Ask the Architect

All about flooring


Q. We’re redoing our kitchen and need to decide about flooring. The kitchen will be open to a large family room, and the living room blends into the kitchen also. We need a long-lasting floor that will hold up to our kids and all their friends who regularly run through. We don’t want something that has to be refinished over and over. Our wood flooring is worn and loses the shine we had when it was refinished seven years ago, when we moved in. We like tile, but think it’s too hard to use in the family room, where carpet would work better but gets dirty with the kids moving in and out. We have a little time to shop around but need some advice.

A. Your selection seems motivated by maintenance, and any floor you choose needs one kind of maintenance or another, especially if yard dirt is ending up indoors. Some households have rules about taking off shoes, either for cultural or practical reasons, so consider what’s causing wear and cleaning issues. Floors need cleaning regularly, just like teeth, clothes and dishes; you just have to do it.

I’ve learned from designing airport lounges, Lady Footlocker stores, hospitals and restaurants that the seams, edges and joining determine durability. Tight joint-seaming, well bonded and sealed, determines wear. Collection of dirt makes a floor look worn, dirty and old. For example, tile is regularly used in commercial kitchens where flooring gets steam-cleaned often, sometimes daily. The grout that fills and seals the tile joints is no longer an absorbent mortar product, but instead synthetic grout that bonds, seals and cleans thoroughly. If you select tile, check to see how the tile edges will join, the thickness and strength of the tile and how the joints will be sealed. Once a broken egg drips into ordinary grout, it will always be there.

Real wood flooring has other problems. People ask how to stop the opening up of gaps between the wood planks. I remind them that their flooring used to be the center of a tree, and was never intended by nature to be exposed to humidity and temperature changes as a floor. The alternative, which I have also successfully used in high-traffic places like stores and restaurants, is interlocking laminate wood that has a real or even synthetic finish bonded to a stable backing that doesn’t expand and contract (much). The joining is tight and the finish lasts.

Carpet is cushioned and comfortable but needs to be dense. The more density, the more material used to make the carpet, and the more cost. If you select carpet for the family room, get a higher quality (and cost) product. I recommend using the same hard floor throughout, interlocking laminated wood or close edge-butted tile, with an area rug in the seating area of the family room, anchored from moving by the furniture. The rooms will appear larger and solve each need. Good luck!

© 2016 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.