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updated: 4/11/2014 6:07 AM

Flooring trends, like popular decor, are always evolving

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Though not always top of mind when designing or renovating, there is no question that the single biggest visual element in a home is the floor.

Flooring sets the mood of a room and ties a space together. For this reason, putting your floor to work as a warm visual element is paramount.

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According to trend scouts at World Floor Covering Association, this year's lineup of new floor introductions could not be more warm and inviting. Here is a glimpse of what's coming:

Tile trends

Tile might very well be the oldest known flooring category in the world. From ancient Greece to current day, tile is still as practical as it is glamorous. Today, the category spans far beyond traditional materials like ceramic and stone. And though still popular, the classic square shape is morphing into new forms, too.

Post apocalyptic, gutted-out aluminum tiles, porcelain planks that you'd swear are weatherworn hardwood, and micro-thin ceramic tiles are just some of the eye-catching category introductions.

In line with consumer demand for low maintenance, tile fits the bill better than most, which is one of the reasons it has remained popular for so long. Ceramic and porcelain in particular are some of the best choices when it comes to longevity and value. Due to a low porosity, almost all sealed tile resists moisture, stains and bacteria, making it naturally hygienic. Wood looks and natural stone treatments in ceramic tile are on the rise as homeowners seek to bring the outdoors in.

Unlike hardwood and stone, clay works well in wet environments like bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms and even pool decks. Advanced technology has brought forth digital imaging and surface treatments that mimic hardwood and stone floors, making it hard to distinguish from the real thing. In addition, like many hardwoods of today, current-day tile can also be a very eco-friendly choice with many options containing a high percentage of recycled materials.

This category is also seeing an evolution in both size and shape. Over the last few years, the market has gravitated toward giant-sized 3-square-foot porcelain and ceramic tiles that install with very little grout. Large format tiles offer more surface area with less interruption of grout lines. They are also easier to keep clean. Another shape coming back into trend is the quatrefoil, meaning "four leaves." The defined, symmetrical shape, which first surfaced during the Gothic revival period, offers stability while the softened edges make it more inviting and comfortable.

A new tile to hit the market boasts a height of just 3.5 millimeters. Weight benefits aside, this structurally sound product can be laid over existing flooring much like vinyl tiles and carpet. The micro-thin tiles are groundbreaking for this category as installation of standard tiles can easily cost more than the tile itself because of the labor involved in removing existing floors.

Area rug trends

Unlike any other flooring category, including carpet, area rugs are all about color, pattern, and texture -- especially important to today's homeowner. When it comes to rugs, everything is coming up soft, warm and cozy.

One company launched interchangeable solid and multicolored square rug panels that can be interconnected through a Velcro backing. People buy the affordably priced 18-square-inch squares at their local flooring store and assemble them on their own.

Another growing trend in area rugs is affordability. Fewer people are purchasing expensive, heirloom rugs and are now viewing area rugs more as a home fashion accessory -- much like a scarf or jacket -- that can be donated or discarded without guilt or regret. Since consumers are staying in their homes longer, the affordable rugs of today can help them achieve that bold splash and pop of color they need to personalize their space.

To reach those homeowners looking to bring mother nature indoors, more manufacturers are launching natural-looking rug patterns, including tree bark (white birch, etc.), stratified and layered rock and other nature inspired finishes. One company presented a rippled rug (available in carpet, too) that looks like the surface of a pond after a stone has been thrown. Another eye-catcher is a rug that has a lightening bolt effect achieved through silk fibers that have a shimmering metallic sheen when light hits.

For people wanting to take the natural look one step further, one company has launched the ultimate in sustainability -- an amazingly soft shag rug containing 100-percent recycled paper in its fibers.

Carpet trends

Wool was the fiber that started it all in the carpet category. However, today's technology has brought forth some of the softest, most luxurious, easy care and affordable synthetic fibers in history.

Carpet fibers, now designed for the whole family (even pets), have dramatically improved over the past few years to become more durable than ever before, with built-in products, including enzyme treatments that act as a moisture barrier between the carpet surface and the padding beneath. In line with consumer demand for eco-friendly products, another new fiber on the market is made from 100-percent recycled plastic. In addition to its earth-friendly attributes, it's also highly affordable and luxuriously soft.

Beige is still one of the top choices, but shades of gray -- from light gray to steel and everything in between -- are becoming increasingly popular. In addition, bits of color sprinkled against a neutral background add interest and dimension while helping to mask imperfections.

Patterned carpets are also becoming increasingly popular. These carpets are not printed, but rather patters are created through the manufacturing process and the way the carpet is tufted. Vine patterns and squares are two of the more popular looks.

Resilient trends

Luxury vinyl tile, or LVT, hits the mark when it comes to current demands in flooring. LVT is both affordable and low maintenance -- it's no wonder we've seen a resurgence in vinyl over the last decade.

New technology has improved the look as well as the installation process of this unique flooring material. In lieu of sheets, LVT is available in a variety of formats, including plank and tile. In addition, LVT of today is able to replicate the high-quality look of materials such as hardwood, granite, marble and slate. Color variations and even surface texture mimic the real elements found only in nature. Unlike natural materials, however, LVT is very durable and extremely low maintenance.

