ocean on the opposite side. 

Vertical-grain Douglas fir cabinets and one portion of the island (on the left) warm the concrete floors and countertops. Stained plywood tops the island on the right — “warm, easy, beautiful, soft, quiet, forgiving, inexpensive,” Neubauer says of the material. Open shelves make work easier in the busy kitchen, and allow guests to be more helpful too because they can see where things are. 

Who uses it: This is a summer house for a family.

Designer secret: “Walk the line of richness and clarity,” Neubauer says. It also helps to have clients with style. “The owner had magnificent, cool furniture,” she says. “It brought the house to an entirely new level of aesthetics and pulled it all together with warmth and memories.”

“Uh-oh” moment: Neubauer’s challenge was to make a modern, raw, industrial house in a historic district — “without making the house look like a box with cool stuff dropped inside,” she says. Communication and collaboration helped push the project over the hurdles.

Splurges and savings: Neubauer and the homeowners saved by not striving for perfection. Cedar walls were installed in a simple fashion, with dings and bulging boards welcomed. “This gave a feeling of softness and livability, not perfection,” the designer says. 

Take-away: “Combining raw material — warm, soft wood with hard cool concrete — is a success. It’s all about balance,” Neubauer says. Also, “all construction is costly.”


How to Clean Your Hardwood Floors

Article by: Bonnie McCarthy

Although installing hardwood flooring is usually more expensive than rolling out new carpet, it’s an investment worth considering, according to data from the National Association of Realtors. Surveys show that 54 percent of home buyers are willing to pay more for a house with hardwood floors. The question now: What’s the best way to clean and care for that popular flooring and keep that natural beauty (and value) shining through? Here’s how.

It’s not the wood — oak, maple, mesquite, bamboo, engineered hardwood or something more exotic — that determines how the floors should be cleaned, but rather the finish.

Surface finishes, often referred to as urethanes or polyurethanes, are among the most popular treatments today and are usually applied to hardwood floors after installation to protect them and make them more durable and water resistant. These finishes create a protective barrier. There are four types of surface finishes, according to the American Hardwood Information Center: water based, oil based, acid cured and moisture cured.

Homes built before 1970, including historic residences, may have original wood floors that were sealed with varnish, wax or shellac. These require a different approach to cleaning. The American Hardwood Information Center says these types of finishes work by penetrating the wood to color the planks and form a protective shield. Using a wax coating after staining provides a barrier against wear and tear and gives the floor a beautiful low-gloss satin sheen. The classic look requires a little extra TLC, however, since water-based products and mopping can damage the finish.

How to Determine Your Wood Floor Finish

To figure out whether or not your wood floors are finished with a polyurethane, shellac, wax or varnish, or have a finish that has worn away and is no longer providing coverage, the American Hardwood Information Center suggests these tests:

  • Run your hand over the wood. If you can feel the texture of the grain, the floor has a “penetrating” finish (usually a combination of a natural oil, such as linseed or tung oil, mixed with additives for drying) topped with wax.
  • In an out-of-the-way spot, dab on a little paint remover. If the finish bubbles up, it is a surface finish, like polyurethane, which coats the floor in a protective layer.
  • In an out-of-the-way area, place a few drops of water. If the water beads up and does not soak into the wood, the finish on the floor is intact. If the water is absorbed into the floor or leaves a dark spot, the wood is unfinished or the protective layer has worn away.
  • If you sprinkle on a few drops of water and white spots form beneath the droplets after about 10 to 15 minutes, the floors are sealed with wax. To remove the white spots, use a piece of fine steel wool lightly dampened with wax and rub gently.
  • If you suspect a varnish or shellac, take a coin and scratch the surface of the floor in an inconspicuous corner. If the floor has been sealed with one of the older finishing methods, it will flake off.

Preventing Dirty Wood Floors

Not wearing shoes in the house is one of the best ways to significantly reduce dirt, scuffs and daily wear and tear, and lessen cleaning time.

The National Wood Floor Association, or NWFA, is more specific and warns against walking on wood floors with cleats, sports shoes and high heels. It also offers this cautionary example: A 125-pound woman walking in high heels has an impact of 2,000 pounds per square inch. Furthermore, an exposed heel nail can exert up to 8,000 pounds of force per square inch. 

Whether you got out your calculator or not, the possibility of impact and denting appears to be undeniable. However, while you can’t always ask guests to shed shoes at the door, it might be a policy worth considering for family members.

What Not to Do

No matter what type of wood flooring you have, the NWFA advises against using cleaning products meant for vinyl or tile flooring. Their take: Self-polishing acrylic waxes cause wood to become slippery and appear dull quickly. 

Another no-no: wet-mopping wood floors, since standing water can dull the finish, damage the wood and leave a discoloring residue. Along the same lines, avoid overwaxing unfinished wood floors in an attempt to restore luster. If a waxed floor has become dull, try buffing the surface instead.

