Style Underfoot

Designing a room is like putting together a terrific outfit. It is a careful compilation of multiple layers, complementary in texture and tone. In much the same way a smooth-fitting turtleneck makes a silk scarf and wool blazer look all-together fabulous, the right floor sets the stage for all the stylish layers of furnishings that are placed upon it. And as with fashion, home design also presents the question of what style will suit you best—a current trend or a tried-and-true classic?

The floor is the largest useable space in a room. As a considerable and fairly permanent investment, your new floor—wood, tile or carpeting—must stand the test of time. After considering what type of floor will best function for the room, a design decision must be made. The right floor must match both the style of the home and of the homeowner, and must easily transition through the years and changing decorating trends. Hence the return to classic design. Homeowners want their new floors to resemble the elegant, understated floors of the turn-of-the-century, or bring an earthy, ethnic inspiration to their rooms or capture the clean compositions of early modern design. From tribal to traditional to mid-century, these approaches to line, motif and material can bring a timeless feeling or sense of “traveled” authenticity to today’s most interesting rooms. And when translated to flooring, these classic styles can work seamlessly into any décor style.

imageWood Floors

When selecting a new wood floor for your home, think vintage. The first step to achieving that is to choose a wider plank, which will give the floor the appearance of being original to the home. Cathy Lanieri, a flooring and millwork specialist at the Heritage Wide Plank Flooring showroom in Greenvale specifies, “Widths anywhere from four to twelve inches will give floors that older look.” More recently, a wood floor will have up to three different sizes to achieve the relaxed ambiance people want. “Using multiple plank sizes actually goes back to the times when builders had to use whatever wood they had on hand to make floors.”

Becoming familiar with the virtues of different wood species will enable the homeowner to become a connoisseur of quality, taste and style. Once a wood floor is selected, an interior designer along with a skilled installer can achieve a classic look with old world styles including inlays, borders and traditional patterns such as herringbone or checkerboard. They can also mix different species and stains for a completely custom design.

How a wood floor is finished also contributes to how traditional or contemporary it looks. The dark espresso and ebony finishes still prevail in popularity because these tones provide a solid, dramatic backdrop that allows the furnishings to be the focus of the room. But a new trend in wood floor finishing is emerging. “Capturing an old European look by using gray washed, fumed or smoked finishes is something we are starting to do a lot of,” explains Lanieri. “We encourage people to try things with their wood floors. The beauty of it is you can choose to sand it down and refinish it when you are ready for a change.”

For those who want truly old floors, Lanieri says that a growing portion of their customers request reclaimed flooring and they look for special woods from Canada to Georgia to the Pacific coast.

Tile Floors

imageWhen planning a new floor, the world of tile is simply exhilarating. From the vast variety of natural stones to the limitless nature of porcelain and ceramic—and the infinite ways tile can be laid—the options are endless. Making a decision on tile can become overwhelming, but with a little guidance, it is actually a great opportunity to express something personal in your home.

The recent mid-century modern design movement has brought back the clean, contemporary lines from the 50s and 60s, defining a newer kind of “classic.” And the latest looks in porcelain tile speak clearly to that era. Karen Ferreyra, manager and designer at the Fiorano Tile showroom in Bellmore, says the current trends offer this more contemporary feeling. “Large format tile, specifically rectangles measuring twelve by twenty-four inches, laid in off-set patterns with staggered brick joints, and also very large squares—up to four feet by four feet—will impart a very seamless, smooth look perfect for layering on area rugs.” Another nod to mid-century style is large tiles that boast interesting surface texture. “From striated surfaces in tonal colors to rug-like sisal textures, these new styles can stand on their own in more contemporary settings,” says Ferreyra. Popular now in the ceramic tiles are long planks “up to forty-eight inches in length that mimic natural materials such as driftwood and bamboo,” she adds.

Just like planks of wood, this modern ceramic tile can be used quite creatively to evoke a vintage feeling. While working with Ann and Mike Gordon, homeowners in Oceanside who are undergoing a major renovation, Ferreyra chose to lay their plank tile in a classic herringbone pattern in their large, open-plan kitchen-dining-living space. “Since we were installing radiant floor heating, we chose the plank tile for a wood floor look. I was so afraid of a boring floor but the idea of laying it in this dynamic yet classic way made us extremely happy with our choice,” she says. Ceramic plank tile is available in a multitude of finishes with varying degrees of graining that emulate different wood species, and has quickly become a great choice in kitchens or baths where tile is preferred, but the overall effect of wood is desired.

