Find the right foundation for your room design

Perhaps no element of your home gets more use than the floor. Flooring is literally the foundation of each room – and yet, we often view the floor as mainly functional and neglect to give it its due consideration in the design process.

A well-planned floor treatment can provide a major boost to a room's decor. Flooring can add color, texture and interest to a room. It can act as anchor to other design elements, or it can itself be a focal point of the room. The options are truly only as limited as your imagination.

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Types of Flooring

There are many different flooring materials available. Although in theory, any flooring material could be used in any room, in practice, certain types of flooring tend to be more common in some rooms than in others.

Hardwood flooring is popular for dining rooms, sitting rooms and more formal living rooms. It is expensive and requires a fair amount of maintenance; plus, it tends to scratch, dent and stain pretty easily, so it's not generally used in high-traffic areas.

If you want a hardwood look that's a bit more durable and considerably cheaper, laminate flooring is the way to go. Laminate is plastic made to look like wood flooring. It comes in plank or tile form, with all kinds of shades to choose from.

Easy to clean and available in a variety of colors and patterns, vinyl flooring is excellent for kitchens. Kitchen flooring tends to take a lot of abuse (spilled food, scraping chairs), and nothing stands up to it quite like vinyl.

Tile flooring is perfect for the bathroom. Flooring tile is usually made from porcelain or ceramic and comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. It can be a bit of a pain to install, but it's incredibly durable, so its long lifespan tends to make it worthwhile. Tile flooring is also suitable for foyers – it makes it easy to clean up after wet or dirty shoes.

Marble flooring, slate flooring or stone flooring also looks great in an entryway. The high price of these materials tends to make them best for small rooms, as do their greater maintenance requirements (would you really want to polish a whole kitchen's worth of marble floor?). Marble, slate and stone also scratch or chip and can be expensive to repair, so rooms with little furniture, such as a foyer, reduce the likelihood of such incidences.

Concrete flooring is often thought of only as garage flooring, or perhaps as basement flooring (though only in the parts not well used). However, concrete is not just the cold, damp, gray substance it is generally thought to be. Concrete flooring comes in many colors and finishes and can be an excellent foundation to just about any room. A well-placed area rug or in-floor radiant heating can keep these floors warm, and a good sealant keeps them dry.

With fitness becoming an increasing priority, many people set up home gyms. Rubber flooring tiles or mats are an excellent addition to these spaces. They provide extra cushioning for aerobic activity and absorb the impact of weights and other home gym equipment, which could damage other types of floors.

Though far less common than the above types of flooring, bamboo flooring and cork flooring are gaining popularity. Bamboo is much like hardwood and tends to be used in similar spaces (dining rooms, living rooms). It is more environmentally friendly than hardwood because it is a faster growing natural resource. Cork, too, is environmentally friendly, and it has the added benefit of providing natural thermal insulation, so it can reduce your heating bills and your energy consumption.

Carpet is still the most popular form of flooring for bedrooms and certain common rooms (playrooms, family-oriented living rooms). Carpet adds warmth and provides cushioning under your feet. It is available in a wide variety of materials, colors and patterns, and it is relatively cheap and easy to maintain (depending on the type, of course). For those who want the warmth and comfort without the commitment of wall-to-wall carpet, area rugs are an excellent compromise.

Whatever the type, flooring is a major component of any room and therefore must be considered if you want your design to be cohesive. Select the type of flooring based on the type, size and use of the room, and then select the color, texture and other features based on your design theme. The result should be a floor that literally and figuratively supports the furniture and accessories in the room.