A Look at What's Going on Underfoot

The floors of our kitchens are one aspect of space planning in which the current renaissance of appreciation for arts and crafts can be seen.

Tried-and-true materials are showing up in new applications. At the same time, there's a myriad of new products to consider. And because the spaces we're working with are often larger, your selection of flooring material, color, pattern and performance should be adjusted.

That said, now seems like a good time to explore what's happening underfoot in kitchens.

As always, appearance is at the top of the list for reasons we select a particular flooring. Even if we were not living in a time-starved age, we'd wish for easy maintenance and durability. Warmth and comfort – both physical and visual – are also prime considerations.

As the space given to the kitchen continues to grow in square footage, height and openness to adjacent areas, we look to flooring to help define and balance the space. Environmental concerns have us examining the content and sources of flooring materials, as well as their ability to absorb sound and repel bacteria or mold, and improve the home environment. Because we're concerned about safety, slip resistance and other features that improve our ability to move safely over the floor are also important.

Wood floors grow in popularity as their positive contribution to the warmth and richness of a room continues, and related maintenance issues are reduced. Patterns are created in the way the wood is laid out, in varying the finish on the wood, or in painting or stenciling on the wood. Beyond solid wood and laminates, bamboo is a relatively new wood floor. Because bamboo rejuvenates quickly, it's a self-sustaining product and responds to the need to preserve our environment.

Also a longtime favorite, porcelain tiles seem to be making news, particularly as stone look-alikes, for indoor/outdoor applications with high-durability ratings. Slip-resistance in tile is more readily achieved today through scoring or applications of finishes. In addition, the cold physical nature of tile that once discouraged some people from selecting it has all but been eliminated by the growing availability of in-floor radiant heat. Linoleum is back with new and retro patterns. Made now from linseed oil and without chlorine, it's a more environmentally responsible choice.

An effective response to the need to absorb sound, cork flooring is making a comeback – due in part to the environmental movement. Generally, it provides sound and thermal insulation, it cushions the foot and it's harvested from trees in a sustainable manner.

Lastly, pattern-colonized concrete has become much more flexible and is gaining ground in high-end applications. One application I've seen is through a kitchen and patio, where the floor helped to bring the indoors and outdoors together. In another application, bronze tones were worked into the concrete with stone tile inlays as accents, and the result looked like a rich leather floor. There seem to be many opportunities for personalization and creativity with this product.

Design concepts

In response to current trends, design solutions are changing and expanding. With regard to appearance, we're seeing not only a single material these days, but a combination of materials and patterns that strongly impact the sense and style of the space.

Larger rooms with higher ceilings make it possible and even desirable to use deeper tones and bolder contrasts to bring warmth and balance to the space. It may be a tumbled stone tile floor with a deeply-colored contrasting tile in a medallion, a border or a pattern that moves across the floor. Or, it may be a warm-toned wood floor with a tile inlay around a work island, in front of the sink or as a border. This combining of materials can be done easily if advance planning considers the various thicknesses of materials and other installation requirements. For safety and aesthetics, the floors should be level throughout, with the installation absorbing any differences in thickness of materials.

The use of wood floors in the kitchen, popular today but rarely seen 10 years ago, offers the advantage of carrying the eye throughout the kitchen and adjoining family space, and making a smaller space larger. With the trend to huge volumes of space in the kitchen/great room, some definition or interest in the wood of the floor seems appealing. Also, the overwhelming use of wood cabinetry in warmer tones sometimes calls for a lighter kitchen floor than is desired in the adjoining space.

With so much to choose from, you can stretch your "creative muscles" and enhance what goes underfoot today.

Mary Jo Peterson
Mary Jo Peterson is president of Mary Jo Peterson, Inc., a Connecticut-based design firm that focuses on residential projects and provides design support to major homebuilders nationwide. She is a certified kitchen and bath designer with 15 years experience, and her work has earned national recognition. With specific expertise in universal design, Mary Jo has authored three books on the subject and is a frequent national speaker and educator. McGraw-Hill published her latest book, Gracious Spaces; Universal Interiors by Design, in July 1999.

National Kitchen & Bath Association
The content of this article is provided courtesy of the National Kitchen & Bath Association (NKBA). At www.NKBA.org, you'll find an inspiration gallery of award-winning kitchen and bath designs from NKBA members, complete with photos and floorplans. In addition, this consumer website offers articles and tips written specifically for homeowners, an extensive glossary of kitchen and bath remodeling terms, and illustrations and explanations of kitchen and bath planning guidelines. There, you can also e-mail questions to the NKBA's kitchen and bath experts, as well as order a free copy of the NKBA Kitchen & Bath Workbook.