Regular Wood Floor Cleaning

Cleaning floors with contemporary polyurethane wood finishes (for floors installed after 1970) starts with vacuuming, sweeping or dust-mopping the surface.

Vacuuming. Vacuum wood floors daily, or at least once a week with a vacuum fitted with an attachment for wood floors. For regular machines, the American Hardwood Information Center advises turning off interior rotating brushes or beater bars if possible.

Regular vacuuming helps remove dust and dirt particles that play a leading role in scratching and dulling the surface of the floor.

Sweeping. The American Hardwood Information Center says choosing a broom with “exploded tips,” also known as synthetic fiber ends, is step one.

Damp mopping. Damp mopping should be done with a simple solution of pH-neutral soap (like dishwashing soap) and water; or one capful of a mild cleanser such as Murphy Oil Soap in a bucket of water; or a solution using products specially formulated for wood floors, such as Eco Mist Colloid W, Dr. Bonner’s or Method.

In conscientious cleaning circles, controversy swirls around whether to use a mixture of vinegar and water for damp-mopping wood floors. Ultimately, everyone has to do what works best; however, within the past 10 years this method has lost favor, and popular belief now holds that the solution causes floors to dull more quickly and is not as effective as simple soap and water.

To begin mopping, dampen the mop in the prepared solution, wring it out completely, and mop in the direction of the wood grain. Repeat as necessary. As the water in the bucket becomes dirty, dump it out and refill. Many experts (including Martha Stewart) believe scrubbing wood floors with a damp cloth by hand is the ultimate cleaning strategy — unless abundant square footage or protesting knees prove problematic.

But avoid cloths or mops dripping with water. If your floors do get wet or worse, dry them immediately!

Another technique: After the floor has been swept or vacuumed, put your cleaning solution of choice in a spray bottle and mist the floor, then use a dry microfiber mop or cloth and mop in direction of the wood grain. 

It’s important to note that just because a floor is clean doesn’t necessarily mean it will be shiny. If the floor has lost its luster, it may be time to have it refinished professionally. Whatever you do, don’t wax a polyurethaned finish.

Unfinished or Waxed Floors

Unfinished or waxed floors, like those in older and historic homes, as well as floors in which the protective seal has worn away, should never be treated with water or liquid cleansers, which may penetrate, stain or warp the wood. Instead, according to cleaning experts, sweeping with a soft-bristled broom and vacuuming should be done as the primary line of defense. The NWFA says to step away from the mop: Never damp-mop a waxed floor.

Beyond basic care, buffing and waxing the floors once or twice a year should maintain the shine. 

Old-fashioned shellacked floors are not common in most homes. However, if you find yourself the proud owner of this vintage flooring, regular care should include sweeping and vacuuming often. Avoid water and liquid cleansers.

Engineered Wood Floors

Engineered wood flooring is created with a thin veneer of hardwood fused atop a plywood base. The material is stronger and more durable than regular hardwoods, and as a result has become a popular choice.

The cleaning procedure for this type of wood is the same as for hardwood floors with urethane finishes. Keep clean on a daily basis by sweeping and vacuuming and use a slightly damp mop as needed.

Painted Wood Floors

Painted wood floors make a strong style statement and are a clever way to disguise wood flooring in less than perfect shape. To clean them, sweep, vacuum or dust-mop regularly. Avoid scratching or damaging the painted surface by staying away from abrasive cleansers and opting for a simple soap and water solution for damp mopping. Experts suggest drying the surface immediately by hand to avoid streaking and unnecessary moisture.

Bathroom Floor Tile: Glass Mosaic for a Luxurious Look

Article by:

Glass mosaic tile flooring can certainly add beauty to a bathroom, but it’s still a hotly debated material choice for flooring. No one can deny how great it looks, but some people question its durability and safety in a wet environment. Here you’ll learn all about the pros, cons and costs to help you decide if glass mosaic tile is a good fit for your bathroom. Could this luxurious material work for you? 

The basics. Glass mosaic tile, made up of many small tiles in different colors or the same color, can dramatically change a space. You will want to find an experienced installer and use proper setting materials and grout.


Cost. Glass mosaic tile is considered a high-end material, so it’s more expensive than average bathroom flooring. However, there’s a wide price range: High-quality, beautiful glass tile in sheets is typically $25 to $40 per square foot; custom murals can be $70 to $150 per square foot; and standard solid colors can start as low as $4 per square foot.

 

Advantages. Glass mosaic tile is one of the most lavish and luxurious bathroom flooring materials on the market. With its gorgeous reflective surface, it will add value and appeal. It also has a nonporous surface that’s resistant to stains, mold, mildew and chemical damage. 

Disadvantages. Make sure your glass tile has been approved by the American Society for Testing and Materials for flooring use. Confirm all the ins and outs of the warranty with the manufacturer. 

Hire an experienced professional to install your glass tile bathroom floor, since installation can prove tricky due to transparency. You can’t rush glass tile installation or treat it like larger-format tiles. 