Unlike hardwood and stone, LVT's attributes make it a perfect choice for wet environments like bathrooms, kitchens and other areas of the home. Affordability aside, LVTs true colors shine when it comes to installation. It is one of the most affordable and easy to install flooring products on the market as it can be laid on top of virtually any existing material. It is also much softer underfoot than other hard surfaces and much warmer than tile and stone.

Another increasingly popular product in the resilient category is cork. A chart topper when it comes to eco-friendly products, cork is also naturally antimicrobial, antibacterial, waterproof, a great insulator, and extremely warm and comfortable to walk on. Its natural state provides an elasticity element that allows it to maintain structural integrity despite heavy foot traffic or compression, such as under furniture legs.

Cork repels and will not absorb dust and is also fire resistant. Suberin, a natural substance found in cork, prevents rotting. Cork of today is available in a rainbow assortment of colors and textures. Thanks to new factory finishes, cork's durability can't be surpassed.

Hardwood trends

According to sales figures over the last few years, hardwood is the fastest growing segment in flooring. Richer colors, longer and wider widths, and enhanced finishes are just a few of the trends appearing in this category this year. Highly detailed wood grain is definitely in fashion as people skip the dark and thick stains yearning for more classic, natural beauty.

Though not as affordable as other flooring options, the classic look and integrity of hardwood translates to flooring that may very well outlast the lifetime of your house.

Although dark hardwood floors will never go out of fashion, the pendulum has begun to swing back toward lighter colors in hardwood, including sun-bleached blondes and driftwood-inspired gray-browns found in white oak, walnut and maple.

In addition, homeowners are opting for more matte finishes on their floors. Dark stained and glossy floors show more imperfections, scratches and dust than an unfinished looking pale wood floor that can disguise flaws.

Texture has grown in importance almost as much as color in the hardwood category. Distressed, weathered, wire-brushed, soft scrape, even "demolition-style" are just few of the popular wood presentations dominating the market. Hand-scraped woods are literally scraped by hand to give an authentic, old-world look.

Obviously, when it comes to hand- scraped planks, no two are alike. As such, many individual pieces are hand-signed like a painting by the artisans who created them.

Distressed hardwood, a more affordable way to achieve a similar look, is usually created by machine and mimics the hand-scraped process.

Another highlight in textured wood is eco-friendly reclaimed wood -- flooring made from historical buildings, factories, truck decks, food crates and other wood materials. These floors offer unsurpassed character and antiqued wear that is nearly impossible to recreate.

Floors with a "demolished" appearance are also rising in popularity. Back to the post-apocalyptic trend, these floors have seen it all -- they've been beaten, scratched, stained, and scraped to such a degree that any additional abuse and wear will just blend right in.

In addition to textures in hardwood, modern technology now offers finishes that provide scratch and stain resistance, as well as moisture and humidity resistant products. One new surface treatment imparts an air purifying quality into the finish of the floor. Activated by both natural and artificial light, titanium dioxide on the surface of the floor operates much like a living tree in your home, continually breaking down toxins in the air and converting them into harmless water and carbon dioxide.

Another look that is coming back to some degree is the hard wax and oiled finish floor. This type of flooring is more expensive and often requires more maintenance. It is revered not only for its rich looks, but also for its ability to be patched when small areas get scratched, avoiding the need to refinish the whole floor.

Hardwood plank sizes are also changing both in width and length. Natural wood floors in traditional widths of 2.25 to 3.25 inches are still popular, but wider widths of up to 9 and 10 inches across have taken hold. Wider planks are more contemporary looking and give the illusion of a larger space. Planks as long as 9 feet are also hitting the market this year, providing a less cluttered, more streamlined look. In addition, the longer boards are sourced from older trees, translating into enhanced stability and integrity.

Bamboo has been a popular flooring material for a long time, but what we see lately is an explosion of color and style. While technically a fast-growing grass, bamboo is as hard or harder than most hardwoods when dried.

A newer presentation, strand-woven (a highly engineered product using inner fibers) is twice as hard as traditional bamboo flooring. In addition to the common thin-banded styles shoppers have become accustomed to, bamboo is offered in wide-plank styles that mimic the look of classic hardwoods. As a reed that grows in water, bamboo is moisture-resistant so it's a good choice for kitchens and wet rooms.

Laminate Trends

Advancements in technology have made it possible for laminate to mimic different materials, in some cases to the degree that one cannot tell the real thing from the man-made alternative. Today's laminate flooring is incredibly versatile and a much more cost-effective solution than other flooring materials for anyone on a limited budget.

The very nature of what laminate is, a photographic image fused beneath a protective layer, makes it particularly adaptable to new designs. The options are limitless; in fact some manufacturers offer custom laminate products, giving consumers the creative freedom to design their own floor.

If self-expression is not your thing, laminates convincingly mimic nearly every other flooring on the market at a fraction of the cost.

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