Wood to have you floored

Sidebar:    Flooring trends 

Whether pale beige, rich amber or dark mahogany, natural wood floors have a timeless appeal.

Aesthetically, the unique patterns and grains of wood are pleasing to the eye, while the slight spring in a wood floor makes it far more comfortable than concrete to stand and walk on for prolonged periods of time.

“Timber lends physical and visual warmth to a space that you just can’t achieve with tiles,” says Lydia Uzzell, owner and interior designer at Designworks.

“It adds a depth of character that can’t be matched.”

From a practical standpoint, wood is one of the most renewable flooring materials available, yet will also last hundreds of years, according to Randy Stafford of Stafford Flooring, who is a certified wood inspector with the US-based National Wood Flooring Association.

Wood doesn’t chip or crack when objects are dropped on it and it allows one to refinish the surface, and change the colour, look and texture.

As beautiful as wood is, however, it is not perfect and is vulnerable to changes in temperature and to moisture.

In Cayman, where humidity levels are off the scale for several months a year, simply turning off the air conditioning could be enough to affect natural wood floors.

One of the greatest challenges with wood flooring is that it absorbs moisture, explains Randy. This causes it to expand, and then cup or buckle. Engineered wood – made up of cross-laid layers of wood, with a veneer of hardwood pressed and glued onto the top side – is 75 per cent more stable than solid wood, while to the eye, it looks just the same.

“People tend to shy away from engineered flooring under the misconception that you can’t refinish it, as you can with hardwood,” says Lydia. “But as long as you select a good quality brand with a wear layer of above 4mm, it should last you a lifetime.”

For those who want the wood-look without the price tag, a range of wood lookalikes have emerged in recent years, many of which eliminate the inherent problems with wood, and some of which so closely resemble natural wood that even the experts believe they are the real deal.

Wood laminate has been around for several decades, but has earned itself a less than desirable reputation. Flooring experts are reluctant to refer to emerging new laminates by the same term, because they are such a
world away from their predecessors.

“It used to be that real wood had that warm look, whereas laminate just looked a bit plastic,” says Gary Rankin of Paramount Carpets. “With new technology though, it can be hard to tell them apart.”

Randy agrees. “When you say ‘laminate’, people think ‘cheap’ but I have some laminates now that would totally fool you – they’re fabulous,” he says.

Whereas the grain and patterns of natural wood is never uniform, manmade wood-look materials previously could not avoid patterns repeating. The newest laminates, however, are becoming more and more realistic and can be made to look like a variety of woods as well as cork.

In years gone by, wood and porcelain were either/or options for flooring. Nowadays, however, wood porcelain, or wood-alike tiles, combine the durability and ease of maintenance of tile, with the look of wood, so that you can have that warm wood effect without the worry.

Inalco, a Spanish porcelain manufacturer distributed exclusively by ITC in the Cayman Islands, produces various lines of wood-look tiles with the subtle colours and grain of different woods. Some are created to look like time-weathered, recovered wood and are available in sizes ranging from 20cm x 120cm to 10cm x 300cm.

By making the tiles with rectified edges rather than bevelled edges, says Christina Gurunian at ITC, the tiles can be placed very close together, so that the bare minimum of grouting is visible. The wrong colour grouting, or too much grouting, can be a dead giveaway that the floor is not real wood.

The Slimmker Line by Inalco uses modern technology to produce porcelain tiles that are slim and light yet very durable. The Slimmker tiles are so slim, Christina says, that  they can be laid directly over an existing floor, without the need to remove the previous tiles, making them a great option for those who want to achieve a new look with the minimum of dust and mess.

The floor is the one part of any home that takes the most abuse: it’s walked all over constantly, pets run around on it, furniture is dragged over it and things are spilled on it. And yet we want it to keep looking good for years. It’s therefore not advisable to cut costs when it comes to floors, says Gary.

While natural solid wood floors are the ideal, one can still achieve the look, texture and comfort of wood floors with more stable and economical products.

The options are increasing all the time, and it’s now entirely possible to have make-believe wood floors at a fraction of the cost of real wood, without anybody knowing the difference.