Also, while glass mosaic tile is surprisingly strong, its surface is susceptible to scratching and etching and can also become slippery when wet.

 

 

 

 

 

Sustainability. Many glass tile manufacturers have become environmentally aware and have created ecofriendly lines using recycled glass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maintenance. Glass mosaic is quite easy to clean, and it is important to maintain your floor to lengthen its life span and boost its reflectivity. One of the most important things you can do to help keep your glass tile floor in tip-top shape is to keep it free of dirt and grit that can scratch its surface. You’ll also want to wash away soap scum and mineral deposits with a standard bathroom cleanser and a soft bristle brush.


“Look at what is indicated on the grout bag. Glass tile is not going to be influenced by many things, but the grout often is affected by what is used,” says Christina White, general manager of Hakatai Enterprises.“This may in turn change the appearance of the tile, when actually it is the grout that has changed.”

 




What to Ask Before Choosing a Hardwood Floor

Article By: Mitchell Parker

So you’ve decided to get hardwood floors. Easy enough, right? Pick a wood and be done with it. 

Not so fast. There are a lot of factors that will determine what kind of hardwood floor your home can accommodate, and what will look best with your existing or planned furnishings and decor. 

You have some basic options: solid wood and engineered wood. Solid wood is what you generally think of as a hardwood floor: thick, solid planks of wood. Engineered wood is made of a veneer layer that sits atop a core of plywood. This construction deals with moisture a bit better and is recommended for concrete slab subfloors. Which brings up another point. The construction of the floor you’re working with pretty much will dictate what kind of wood you can use. 

Here’s how to prepare yourself for choosing a hardwood floor for your home. 

1. Where will the wood be going?

Installing hardwood floors on a second story is much different than doing so in a basement. A space beneath ground level is what’s known as below grade. A floor that’s even with the outside ground level is on grade, and any floors above this are above grade. Where you’re installing the wood will limit your recommended options.

“For example, you’re not supposed to put solid wood below grade, because the moisture coming up through the ground can cause problems,” says Bob Hagen, who owns Magnus Anderson Hardwood. “So an engineered wood is recommended.”

 

 

 

 

 

2. What is the subfloor made of? 

Find out what kind of subfloor you have. The three most common types are concrete slab, plywood and particleboard. This will help you determine whether you can install solid wood floors, or if an engineered wood would be best. 

Concrete. “If you have a concrete slab floor, you’re pretty much limited to engineered wood,” says Andrew Zheng, manager of Unique Wood Floors, which specializes in and ships prefinished hardwood. But don’t fret. You can still get any type of wood in an engineered format. And the thickness of the veneer on engineered wood varies. Higher-end engineered woods “are no less than solid woods in performance and price,” Zheng says. 

(Note: Even the hardest woods, such as Brazilian cherry and hard maple, will ding on an engineered floor if the plywood onto which they are veneered is soft, like lauan, which is a commonly used base.)

Another option is to install plywood over the concrete, but you’ll have to pay for the additional plywood, insulation and labor. “Most people just choose to stick with what they have,” Zheng says. 

If you’re still not sold on the engineered product, Hagen says there’s a way to still have solid wood on a concrete slab (as long as it’s on grade). It just needs to be glued down, preferably by an experienced professional. 

The downsides are that you need completely flat boards (hard to come by in longer lengths), and the glue is so strong that there’s a permanency to it. “If you have a leak or a flood, getting the material up is incredibly difficult,” Hagen says. “You’ll also want to check the VOCs [volatile organic compounds, which are toxic] in the product. And we ask clients about any chemical sensitivities.” 

Plywood. This is probably the most common subfloor and allows for the most versatility with hardwood floors. You can nail solid wood on top or use engineered wood. 

Particleboard. This material was commonly used under carpet in homes built in the 1970s. It’s basically a cheaper version of plywood. For hardwood floors, you’ll need to replace the particleboard with plywood. Then you can add engineered or solid wood.  

3. What are your living habits?

Think about how much abuse your floors will take and learn about specific wood species and their durability. Do you have kids and pets? Have large parties often? Or are you a single person who travels a lot? 

If you have a high-traffic house, you’ll want to go with a harder wood. The Janka scale measures how strong a wood is; basically a BB is fired into a plank and the size of the dent it leaves is measured. “Red oak is considered the bell curve,” Hagen says. “It’s pretty hard and medium priced.” 

You can also play with grain patterns as well as with stains and finishes that will hide dents and scratches. 

4. What style is your home?

You might love the look of hickory but then think differently when you see it covering a floor in a kitchen with modern cabinets. That’s because some woods lend themselves better to certain styles. 

When choosing a wood, consider cabinets, trimwork and door casings to make sure the wood won’t clash with other design elements. And coordinate with the colors of the walls and the amount of natural light. This will affect color choice. If you have a lot of windows and skylights, then you probably have enough light to balance out really dark floors. If you have a dark house already, a lighter floor choice will help brighten things.

