Twenty years ago, it was hard to find a new house that didn’t have hardwood floors in the foyer. Even in moderately-priced models, buyers clamored to get the look of luxury at the front door. Since then, wood and other hard-surface flooring elements - tile, stone and marble - have spread into living, family and powder rooms - even taking up a prominent position even in high-traffic zones such as kitchens.
Industry agents point to three reasons why Atlanta homeowners prefer hard surfaces. The first is the elegance and style they bring to a room, while at the same time creating a versatile surface for area rugs. Though once only found in the most expensive houses, hard surface floors have come down in price so that more buyers can opt for them in several areas of the house.
And then there’s Atlanta’s pollen count.
“If you have kids with allergies, no matter how often you clean or vacuum, you’re always plagued with dust and pollen that are very hard to get out of a carpet,” said Lisa Laube, chief merchandising officer for the Atlanta-based Floor & Decor, a 34-store company that specializes in flooring options for builders and DIY fans. “People see hard surfaces as a cleaner way to live. At the same time, the price has become attainable for almost anyone who wants to refloor their home, so they can get a higher-end look at a great price.”
Atlanta buyers now insist on hardwoods more than any other flooring option, said Angi Sago, director of design for Traton Homes, a developer with communities around the metro area.
“In this area of the country, people say first floors [of a house] should be wood,” said Sago. “But they don’t like the typical stains: We’re doing a lot of mixing and matching to customize colors. They usually want them as dark as they can get it without looking black. The cool grays are also very strong as we move away from the English chestnut look.”
Gray is showing up not only in woods for the kitchen but also in the tiles for bathrooms, said Sago.
“While tiles in baths are still the rage, we’re seeing a color change,” she said. “Everything was in earth tones; now we’re seeing grays and whites in there, too. It’s part of a modern look with very clean lines. You can get that from whites, blacks and grays.”
Monty Drumheller, owner of Atlanta Flooring in Chamblee, said he’s been putting wood floors in kitchens since the late 1980s, and today, there’s demand for wood the rest of the house, too.
“I’ve even put wood floors in bathrooms - in fact, that’s what I have at home,” he said. “Most people don’t think it will work, but it does.”
No matter where the wood goes, owners will find more options not only of the kind of wood but of its finish. Along with the standards of oak and maple, exotic woods such as bamboo, cork or Brazilian wood are available, along with man-made materials that mimic the same look.
“There are more options for owners now,” said Drumheller. “For instance, laminated, engineered floors that are three-quarters of an inch solid last much longer than traditional woods. And the wider-plank, hand-scraped woods that look a bit uneven are very big.”
Manufacturers are now producing a tile designed to look like wood, but with the durability of a harder, more scratch-resistant surface. Kim Finley, in-house designer for Glover’s Flooring America in Chamblee, also sells luxury vinyl tiles, or LVTs, created to look just like wood.
“Vinyl is an old product that’s been revived with very realistic looks - it’s not just those old squares anymore,” she said. “A lot of it is now made to look like planks of wood or even pieces of marble. They wear well, don’t gouge and are much warmer and softer than ceramic tile. It’s also practical: You don’t have to worry about it getting wet.”
In the upper price ranges of the housing market, owners are turning to a variety of upgraded solid surfaces, said Justin Atcheson of Construction Resources’ Builders Floor Covering and Tile in Buckhead.
“Our primary market is homes $400,000 and up, and when you get into that range, you’re more than likely doing natural stone that is a solid material through and through,” said Atcheson. “We also see a lot of people going for exotic stone such as marbles, granites and limestones.”
Despite having some of the highest square-foot costs, marble is gaining a following for its distinctive look, said Atcheson.
“Even though it’s expensive, it will give you the most bang for your buck when it comes to looks,” he said. “There’s a veining in some of these marbles that you can’t replicate in any other type of stone. It’s very hot right now, particularly in grays and whites, for kitchens and baths where we can also incorporate gray and white tiles into surrounds and backsplashes. And it’s incredibly durable; there is marble that the Romans laid 2,000 years ago that is still standing.”
When it comes to wood, Atcheson sees owners moving toward styles with wider planks and rustic, hand-scraped textures. And they’re also crazy for cork.
“Cork is actually one of the only products with its own, built-in antibacterial element, he said. “It has a mid-grade price point and a good wear warranty to it. And it is probably one of the most green products on Earth since we get it just by taking the outside edge of a tree. It doesn’t harm the tree and eliminates the need to replant.”
Of course, carpeting has not gone out of vogue, particularly in bedrooms. But homeowners now looking for different options.
“Our buyers want texture, something with patterns,” said Sago. “Our younger buyers in particular love shag carpets. And though neutral colors are still popular, people are starting to go for something a little bit darker.”
Improvements in fiber technology have made two significant changes to today’s carpets: They’re softer and more stain resistant.
“Some of the carpets now are really plush so that you can sink your toes into them,” said Atcheson. “We’re also seeing more silk carpets that are very strong but with more density so they’re soft. There are also new ‘smart strand’ carpets with fibers that are the same color all the way through, so they wear very well. And we now have products with life-time stain warranties that take that negative out of buying a carpet.”