As wood floors continue to grow in popularity, many home buyers are adding some pizazz to shake up their floor designs.
Instead of traditional oak that covers the entire floor, they are mixing in intricate stone or ceramic borders and inlays. Clear stains are being tossed aside in favor of rich cherry, mahogany and walnut stains that offer a more dramatic impact.
"You can get a variety of looks by changing the stain on the wood," said Peggy Holloway, design counselor for Ferris Homes.
A decision about which wood to buy often goes hand in hand with the cabinetry selection, because these two elements are dominant features in the kitchen. Many people want both areas to have similar coloring, such as maple cabinets and an oak floor. However, others prefer a sharp contrast between the two.
The Grand Bend at Green Bay condominium project is just one example of how home buyers prefer contrast. The building, by Ferris Homes, has a rounded facade and is being built along a bend in a main thoroughfare through Evanston.
"Because it's a contemporary building, people are using cherry cabinets and a lighter maple floor so you have the contrast," Holloway said.
A buyer can take wood floor design a step further by having the wood installed on an angle or with wider planks. The angled floor adds an interesting dimension, but it also is more costly because there is more wood used.
While standard wood flooring today uses planking that is about 2 1/2 inches wide, there also are many designers that use wood as wide as 6 inches. Wider planking can completely change the way the room looks. In some cases, it adds a rustic, almost farmhouse-style look.
When deciding what type of wood floors to buy, think about colors and textures. Maple floors have a light, almost blond coloring, while oak and birch have more yellow and tan. Cherry and Brazilian cherry have red tones, while walnut is brown.
Oak and birch have more visible graining than maple or cherry. Maple is prone to displaying stray black streaks, which can affect a wide range of sizes. Some people consider those marks imperfections, while others like the natural, random look they bring.
Cost is a factor. Oak and maple are in the same general price range, but darker woods often cost 10 to 30 percent more. One way to get a dark floor without spending extra for an exotic wood is by staining. While oak has a different grain pattern than cherry or walnut, it can be stained to the same hue as those other woods.
At the upper end of the price spectrum are woods considered exotic, being hard to find. Those who can afford to spend more are turning toward zebra, Ipe or other woods to make a statement.
"The trend right now is toward the exotic wood," said Dawn Schramer, a sales associate with Floor Covering Associates in Naperville.
Among the popular selections are Brazilian and American walnuts, which have dark brown tones. In recent years Brazilian cherry, with red and brown tones, was the hot item. Homeowners now are turning away from the red tones to the darker browns, Schramer said.
Those who want to toss in black on the floor design might try zebra wood.
"It's a black and reddish toned wood and it doesn't look exactly like a zebra," said John Dalbis, owner of Showcase Kitchens and Design in Geneva. "The people willing to spend money, they'll opt for something creative."
Zebra wood is priced about 40 to 50 percent more than oak. It can be used almost anywhere in the home, although the price often forces people to limit this material to one key area. A zebra wood foyer or kitchen could be the highlight of the house, for example. Or it may be blended with other woods to create a unique appearance.
It may be best to use the same floor material throughout the main areas of the first floor. Doing so creates continuity and makes rooms flow together well, Dalbis said.
Regardless of the type of wood, it can be accented with a variety of materials to create a unique patter. Among the options are granite, limestone, marble, ceramic tile and copper.
A stone edge around a cherry floor can create a dramatic, formal look, for example. Copper or stainless steel tiles placed in a rectangular section can give a maple floor a contemporary look.
In one Lake Forest home, the owners used a herringbone pattern on their wood floor, then added a border stenciled in paint. The paint border was less expensive than adding a stone or tile border, plus it added a unique look, Holloway said.
"Doing borders is labor intensive, so it gets expensive," she added.
One way to limit the cost is to focus the material in one key area. A circular medallion in the center of a foyer or a rectangular border near the kitchen sink can dramatically change the floor. The key is to be creative.
Allison E. Beatty is a Chicago area freelance writer. If you have questions or information to share regarding new home buyers' product and design choices, write to Choices c/o Chicago Tribune, New Homes Section, 435 N. Michigan Ave., 4th Floor, Chicago, IL 60611. Or e-mail:email@example.com.
Inlays can brighten wood flooring
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