If your style is modern: Natural maple lends itself well to modern styles. “It’s more of a Norwegian-looking design with a clean look and not a lot of variation,” Zheng says. Gray-stained oak and boards without knots create a clean aesthetic that also works in modern settings.

If your style is traditional: Go with something like hickory. “It mixes lighter and darker pieces, and it’s more like a traditional cabin feel,” Zheng says. Also, boards with knots and wider planks fit a more traditional style.

Of course, designers do incredibly creative things with mixing old and new, so don’t discount a wood just because it’s considered more appropriate for a certain style. Playing with grain pattern and stains can yield all sorts of interesting results. 

5. What’s important to you? 

Is budget the biggest factor? Or is the appearance all you care about? Determining what’s most important to you will help you determine the right wood for your floor. 

Cost. Engineered wood isn’t always the cheapest route, so don’t think you can’t have solid wood floors on a budget. Zheng says you can purchase generic oak flooring in various stains for $3.50 to $4 per square foot, while lower-end engineered floors start at $2.50 to $3 per square foot. Beautiful hardwood like the popular acacia species can be as high as $6 per square foot.

Maintenance. If you want something that will hold up over time, you’ll want to look at the harder woods (with higher Janka ratings). Also pay attention to the stain. 

The traditional method for staining wood uses a polyurethane finish, which produces a higher sheen. If the floor gets dinged or scratched, light bouncing off the semigloss finish can exacerbate the appearance of those flaws. 

Oil finishes are increasingly becoming more popular these days. They soak into the wood and provide a more matte finish. This can help hide wear and tear; plus, they last longer. While the up-front cost is higher, you won’t need to restain the floor as often, saving you money in the long run.

You can play around with finishes too. Hand-scraped or wire-brushed treatments rough up the appearance, creating a worn look so that if something does scuff it, the mark is not as noticeable. Note that the thickness of the veneer on an engineered floor affects how often it can be sanded down and finished. 

Appearance. Everyone’s preference is different. Some people are attracted to oak more thanwalnut, and vice versa. 

Acacia, shown here, is an exotic wood from Asia that Zheng says is a hot seller right now, because of its mix of lighter and darker tones; plus, it’s harder than hickory. The cost ranges from about $4 to $6 per square foot at his warehouse. The unique look is worth the higher cost for some. 

Pay attention to knots and grain pattern. Patterns in hickory and maple are different than in oak. You might want to spend the extra money for a unique grain pattern, or you may want to save money and go with a less-expensive wood with a better stain.

Consider plank width, too, which alters the appearance of your hardwood floors. Wide-plank walnut and 7-inch European oak are popular in traditional homes at the moment. 

The best thing you can do is see and feel the wood in person. “Wood is a living species. You need to feel what you’re attracted to. You’re the one living in the house, not the designer pushing you,” says Ilan Zamir, CEO ofAmber Flooring. 

6. How will you stain and finish it? 

A stain adds color to the wood. The finish protects the floors from getting dirty. Any stain or finish can be applied to almost any wood. Some people like the color of oak but want the grain pattern of walnut. That’s where staining can come into play. 

Some people can’t tell the difference between unstained black walnut and white oak that’s been stained espresso. Others can look at those woods and their grain patterns and immediately know the difference. It all depends on what’s important to you. 

A finish affects the maintenance. A solid wood that’s been hand scraped for a lower-sheen matte finish is easier to maintain, because you won’t see as much wear and tear. But maybe you want a semigloss look. 

Also, purchasing wood that’s been prefinished will give you a good idea of what it will look like and will save you the time and effort of finishing the floors onsite. Engineered wood is usually prefinished. 

7. How will you test it? 


This step is incredibly important. The last thing you want to do is install 800 square feet of black walnut based on a photo or tiny sample you saw in a showroom only to find it’s overpoweringly dark and contrasts poorly with your furnishings. 

Always ask for a 2- by 2-foot sample of what the floor will look like with a stain and finish on it. Use this to test it with your paint colors and decor to make sure it’s exactly what you want.

Bathroom Surfaces: Ceramic Tile Pros and Cons

Article By: John Whipple

Often praised for its durability and variety, ceramic tile is a popular choice for bathroom finishes. If you’re drawn to color and texture, this material can deliver on both fronts. But the sheer variety of ceramic tiles is endless, which can make finding just the right tile very difficult. 

Because ceramic tends to cost less than porcelain and is much lighter, it’s often used for wall and ceiling installations. However, there are some major cons to this material, too: It’s not as strong as porcelain, so it doesn’t make the best walking surface. It can be very cold underfoot in the winter, and heavy tile can be difficult to install. 

Curious if ceramic tile will work in your bathroom? Here’s what you should know before making the purchase. 

