How to Create a Touch of Underfoot Luxury in Your Home on Any Budget
“When you walk into a house and the things you touch are of quality, it creates the perception that everything else is also of quality.” Architect Richard Rice told me that in 2003 and it’s still true. A gorgeous faucet elevates an ordinary sink. A luxurious switch diverts attention from standard fixtures. And nothing hides an economical cabinet like an expensive handle. The conversation around interiors tends to focus on how things look, but we experience design with all of our senses, especially touch. A given room will include many things that you touch with your hands and only one that you touch with your feet. Floor. Your feet are in constant physical contact with the ground and, all the time, they send messages to the brain. Many modern flooring is designed to look like something other than it is. A floor that looks like wood, for example, can actually be made of laminate, ceramic or even vinyl. The mimicry is extraordinary. Only a trained eye can tell the difference. But it is more difficult to deceive the feet.
“The only way to tell the difference between an engineered floor and a laminate is to walk from one to the other, preferably with your feet shod,” says Charlie Hamilton of Canadia, an Irish flooring company. Of wood. Both floors look like wood and are made from tree products. “They almost look the same – if you see them separately it’s hard to tell them apart – but you can feel the difference.” An engineered floor, he explains, is a natural product. It is made from a wood veneer on a plywood base and retains the grain and open pores of the wood panel. There are many configurations – herringbone patterns and plain planks in various sizes – and many types of veneer, with white oak being the Irish favourite. SOME PRODUCTS HAVE A RUSTIC FINISH: The Raftwood collection is made from reclaimed Dutch railway sleepers. It is designed to be oiled rather than varnished. If you install it, you commit to a maintenance program every two years. “It’s like new ground every time and it gets better with age,” Hamilton says. Engineered wood is a relatively expensive product, with prices ranging from €50 to €200 per metre, depending on the thickness of the veneer. “People often feel like they need the same flooring throughout the house, but I would recommend engineered flooring for the spaces you spend the most time in – like the living room – and laminate for children’s rooms.
Laminate flooring looks like real wood, but is made of high-density fiberboard (HDF) laminated with a wood image. “It’s so compelling that it’s hard to tell one from the other,” Hamilton says. “If someone can’t afford real wood, laminate is a fantastic compromise.” Canadia laminate floors range from €15 to €40 per metre, depending on thickness and hardness. Unlike engineered flooring, laminate can be adapted to bathrooms with an added “aqua” finish.
But unlike an engineered floor, which weathers over time, laminate’s best time is the day you lay it down. Vinyl flooring, traditionally presented in roll form, now also comes in tile form. Called LVT (luxury vinyl tiles), they come in two sizes: interlocking tiles (usually cost around €35 per metre); and glue-on tiles (about €28 per meter). Here too, the dominant fashion is the trompe l’oeil effect. Almost all LVT tiles are designed to look like a different type of flooring. Most are designed to look like expensive flooring – wood, stone, slate, tile or even concrete – and all have the rubbery bounce of vinyl underfoot. Being highly water resistant and featuring a non-slip surface, LVT is a popular choice for bathrooms.
Ceramic or porcelain tile can also be made to look like wood or stone. Tile that looks like stone is particularly compelling because the materials have a lot in common and both are naturally cold underfoot. Ceramic floor tiles are also considerably cheaper than natural stone (Tilestyle prices start at €48 per square meter for ceramic and €90 for stone). Natural stone has qualities that ceramic lacks but, especially at the higher end of the price spectrum, the difference is subtle. Ceramic tiles can also be made to look like wooden planks. Visually, the resemblance is remarkable. But walking barefoot on an unheated floor that looks like wood but is ceramic can be disconcerting. The two materials feel quite different.
Then there is the carpet. There are many. According to Paul Herbert of Carpetright, carpet accounts for almost 50% of flooring sold in the UK. Carpetright is a UK company with stores in Ireland. Herbert doesn’t have stats for Ireland, but it’s safe to assume they’re not drastically different. “People change their preferences for hard flooring types, but carpet remains constant,” he says. “It’s warm and cozy.” It also has insulating properties. All carpets provide good sound insulation, but thermal insulation differs, largely depending on the underlay. “Each underlay has a TOG rating – like a duvet,” says Herbert. “If you have underfloor heating, you’ll want a low-TOG underlay to allow heat through. If you don’t, a high TOG underlay will keep the room warmer.
Carpetright rugs range from £3.99 to £179.99 per square meter, with most people spending around £18; underlays range from €8 to €20 per square meter, and the TOG rating is not a price indicator. “The more expensive base layers are either tougher or softer to walk on,” says Herbert. “The choice depends on what you think is important. Most of the rugs we sell are made of synthetic fibers, which are cheaper and softer but less durable than wool. We also have recycled polyester and recycled nylon carpets.
One such material, Econyl, is made from industrial plastic, scrap fabrics and fishing nets, and is more expensive than its non-recycled equivalent. Stylistically, UK buyers – and probably Irish ones too – like boring flooring. More than half of the rugs sold are in shades of gray and most of the rest are brown, beige and cream, with a measly 12pc in stronger colors. It’s been consistent for years. What’s new is that the trend is towards softer, deeper rugs. It’s understandable. The world is a worrying place. If the feet feel soft, they will tell the brain that everything is fine.
Visit canada.ie, carpetright.ie and tilestyle.ie for more information.