The Cheapskate's Guide to Flooring

by Jo Stewart Wray

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When selecting your floor covering, remember that a floor sets the mood in any living space. It is the foundation for the interior as a unit. No matter how hard you work to put together the rest of the room, if the floor covering is off kilter your room will look restless and out of order.

Your floor helps create the style and ambience in your room; it should be the first thing that you consider when decorating the rest of the room. You don't necessarily have to coordinate the floor coverings with all the other elements, though, so don't despair if you can't replace your whole floor. There are many ways to change a floor without incurring much cost. Although many people use a single flooring throughout the whole house, such as wall-to-wall carpet, you can add mats, rugs, or floor cloths to change the look of a room if you aren't able to change the whole floor. A fitted carpet will soften a home that uses ceramic or vinyl tile throughout. You could also remove portions of the carpet and add ceramic tile or wood to give the room the ambience it needs. If your home has uniform flooring, such as ceramic tile or hardwood, a fitted carpet will soften the look and feel.

When matching your floors to your style of decorating, it is helpful to use the architectural character of your home as a guide. For example, if you have exposed beams in your home, you may want to create a southwestern or rustic look if it suits your decorating style. And as you pay attention to architectural character, it's important to thank about scale. Beware of large patterns in small rooms. Match the floor covering to your housekeeping habits and the habits of your family.

As in all decorating, assess both your preferences and the requirements for upkeep before purchasing any new flooring. How will the floor be used? Establish exactly what your needs are, given the number of people in your house, their ages, and their hobbies. Do you have pets? They will increase the wear and tear on your flooring. Think about the traffic in the area where the floor will be laid, in addition to your budget. With all these considerations, you should find a way to balance durability, comfort and style.

Another consideration is who will install your new flooring. Will you be able to do it yourself, or will you have to hire someone to do the job for you? The structure and condition of your existing floors will influence your decision. This is especially true when installing ceramic tiles or wooden floors, which need a level surface.

There are four main types of floor coverings, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. All vary widely in price - from very cheap to very expensive.

The first type is carpets, rugs, and matting. An advantage of carpet is that it is soft to the touch. If you are planning to do it yourself, you will have to use carpet squares; fitted carpet must be installed by a professional.

A second kind of flooring, wood, varies in price depending on the species you select. Although it is possible to do it yourself, I recommend hiring a professional. One advantage of wooden flooring is that it can be refinished or painted if it becomes damaged.

Tile and sheet flooring can be updated with paint and by replacing some of the tiles. It is easier to install tiles yourself than sheet flooring.

Finally, hard flooring includes brick, ceramic tile, marble, slate, stone, and concrete. I recommend hiring someone to lay it. You can be certain that china dropped on it will break; also, natural stone floors are very hard to clean. One advantage to ceramic flooring is that you can paint or stencil designs on the tiles if you want to change the look. All these hard floors are beautiful and require care to look good, so also check the maintenance level before making your selection.

Exerpted from The Cheapskate's Guide to Home Decorating by Jo Wray is available at your local bookstore and online at Barnes & Noble and

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