The basics: Ceramic tiles are wide ranging; all are generally made from red or white clay that’s been fired in a kiln and glazed or finished. If you’re a tile nerd like me, ceramic tile technically includes porcelain tile too, but for this ideabook we’ll exclude that category. 

Cost: Ceramic tile is often priced below $2 per square foot. Higher-end tiles can easily run $20 to $40 and more per square foot. The average tends to be around $7 to $9 per square foot. 

Pros: Ceramic tile can be incredibly affordable, and there’s a ton of variety in styles, colors, finishes and textures. It’s also easy to customize it for details like chair rails, soap dishes and special edging and nosing, as in this bathroom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cons: Ceramic tile is not as strong as its cousin, porcelain tile, but what it lacks in strength, it makes up for in price.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Special considerations: Since ceramic tiles often have texture, you may want to consider this to add dimension to your bathroom. The eased edge on this tile adds a little extra something to a bathroom wall, but can make it difficult to figure out how to cut end tile. Consider using a tile edge profile, like a Schluter strip, to make the transition less awkward. 

However, today’s ceramic tile offers much more than an eased edge. This wavy tile from Porcelanosa is just one example of the texture and detail available today. 

This type of tile can make for a great accent in a bathroom, but I’d avoid using too much texture in a shower , since it can make for difficult cleaning. Try using it for a feature wall or feature corner instead. 

Maintenance: Make sure you choose a ceramic tile with a durable finish. How can you tell? Buy a sample, take it home and clean it to death. 

I recommend cleaning ceramic tile with a white nylon scrub brush and a little soap. You shouldn’t need much more than that. Ceramic is very durable, but it’s best to stick to mild household detergents and to spot test before using anything new. 

Installation: Installing ceramic tile is pretty straightforward; it could even be a DIY project if you have some experience working with tile. Many of today’s ceramic tile actually has directional arrows on the back side; make sure you keep them lined up the same way so you get the correct look. 



7 Kitchen Flooring Materials to Boost Your Cooking Comfort

Article By: Jennifer Ott

I love the look of polished concrete floors in kitchens, but concrete — along with other nonresilient floor surfaces, such as stone, ceramic and porcelain tile — can take a toll on your joints. I’ve heard complaints from many homeowners who regret putting in a hard flooring material in their kitchen because of the subsequent knee, hip or back pain they feel after standing or walking on it for a long period. Fortunately there are plenty of softer, resilient kitchen flooring types available that are as functional as they are good-looking. 

Cork

Sustainably harvested from the bark of the cork oak tree, cork is an excellent resilient floor choice in a kitchen due to its high level of cushioning. It’s available in a variety of colors, patterns and textures, and in tile or plank formats. It is somewhat self-healing but can get scratched and dented. You can mitigate this by regularly applying a protective layer of wax or polyurethane and by using protective felt pads on the feet of your furniture.

Material cost: $4 to $14 per square foot 

Linoleum


Not to be confused with vinyl flooring, linoleum is made from all-natural and renewable materials such as linseed oil, pine rosin and powdered cork. It’s soft underfoot yet quite durable, and it comes in a wide range of colors and patterns. As with cork, applying and maintaining a protective finish will keep it looking good for many years.

Material cost: $5 to $10 per square foot 

Rubber


This is a bit of an unusual choice in a residential kitchen, but rubber flooring is becoming more common in homes. Soft, springy and durable, it is a terrific choice if you want to stand for hours in your kitchen without bringing on the aches and pains. Rubber flooring is available in tile and sheet formats, and should be sealed after installation and again every year or two, depending on traffic and wear. 

Material cost: $6 to $12 per square foot 

Vinyl


A popular budget-friendly option, vinyl flooring comes in both sheet and tile formats and in an endless array of styles and colors. I like to have fun with vinyl; I like to use bolder colors or lay it out in an interesting pattern. However, it’s not as durable as other resilient flooring options and can get dinged up pretty easily. Therefore, it tends to have a shorter life span than other options.

Material cost: $2 to $10 per square foot 

Wood


A favorite flooring material for kitchens, wood is more forgiving on our joints than stone, ceramic, porcelain or concrete. It also looks and feels warmer than nonresilient flooring. Some drawbacks to wood are that it can get scratched and dinged easily, and it also must be protected from contact with water. In kitchens I recommend going with a site-finished wood floor rather than a prefinished floor. Yes, it’s a messy business sealing the floor after installation, but by sealing it after installation you also seal up the joints, preventing water and dirt from collecting in them.

Material cost: $5 to $20 per square foot 

Bamboo


Not technically wood — it’s actually a grass — bamboo has many of the same advantages and disadvantages as wood. It’s a good option if you are looking to use a sustainably harvested material for your kitchen floor. Not all bamboo flooring is the same, however; be sure to look for moso bamboo, as it’s considered the hardest and most durable.

Material cost: $5 to $12 per square foot 

Laminate


Similar to vinyl flooring products, laminates are a budget-friendly flooring choice and are soft underfoot when compared to rigid flooring materials. They tend to be more moisture resistant than wood floors, but because they are not a solid material all the way through, they can’t be refinished if damaged. 

