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Wall-to-Wall Style

Focus on Flooring, the Fifth Wall

Bland is now blah. Linoleum is so last century. Shag is for the '70s. The floor, which George Davies of Shaw Industries refers to as "the fifth wall," is the trendy place to blaze new trails for those who want a decorator look from bottom to top.

"People are beginning to look at the floor as part of the overall decor of the house and are decorating for effect rather than just as a neutral backdrop for the 'real' decorating," says Davies, spokesman for Shaw's marketing and advertising groups. "Back in the '60s or '70s it was nothing but wall-to-wall carpet from one side to another. Now that there are so many exciting options, people like to mix it up."

An unbroken expanse of carpet may not be so common anymore, but carpet still has an important role to play in the house because it adds warmth and color. In a home with children or elderly, there may even be safety factors to consider. What's most important is to know what flooring options are available and what will work best for your lifestyle.

Wood and Wood Laminates
By far the biggest flooring trend at the moment is wood and wood laminates. While it's most commonly used in the foyer, kitchen and dining room, many people are choosing this type of flooring for the entire house. Wood has many benefits, not the least of which is its classic elegance that, like the perfect little black dress, can be accessorized for a formal look or provide a naturally neutral backdrop for more casual lifestyles.

Peggy Deras, owner of Kitchen Artworks, a San Francisco-based kitchen design firm, says that most of the kitchens she designs have wood floors. "The advantage of wood in the kitchen is cleanliness because it's smooth, unlike tile, which has grout, or vinyl, which has embossing," she says. "It's also a much warmer look than most people realize."

Unlike vinyl flooring, which doesn't tend to work well visually in bedrooms, family rooms and living rooms, wood is appropriate for any room of the house. Add warmth and softness by using throw rugs or, in more formal rooms, oriental carpets and rugs.

Tile
Using natural materials is another big trend in flooring that's changing the traditional look of the home. Both marble and porcelain in larger tile sizes that are laid close together offer a clean, natural look. This is a look that is especially popular in properties near the beach, where sand and constant humidity is a problem, and in the Southwest, where the Southwestern look is still very popular. Leslie Dungy, who lives in El Paso, Texas, has terra cotta-colored tile flooring installed throughout her small ranch home, including the bathroom and her son's room.

"My mother was shocked when I first suggested doing the entire house in tile, because she had never heard of not using carpet in the bedroom, but I wanted to carry the Southwestern theme throughout the house," says Dungy. "When Kurt was younger, I put one of those rugs down in his room that has towns and roads on it. Now that he's older I've replaced it with a large rug with a southwestern print so he can sprawl if he wants."

Vinyl and Carpet
In spite of the growing popularity of tile and wood, vinyl sheet flooring is still the most popular option in rooms that are traditionally not carpeted, such as kitchens, dining rooms, bathrooms and foyers, and carpet is still the most popular option for the rest of the house. Vinyl is less expensive than wood or laminates, is available in a variety of colors, patterns and textures and is very easy to keep clean. As for carpet, Andy Mathis, general manager of Atlanta Carpet Services, says that, while price is one big factor in the enduring popularity of carpeting, the general feeling of warmth and insulation is probably what's most important to people – especially in areas of the country where the winters tend to be colder and longer.

"Carpet is definitely the answer from a standpoint of warmth, but there's no getting around the fact that it will have to be replaced eventually – sooner rather than later for people with kids and pets," says Mathis. He notes that, while neutral carpet will always be popular to decorate around, carpet comes in an ever widening variety of colors and designs. He's seen a particular peak in using colorful carpets in teenagers' rooms. There are also family-friendly carpets, such as Berbers and Frieze carpets, which are specially made to hold up to the heavy traffic that can wear carpet down quickly. These carpets are also easier to clean and don't show stains or vacuum marks the way traditional carpets can.

What's Right for You?
The important thing to keep in mind when choosing flooring is not trends but your lifestyle, your family situation and what pleases you aesthetically. "People are decorating more on a room-by-room basis today because they want to appeal to different sensibilities of their family members," says Davies. "Having the same flooring throughout can be a little tedious, so people now choose different products for different needs. It's this variety that makes it fun to be in this business."

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