A stone floor will last for generations and acquire the lovely patina of use and age, but it is much colder and noisier than a vinyl or linoleum, and s an unforgiving surface if you are on your feet all day long. Stone and tiled floors create crisp, functional surfaces but are hard on glass or china - breakages are more likely to occur, perhaps more frequently if you have small children. If you have an open-plan kitchen, you may want to define different zones by using contrasting floor materials or different floor heights. If the kitchen is a small area, however, you should use the same material to convey fluidity and unity. Whichever type of flooring you choose, it is always better to get it laid by a professional who can advise on substrate, quantity required and any special finishes or treatments that will extend the life of the floor.
A timber floor is simple, versatile and naturally beautiful. There are many species to choose from, including creamy, variegated maple, reddish-brown cherry, oak and rich dark brown, almost purple-black walnut. Softwoods such as pine are less expensive and a good choice if you are going to stain or paint the floors. For a more decorative look, choose parquet flooring laid in blocks and panels. Wood is a natural, living material so variations in batches and packs are a matter of course. Wood floors are also very sensitive to their surrounding climate, expanding in damp, humid conditions and shrinking when the air becomes dry. The boards therefore need to be acclimatised before they are fitted, at least 48 hours prior to installation. As such, seasonal cracking - small cracks between boards - is a common occurrence and should therefore be viewed as a characteristic of wood floors.
Timber floors should also be sealed to protect them from the damaging effects of water Natural boards may come pre-sealed with a wax, oil or lacquer, but painted or stained floors should also be sealed. A veneer of hardwood may be a good choice if you want the look of solid wood but haven't got the height space for joists. It is also less expensive than solid wood. A wood laminate floor is cheaper again. Dirt and grit will act like sandpaper and destroy the protective surface of a wood floor, so vacuum, brush and mop regularly. Area rugs or mats can be used to protect high-traffic walkways and standing zones, such as in front of the sink and the fridge. Timber treatment leaves a wood floor neutral without varnish.
Tiles Glazed tiles and mosaics do not require any sealing or finishing, whereas unglazed versions need to be oiled and sealed when they are laid or else they will absorb water and stain easily. The finish will need redoing periodically to keep the floor in good condition. Encaustic tiles differ from ordinary tiles in that the pattern actually runs through the tile. The stoneware or clay is still in a semi-liquid state while the design is formed and produces a characteristic merging of colours. Floor tiles are thicker than wall tiles so they will be harder to cut. Bear in mind also that tiling raises the floor level, so you will need to plane down the bottom of doors for extra clearance.