Material cost: $2 to $5 per square foot 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alternate Option: Mats and Rugs


For those who simply must have their hard tile or concrete kitchen floor, there’s always the option of placing gel mats or other cushioning rugs in areas of your kitchen where you spend large amounts of time standing, such as at your sink or in front of the range. 

Bathroom Design: Getting Tile Around the Vanity Right

Article By: John Whipple

Tiling under your new vanity or custom cabinets can prevent shower or sink water from finding its way into your house. Extending tile all the way under freestanding or floating vanities can make a room look and feel larger, too. These vanities are popular choices in today’s bathrooms, so it’s important to understand the pros and cons of bringing tile all the way under your bathroom storage. 

See how these bathrooms combine vanities and floor tiles, and learn what you should specify when working with your bathroom contractor. 

Making sure the floor is perfectly level is an important step for a vanity like this. Trying to level a vanity after tile installation can be a real chore. If you’re having a vanity custom built, designing adjustable legs can help get your vanity and vanity top perfectly level. 

Tip: Consider omitting extra legs in custom vanity designs and securing the vanity to the wall if needed. Getting eight legs to sit perfectly flat is much harder than four! 

If your bathroom floor is a little unlevel and you don’t want to spend the money or time making it perfectly level, a little shoe molding (the small strip of molding at the bottom of the vanity toe kick in this photo) on your vanity can visually even things up. Shoe moldings add a lot of charm to a vanity’s look and help protect the vanity from water damage. 

Tip: If you are going to use a shoe molding, plan to shim the vanity off the ground by about ⅛ inch or so, so that the only wood in contact with the floor is the shoe molding. If there’s ever a leak in your bathroom, the shoe molding, rather than the bottom of your vanity, will absorb the damage. It’s much easier (and more affordable) to replace shoe than the entire vanity.

 

 

 

 

 

I love how this vanity has higher legs and extra foot room. Traditional bathroom and kitchen cabinets often have a smaller kick space (the little recess below the bottom drawers) with little to no room for your toes. If you like to get up close to your vanity and lean toward the mirror when getting ready, a freestanding vanity with extra leg height is a great idea. 

Tip: If you’re installing radiant floor heating, you’ll want it to go all the way under your vanity with a design like this. That way your feet will still stay warm when you’re up close to the mirror. We prefer cable heating systems rather than heating maps for this very reason; they allow for greater heat placement control.

 

Tiling under your vanity can help seal up any voids that might collect water and harm your home’s construction. Sink and drain lines can leak if not properly installed or prepared, and often this leak runs down the back side of a vanity and into the floor. 

Tip: Make sure all your water supply lines have trim collars inside the vanity. These collars act like little water deflectors and can keep water from running back along a pipe and into the wall. 

In a larger bathroom, the high cost of tile could be a big factor when you’re deciding whether or not to tile under a vanity. Usually we order a 10 percent overage in bathrooms, but for some large bathrooms I’ll just order 5 percent and use the off cuts under the vanity. This allows the client to get the benefits of tile under their vanity without added cost. 

Tip: If your tile is crazy expensive, consider using a cheaper, similar tile under the vanity. No one will know but you. 

Larger vanities with a solid countertop like this can add a lot of weight to a tiled floor. If you’re aiming for a similar look and style, considered the added weight your vanity will bring to the room and make sure your contractor prepares the floor for this kind of installation. 


Tip: Curious if your floor is strong enough? Try this simple test for excessive floor deflection: Fill a drinking glass to the top with water, place it in the room before tiling and walk around the room. Move the glass to a few different locations and walk around each time. If the water spills from the glass anywhere, the floor most likely has too much bounce and might not be suitable for a heavier vanity.
 

Adding some light under a vanity makes for a great night feature and brings another layer of lighting to the room. Some tile is so shiny that it acts like a mirror under the vanity, so make sure that the bottom of your vanity is not littered with job tags, addresses or overspray from finishing.

Tip: If you want a more even glow from the lighting, consider shining the light toward the back wall instead of straight down. This creates a little less light but a more even glow.


Why Bathroom Floors Need to Move

Article By: John Whipple

“Tenting” is a terrible word to a tile professional. When a bathroom floor has been installed incorrectly, tiles can press against one another and pop up off the floor, creating a tent shape. It’s not just tile that does this — almost every material in a home expands and contracts with time, including the plywood subfloor, which can develop popped tiles or cracked grout joints. 

These professional pointers for preparation and installation techniques can help keep your bathroom floor from tenting. 

Avoid large-format tile. More grout joints allow for minor movement and spreading out. 

If you have a large bathroom — like this beautiful space — with loads of natural sunlight, a smaller and lighter tile is definitely a safer option. Darker tile absorbs heat and expands and contracts more than lighter tile. 

