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Fresh Flooring Options for Kitchens

Laminate or tile are not your only kitchen flooring choices. Rubber, concrete and even brick are just a few of the stylish choices available.

Not so long ago, choosing a kitchen floor was as simple as deciding between tile and linoleum. While both of these traditional flooring favorites continue to have their fans, there are now more choices than ever before. So before you settle on one of the "classics," be sure to consider your kitchen-flooring options.

Many homeowners remodeling their kitchens today are turning to an old flooring standby: wood. Wood flooring has made a major comeback as builders and homeowners look to increase the charm, value and comfort in new and remodeled homes.

"We are seeing lots of hardwood in the kitchen," says Raymond Ferraro, a New Jersey contractor. "(Our) past four jobs have been hardwood."

The use of cork flooring helps to soften the feeling of a large, open space. Designed by Philip Guarino.
Bamboo flooring. Photograph by Geoffrey Hodgdon.

One reason for wood's return to favor is the increasing prevalence of more open floor plans, in which kitchens and family rooms blend together. Wood floors offer a warm, seamless look for these "great room" designs.

"Kitchens are really the new living rooms of today's homes," explains Lambert Arcenaux of Allegro Builders in Houston. "We want our homes to feel warm. Our clients hang out in the kitchen and great room and we want it to be inviting. Wood does that."

Wood floors can be finished with oil and wax to give a weathered, antique look, but this finish is less durable in a kitchen setting and will require regular waxing. A better choice for kitchens is wood flooring that is factory-pretreated with a tough sealer like polyurethane. Buying pretreated wood also means there will be less mess and smell associated with initial installation. A sealed wood floor doesn't need to be waxed and can be kept clean with broom and mop. Experts say wood floors in kitchens need to be resealed every five or six years.

The better-engineered wood flooring available today is also a practical choice for kitchens. As long as homeowners follow the routine maintenance recommendations of manufacturers, properly installed wood floors are durable, very easy to clean and tend to camouflage spills and tracked-in dirt.

With more homeowners going beyond the basic oak and pine, "I am seeing more maple, cherry, Brazilian cherry and hickory (in kitchens)," says Mark Palmer, a Florida-based interior designer.

Installed hardwood flooring generally runs $3 to $8 per square foot, depending on the variety of wood, but builder Lambert says homeowners can find great deals on "recycled" wood for kitchens in salvage yards and neighborhood teardowns. "We use reclaimed hardwood from older homes," says Lambert. "Recycling these materials helps us to help the environment and gives our homes a link to the past."

One of the hottest trends in wood flooring for kitchens isn't actually "wood" at all. Cork and bamboo flooring is made from treelike tropical grasses.

'Bamboo and palm wood products work very well in kitchens," says David-Michael Madigan, an interior designer in Santa Ana, Calif. 'They are tropical woods and are treated to withstand the occasional moisture mishap. Underfoot, cork is a very comfortable flooring choice. It has a natural give in the material and its antimicrobial benefits are great around food prep areas."

Megan Dubois, a homeowner in Virginia Beach, Va., first ran across cork flooring at her yoga studio and quickly realized she wanted it in her soon-to-be remodeled kitchen.

"Cork floor is certainly more expensive than a vinyl floor but we thought the upgrade was worth it," explains Megan. "We have a really unique looking floor, which is definitely what we wanted, and the cherry finish that we chose gives the room a warm and cozy feel. I love the fact that when one of my four children drops a dish or glass, nothing breaks!"

The price of installed cork is at the upper end of the range for wood flooring, and bamboo will cost $1 to $2 more than cork per square foot. But homeowners who choose one of the two cite several advantages. Both cork and bamboo are considered environmentally friendly; both are harvested without killing the tree, which will continue to grow and produce. And while cork is soft and comfortable, it's also remarkably resilient. It "remembers" its shape, preventing furniture dents and scuffs, and it's extremely water-resistant. Bamboo resists warping better than other types of wood floors and is surprisingly firm.

Brick
For homeowners who like the feel and durability of tile but want something a little different in the kitchen, brick — that's right, brick — offers an appealing alternative.

Jen Woodall of Albany, N.Y., remembered the cozy brick floor in her grandmother's vintage farmhouse kitchen and wanted the same for her new home. She chose brick pavers, thin tiles of real clay that look like aged brick but are as easy to install and maintain as traditional tile.

'People are surprised when they come in the kitchen and see the brick floor, but they love it," Jen says. 'It's cozy and inviting and doesn't show any dirt. We have big dogs, and it's indestructible."

Brick flooring pavers come in many colors and textures, and they can be laid in interesting patterns. They do require some grout maintenance just like tile, and are comparable in cost to tile.

Rubber Flooring
As home kitchens have begun integrating more commercial-grade features, homeowners are beginning to discover one flooring option that busy professional chefs have appreciated for years: rubber.

Today's manufactured rubber flooring is environmentally friendly, often made from recycled tires, and it offers a dazzling array of color choices, including custom colors. These floors are durable, easy to clean and can really withstand a kitchen's high-volume traffic. Best of all for homeowners who spend a lot of time cooking, a rubber floor's natural "give" is exceptionally easy on the feet and back.

Newer types of rubber flooring come in either rolls or tiles, and at $3 to $5 per square foot installed, they're comparable in cost to linoleum flooring.

While concrete is usually thought of as a practical outdoor surface, new decorative treatments are bringing concrete indoors.

Many kitchens already have a layer of concrete under existing tile or linoleum floors. When the old flooring is pulled up, the concrete subflooring can be rehabbed into a beautiful, durable stand-alone floor. And creating a new concrete floor is as simple as installing thin slabs on top of the kitchen's existing subflooring.

Concrete floors offer a number of advantages. They are slow to heat up, meaning they help keep kitchens at a comfortable temperature, and they are an especially good fit for underfloor radiant heating systems. Inevitable kitchen spills are easy to wipe up, and concrete floors don't attract allergens like more porous flooring surfaces.

The look of a concrete kitchen floor can be customized with an acid-staining process. Stain isn't a paint; rather, it's a mixture of hydrochloric acid that will react with the concrete. Because the stain literally changes the color of the concrete rather than just painting the surface, the finish will never fade or chip, it's permanent.

Many homeowners choose to lay out a pattern or mosaic on their concrete floor and then apply a variety of stains. Others choose one or two stain colors for the entire floor. Acid-stained concrete can mimic tile, marble, slate or even hardwood, depending on how the stain is applied. Handy homeowners generally find acid-staining a concrete floor to be a relatively simple do-it-yourself project.

After staining, a layer of wax is applied, followed by a layer of sealant, giving the finished kitchen floor a rich, burnished sheen. Maintaining acid-stained concrete floors is easy, requiring only a mop and periodic polishing.

The costs for installing and staining a concrete floor are very reasonable, at about $3 to $15 dollars per square foot, depending on what type of stain and sealant are used, and whether an artisan is used to create patterns or decorative effects on the floor.

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