Natural stone is an enduring and timeless material that will give any room a luxurious, upscale air. While gleaming, polished marble is a classic, the majority of customers at Siena Marble in Huntington Station are requesting a matte or honed finish for their floors. “The look is clean and subtle with machine-cut edges that allow for tight joints and our special ‘brushed’ finish,” explains Pablo Commuzzi, owner of Siena Marble. “About seventy percent of our customers are choosing stone in tones of gray, ivory and light beige, for a neutral look that lets their furnishings stand out most.” Among the most requested types of stone are limestone, travertine, and light emperador and crema marfil marbles.

Frank Marasco, CEO of the Zicana showroom in Westbury, works with stone in some interesting ways. “Bookmatching patterns feature the natural veining of the stone. This is achieved by placing the tiles in different directions.” Etched tile is another technique that brings back the artistry and craftsmanship of the past. “There is a lot of innovative hand-work being done on natural stone,” Marasco explains, “such as carving out the surface of a tile which can be featured individually as an accent or can create a pattern when used together.”

Rugs & Carpeting

imageArea Rugs

Most people who set foot in a rug showroom will be captivated by the pattern and palette of at least half a dozen rugs. If they can settle on one, they’ve got a brilliant starting point for their room. With an array of colors to draw from, and a specific ethnic feeling to build on, a beautiful area rug will gift you enough inspiration to design an entire room.

Laying an area rug or two over a wood or tile floor gives rooms a worldly “collected” look. Large rooms can be effectively divided with area rugs, especially when combining different patterns and complementary colors, to create individual areas in a single space. These “rooms within a room” each feel unique and interesting, but function separately. From a style standpoint, area rugs can provide unexpected flexibility when the richly traditional or global feel of the rug is paired with contemporary furnishings for an eclectic room design.

Interior designer Gail Gottlieb, owner of GBG Interior Designs in Huntington, uses area rugs to create an inviting retreat for her clients. “An exquisite rug can act as either the highlighted centerpiece within a room or provide a soft blending of colors with the upholstered pieces and wall coverings, wrapping the room in tone-on-tone color and texture.”

An array of area rugs with all-over patterns are a chic accent that is often just what a room full of solid-colored furniture needs. Geometric styles infuse energy to a space. And for a more casual feeling, sisal is a dependable option that brings in natural texture and tone. More recently, sisal is being used in wall-to-wall applications, juxtaposed with antiques and more traditional patterns on fabrics and wall coverings to strike an intriguing contrast between the refined and the organic.

Making the absolute strongest statement with texture today, the resurgence of shag has been a fantastic blast from the past for consumers and designers alike. Today’s shag styles are incredibly innovative with artful blends of different colors and fibers, some of which seem much more sophisticated than the original versions. Try placing a small shag rug under a blingy cocktail table or cozy ottoman for an easy way to experiment with shag in your home.

Gottlieb favors topping dark java or deep gray finished wood floors with “a geometric sisal or flat weave, one of the luscious new shags or a silk and wool Tibetan. All at once you have created a compelling ambiance of design with warmth and great style.” And when it comes to the sizing of area rugs, Gottlieb adds, “Encompassing most of your upholstery and case good pieces within the scope of the rug helps to achieve that balance which is needed to create visual weight.” Many designers, Gottlieb included, use broadloom carpeting to customize an area rug of unusual sizing and bring additional interest with coordinating or contrasting bindings or borders made from a variety of materials from fabric to leather.

The John Khalil Collection in Huntington Village imports magnificent rugs from all over the world. “The handmade rugs come mostly from Iran, India, Pakistan, China, Turkey and France,” he explains. “These hand-knotted wool rugs can take from six to nine months to six to nine years to make—but they are well worth the wait because they will last over a hundred years!”

Khalil is seeing a growing interest in antique rugs. “That specific customer quickly realizes they must use additional antique rugs throughout their home as mixing old rugs with new ones doesn’t really work.” For those who want that vintage look in a new rug, there are antique-washed rugs. “This process gives a new rug an old look that is soft and faded with pale, pastel colorations of light blue, green, gold and beige,” Khalil says.