All of a home’s building materials expand and contract; the hardwood floor, the tile and even the countertops all move over time. Any good pro should know how to account for these size changes and prevent expansion from wreaking havoc in a home. 

Tip: Make sure your tongue and groove subfloor does not get filled with dust, debris or adhesive mortar (thinset). This subfloor needs the ability to move, and the joints should not be too tight. 

This photo shows some great tile work. The beautiful tile is nicely lined up, but I especially appreciate how there’s no mortar or thinset where the tile meets the wall. Using mortar here can lead to tenting issues, since it prevents the tile floor from moving and expanding. This clean finish is exactly what you want to see in your bathroom. Make sure your tile contractor understands that you don’t want your installation done with thinset on the edges that meet the wall. 

If you drive over bridges frequently — like I do every day — you’ll notice that bridges have expansion strips. During the summer the bridge is quiet, since summer’s heat has expanded the bridge’s concrete and the expansion strips are pressed tight. But in the winter, driving over the same bridge sounds quite different; the expansion strips are wider, and they click-clack as your tires hit them. 

Designing tile floors to expand and contract follows some of these same principles. Uncoupling membranes underneath floor tile can improve your floor’s flexibility. This photo shows a professional installing a Strata Matuncoupling membrane to account for minor floor movement.

 

Hearing a hollow noise when you’re walking across newly tiled floors could be the early signs of tile bond failure. This sound results from poor thinset coverage.

In this photo the floor tile goes underneath the tub skirt. This is a solid design that allows for movement on the floor tile. 

Tip: Gently tapping set tiles with the wooden handle of a rubber mallet can help you find the hollow noise where poor thinset coverage has occurred. 

All steam showers have a modified thinset to account for quick thermal expansion. The powerful steam and heat in steam showers require a thinset that can accommodate immediate expansion and contraction. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glass expands more than many other building materials. Large panels like these let in lots of sunshine and quickly heat up the bathroom, increasing thermal expansion. 

For an installation like this, I’d make sure that the corners of the shower stall had two layers of a waterproofing membrane. Products like NobleSeal TShave a thicker membrane that can take some compression in the corners.

 

With extremely large bathrooms, expansion strips inlayed into the tile assembly are a must. In my opinion, any room larger than 15 feet in one direction should be using some kind of expansion strip and speciality thinsets and grouts to increase expansion and combat mortar fatigue.

How to Pick the Right Floor for Your Garden Room

Article By: Billy Goodnick

Every room needs a floor, and outdoor garden rooms are no exception. Paths, decks, patios, overlooks, trash can storage pads, lawns, ground cover plantings … they’re all floors. If you can walk on it, store something on it or roll around on it, I call it a floor. 

The simplest, least expensive floor material is the dirt that comes with a property. Unfortunately, the problem with an all-dirt garden floor is, well, it’s dirty, even downright muddy when wet. It does have one redeeming trait: It’s dirt cheap. But it’s highly likely that you’ll have to choose something other than dirt for most of your garden. How to decide, given all the options? As with any design decision I make, I look for practicality, beauty and sustainability. 

As the saying goes, form follows function. So first consider how the surface will be used and what’s the most appropriate material to support that use. 


Loose materials for more casual spaces. I consider loose materials like crushed rock, graveland shale (also bark mulch) when I want an informal garden pathway or lounging area. They usually cost less and require less labor than other materials, and you don’t have to be a master builder to make them look good. But because these materials can be movable after placement, you’ll need to do some maintenance to keep them from wandering off.

Hard materials for more formal areas. On the other hand, hard materials such asflagstone, brick, tile, concrete and lumber lend themselves to more “civilized” applications like patios, decks and entryways. These generally withstand a lot of traffic and can easily be cleaned with a broom, a washing down (preferably not in water-scarce climates) or an electric blower, if that’s your tool of choice.

Visual appeal. But we seek more than just utility. The first thing we notice in a garden is its visual appeal and sense of style — not how easily ketchup stains can be vanquished. Take cues from the materials and finishes of your house as well as influences from the natural environment.

Environmental impact. Think about where the materials originated, whether they come from recycled sources and whether they are permeable. If you don’t know, ask.

Cost. For most of us, cost is the elephant in the room. The best advice I can offer here is to notbe penny wise and pound foolish. I’ve found time and again that a bit more expense (sometimes a lot) on the front end assures that you’ve selected the best floor for the job, the one least likely to come back and bite you later. 

7 Materials for Outdoor Floors — and How to Use Them


Stone. Stone is enduring and elemental, taking many forms. Where a naturalistic style is most appropriate, irregular slabs of flagstone edged with dainty ground covers look right at home. In formal dining terraces, geometric shapes solidly mortared to a slab are a practical solution, assuring that the stones stay in place and provide a level surface. 

When it comes to selecting the right stone for your project, consider not only the color, but also its surface texture. Too smooth and it might present a slip hazard; too irregular and you’ll have a hard time leveling a table (or walking in 6-inch stiletto heels — not a problem for me).

