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Want to make a big impact in your new home? Move away from standard wood or tile floors and create something more dramatic.
There are hundreds of options in rustic stone tiles, exotic wood floors and even hand-scraped wood floors. When looking at flooring showrooms or through the builder's design center, take some time to look at all the options.
"A lot of exotic woods are very big right now—the deeper, darker floors," said Lee Okamoto, design counselor for Lakeshore East, a Magellan Development Group project in Chicago, at the Chicago River and Lake Michigan.
In those high-rise condominiums, many buyers are selecting dark wood floors throughout the main first-floor space. Others are even extending wood into the bedrooms, where carpet once was considered the norm.
Among the popular wood species is wenge, which is dark brown with black tones. The wood also has light tan and brown stripes that give it a jungle look.
Tigerwood and purpleheart are a few other exotic wood options available through various builders and flooring retailers. Tigerwood has dark orange coloring with dark curves that resemble a tiger's stripes. Purpleheart wood has dark purple tones.
Brazilian cherry is another popular choice that has become more common in recent years. This type of wood has brown to red tones that vary in intensity. This type of wood can be particularly dramatic in a fancy kitchen when paired with light wood cabinets.
There also are many dark woods that are not considered exotic, but can still add a unique look to the floor. Walnut has dark brown tones while mahogany has reddish-brown tones. Each can be paired with a lighter wood border or medallion to create an interesting contrast.
If you prefer a more rustic look for your floors, think about buying distressed wood that shows scrapes and nicks. This gives a floor some well-worn character and can blend well with current furniture styles, said Tony Castellano, a division merchandising manager for Home Depot. "A growing trend with wood is the hand-scraped floors by the Amish."
Hand-scraping involves using tools to create scrapes and dents in the wood. The treatment will look different in the various wood species, as some woods are softer than others and will show more wear and tear. This type of floor typically is more costly than others because of the labor involved.
Wood floors also are made in wide planks, which can create a charming look that is reminiscent of an old farmhouse. Instead of buying a standard 21/2-inch width, one might buy boards with 4- to 6-inch widths.
Wood and tile also can be installed in different ways to create some drama. "You can run the floor straight or on a diagonal for a totally different look," said Peggy Holloway, design counselor with Ferris Homes, a builder in the northern suburbs.
A diagonal design is particularly effective when using large tiles. When turned on an angle, 12-inch tiles create a vastly different pattern than when laid straight, Holloway said. While this type of layout requires extra cutting and produces more wasted scraps, it can be well worth the added installation cost.
As you consider all the design decisions, remember to add in a dose of practicality. Look at the size of the room, the way the floor plan flows, and the amount of light coming in. Some dark woods might not work in a small space, for example.
"In our buildings, it's all floor-to-ceiling windows, so there's no such thing as going too dark," Okamoto said.
When using dark wood in a kitchen, be sure to coordinate it with other wood products. "You'll need some form of contrast, whether it's in the countertop or the cabinetry," Okamoto said.
A dark wood floor could be paired with light maple cabinets and a countertop that is a few shades lighter than the floor. Another option is to add a light wood border in the dark floor for contrast and continuity with cabinets.
The same mix-and-match approach also is effective with tile. A light tile can be accented with dark tiles inserted randomly throughout the floor or in carefully placed intervals.
In a small room, however, one should turn to light woods or large tiles with light colors or patterns. There are many tiles that resemble travertine, for example, which is a natural stone with off-white to golden tones that add a rich look to a room.
Start by looking through all the samples in the showrooms. Then decide how much drama you want — and what colors and combinations will help make that happen.