Another Old World style gaining popularity is the French Aubusson or “Savaneray” style. Khalil describes this as “a wonderful, but very formal rug with either an all-over French pattern or with an exquisite center medallion—usually oval in shape.” This rug will influence the rest of the room in a decidedly French way.

Then there are rugs with new designs that borrow from the past. Eliza Gatfield, the CEO and design director of Custom Cool Rugs in Quogue, creates original rug designs. Working closely with weavers in Nepal and India, her vision is to achieve brand-new looks based on old techniques. “We are taking traditional patterns and motifs, such as ikat or French vermicular and updating them by blowing up the proportions and using fresh, updated colorways.” Another effect Gatfield has been perfecting is the look of watercolored designs and ombre stripes. “Trying to softly blend colors or create wavy, blurry outlines in wool and nettle is quite a challenge,” she says, “but the result we strive for is a fresh, vibrant look that can mix easily with contemporary room designs.”

Gatfield also attracts customers who are socially conscious and prefer rugs that are produced in an ethical manner without the use of child labor. “With a growing awareness of bad business practices, we take great pride in making sure all of our products are fair-trade.” Gatfield works hand-in-hand with GoodWeave, an organization that improves the lives of “carpet kids” in South Asia.

Ultimately, the floor is your room’s foundation on which to build and create your ideal living space. And while today’s top options for flooring feel fresh, new and exciting, they borrow the best of what’s already been done and done well.


imageFloors made of cork have been around for a very long time, widely used in Europe and North America in the early 1900s. Cork flooring experienced resurgence mid-century when home décor began trending toward modern and notable architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe embraced it for their residential projects.

“A cork floor can last well over one hundred years,” says Margaret Buchholz, the marketing and design director at Capri Cork. “Cork has a long history and is therefore a proven flooring because of its resilience, durability, acoustical qualities and ease of maintenance.”

Cork is a natural, renewable resource made from the bark of the cork oak tree native to the Mediterranean Sea region. Only the outer bark layer of the tree is used, leaving the tree unharmed while it simply grows another layer. Cork flooring is made from the waste material left after other cork products such as wine stoppers are drilled. “And Capri uses no or low VOC adhesives, finishes and cleaners, all of which further cork’s green story,” adds Buchholz.

Cork floors are finished and maintained in a similar fashion to wood. Capri Cork’s Mediterra Collection comes pre-finished with three coats of water-based polyurethane to add durability and resistance to scratches and gouges. When a cork floor starts to wear, it can be refinished to look new again.

imageRadiant Floor Heating

Dating back to ancient Roman times, under-floor radiant heating will warm a living space more evenly and efficiently than other heating methods. It also allows more freedom in space planning and furniture arrangement. Once the best type of radiant heat system is established—hydronic (using water) or electric—selecting the flooring that will optimize the system’s performance is the next key step.

The first and best flooring choice to install over radiant heating is any type of tile. Since tiles are smooth and uniform, and not good insulators, heat passes through them and is quickly transmitted into the room. A tile floor over radiant heat will become pleasantly warm to the touch—the pampering, spa-like sensation we are ultimately going for in bathrooms and kitchens.

Wood flooring is the second best choice for radiant heat. Most who prefer a wood floor use an engineered floor that will not dry out, shrink, expand or contract as much as solid wood. Engineered wood floors have a layer of solid wood that can be sanded and finished over a layer of composite wood that will resist the issues of solid wood planks.

But according to Cathy Lanieri of Heritage Wide Plank Flooring, you can have the best of both worlds. “Certain solid hardwoods can be used with radiant floor heating. A quarter-sawn oak where the grain goes up and down will expand and contract the least. After oak, American cherry and walnut are also good options providing the heat factor stays under eighty two degrees,” she says.

Carpet is the least effective flooring choice over radiant heating due to its insulating qualities. Carpeting will retain the heat without releasing it to the room. Only a low-pile carpet (less than a half-inch) and certified for use with radiant floor heating should be considered.

caroline wilkes

Caroline Sophia Wilkes is an interior designer who also writes about design trends. From Manhattan to Montauk, this native Long Islander derives inspiration from the dynamic forms and energy of the city to the organic serenity of our land- and seascapes.