Stability and safety are paramount concerns, so be sure to set the stepping stones on a well-compacted base with some of their mass underground to keep them from tilting and moving around. Check that pathway stones are large enough and ergonomically spaced so you can land on them without having to delicately dance from one to the next.

The color of the stone should harmonize with the exterior of your home, other garden hardscaping and natural elements. You’ll find a wide range, from nearly black to gray to white, and browns including rusty oxide-infused shades.

Brick. Brick is another durable flooring material that can express the aura of a classic garden. If the visible foundation of your house is brick, use the same brick as a walkway border to bind the house and the garden into a coherent composition. Or you can unleash your artsy, bohemian style by creating random patterns and infusing the design with random sprinklings of other materials, like stone or decorative tiles.

If you’re the one responsible for rolling the trash cans from the side yard to the curb every Thursday evening, you’ll be happy you passed on a pea gravel path and went with a continuous ribbon of mortared brick.

The color palette for brick requires additional design decisions; colors include a range of nearly black through gray, brown, red and some yellowish tints. Although individual bricks are rectangular, there are endless patterns to experiment with, including traditional running bond, herringbone, basket weave, radial spokes, gentle curves and whimsical layouts that look like someone pounded down one too many beers at lunch.

 

In formal situations brick is laid on a compacted bed of masonry sand or mortared onto a solid slab of concrete. This approach ensures that the brick will not subside or shift, a critical detail under tables and chairs. For paths the standard approach is to set the outer edges of brick in a solid concrete base, pave the inner surface with brick set on well-compacted mason’s sand and then brush more sand into the joints to lock them into place.

For shady, moist areas where moss can cause slip-and-fall accidents, be vigilant about choosing materials, like brick, that can withstand a strong blast from a hose or deep scrubbing with a coarse broom.

Caution: Where the ground freezes, loosely set brick can heave, making the path uneven and possibly dangerous. And steer clear of mature trees with surface roots.

 

 

 

 

Tile. Tile, like brick, offers a broad palette of styles, ranging from crisp, contemporary forms to old-world Mediterranean. Because tile is thin and unable to bear much weight on its own, it is always mortared to a solid foundation. Be careful to avoid slick surfaces, since they can become dangerously slippery when wet.

 

Concrete. Square foot for square foot, concrete is a smart long-term investment. It starts off in a semiliquid state, meaning it can assume any shape. If plain old sidewalk gray isn’t your style, concrete can be textured and colored to look like stone, seeded with pebbles, pocked with rock salt or stained with intense pigments to create bold designs. One problem with traditional concrete, though, is it’s impermeable; it sheds water rather than allowing it to percolate into the soil where it can do some good.

Decking. A contractor friend of mine calls wood decks “dry rot in slow motion.” He’s pretty spot-on. Traditional wood decks, regardless of how much waterproofing sealant you apply each year, will eventually succumb to nature’s forces (or termites). 

But if you’ve got a sloping property, need a level surface for outdoor entertaining and want to avoid the expense and disruption of building retaining walls, decking is the way to go. Since you’re not likely to add on to the deck once it’s built, now is the time to decide how it will be used and make space for all the furnishings you want. 

To avoid the effects of weathering and decay, consider building with manufactured plastic lumber made from recycled bottles, plastic bags and wood scraps. It comes in standard lumber sizes, connects with screws and doesn’t rot, making it ideal for rooftop getaways. 

 

Loose materials.Although they might seem like a low-budget cop-out,loose materials like gravel, crushed rock, compacted shale and decomposed granite can be an inexpensive yet elegant choice, especially whenedged by a richer material, like stone or brick. Advantages include permeability, low cost and ease of installation.

However, these materials are more likely to be displaced, especially if water passes over them. And gritty, sandy materials are the last things you want to track onto your hardwood entryway. One of my favorite design treatments for upgrading crushed rock paths uses enriched thresholds and intersections of stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plants. In addition to inert materials, there’s all the living stuff. Once again, your choice should be guided by the intended use: Active recreation, for example, calls for the evenly mowed surface of a tended lawn.

Another consideration is how “at home” a lawn is in your climate. Where rainfall is dependable and plentiful, you needn’t be too concerned about using potable water for irrigation. And there are lots of organic approaches to lawn care, so you can avoid the old-school arsenal of chemical sprays and treatments that can be detrimental to beneficial insects, wildlife and groundwater. But in arid climates, more and more people are going lawnless to help conserve water as well as lower their dependence on fossil fuels for mowing and edging.

 

Meadows, with their tussled, just-got-out-of-bed appearance, are ideal for creating a rustic feeling — and can attract a diversity of beneficial insects and other cool things for kids to discover. You can walk through them or mow romantic, sinuous paths to explore. If you don’t need to wander through the space, any combination of ankle-high perennials and ground covers can provide color and an open expanse that will carry the eye across the garden.