A living area featuring Classic Marble Company’s Canaletto marble on the floor.
A living area featuring Classic Marble Company’s Canaletto marble on the floor.

Flooring combines aesthetics with functionality of a space and value today

Flooring transcends the merely utilitarian; it has stepped into the realm of functional beauty.

For about as long as the human race has existed, people have had some kind of shelter above their head. However, it wasn’t until around 8000 BC that we started to create special surface areas to maximise convenience and comfort for people’s feet. Large pits were dug in the ground and then topped with smooth layers of mud. During the first half of the final BC millennium, Greece developed floors that began using something like stone or coal, which were layered with a mix of clay, sand and fibre.

Since then, flooring has moved leagues ahead: transcending the merely utilitarian, it has stepped into the realm of functional beauty. Marble, tiles, wood and laminate flooring, it’s all out there for architects and clients to choose. Hardeep Singh, managing director, Forbo Flooring, states, “Flooring is an intrinsic aspect of any building space; hence the choice of floor coverings becomes more crucial – and this is gener-ally influenced by factors like durability, hygiene, aesthetics and functionality. While these factors are being considered, designers focus on overall look and finish of the place.”

”Flooring serves as the backdrop to an interior design scheme and, therefore, becomes integral to the ‘style’ of a space. While marble is an evergreen choice for the classic look it renders, tiles remain popular for the variety they offer in terms of material, colour, shape and size.

While talking about size, the large presence of oversized tiles in the market can be attributed to the desire for a smooth finish with minimum joints in most contemporary homes and offices. Firdaus Variava, vice chairman, Bharat Flooring, says, “Tiles as large as 36 inches x 36 inches are popular now. Another trending look for flooring tiles is shapes: octagonal tiles, free-form varieties (which may be custom-ordered), and mosaic-style detailing that adds visual appeal to a bathroom or entranceway.” For a unique floor, patterned tiles, too, are the preferred choice – as they inject personality into a room and can make ‘plain’ rooms (which are predominantly of one colour) look bright and bold instantly. Hard-wearing, modern and striking concrete flooring has been quite a rage, too, as also are wood floors for their sophisticated warmth. However, perfect laying (in the first case) and installation (in the second) is a must for a well-finished look.

While vitrified tiles and marble have been the obvious choices for the masses, wooden floors and laminate wooden flooring, which have been hitherto popular with a select group of users, are seeing increased popularity (especially the laminate segment) given the availability of affordable options in the category. Shankho Chowdhury, executive business head, Decoratives, Century Ply, believes, “When it comes to investing in a new wooden floor, many home owners or architects now have myriad choices. Patterns and shapes are catching the fancy of consumers – and squares, herringbone, chevron and rhombus are bringing a new level of freshness to the market in terms of plank design and size.”

The colours are also moving towards lighter pastels and greys, giving a fresh breath to interior design. But the all-time favourites are the plank designs, with oak stained in walnut tones being the most popular wood species and colour. Brushed (open grained) textures find the most acceptance from designers and consumers alike.

Satinder Chawla, managing director, Span Floors, observes, “The latest design trend in wood floors is new design patterns in shapes other than the conventional linear plank design. As regards the construction of planks, engineered plank construction in real wood floors is definitely gaining more acceptance due to its inherent stability (less expansion and contraction with respect to changes to atmospheric humidity). The matte oiled finish is also gaining traction, as it brings out the naturalness of wood in more detail. In laminate floor-ing, the trend is towards extremely realistic looks that make it difficult to distinguish between a real wood floor and the imitation laminate floors.”

People, today, are also considering engineered wood — the midground between hardwood and laminate flooring — as an attractive option for flooring, as there is a wide variety of choice. Naresh Maheshwari, CEO Pergo India, states, “It is not only a material that offers a wide variety of natural looks, but also different surface treatments as well as [different] finishes.”

Installation issues
Other than what will make up your floor, the installation of the selected material can also make or mar a space — apart from extending the lifespan of the material. Since installation, in most cases, is manual, it is necessary that trained and experienced masons and contractors are appointed for the job. The traditional method  — in the case of tiles and stone — involves the use of cement and mortar.

Amit Shah, managing director, Classic Marble Company, explains, “These days, installing marble can be done using adhesives. Adhesive-based installations create strong, seamless joints and are far more reliable. It also considerably reduces the chances of de-bonding, is quick to install and makes installation easy and hassle-free.”

In the case of cement tiles, there are dimensional variations – both in thickness and right angles. Variava explains, “These variations have to be adjusted during the laying of tiles by using cement mortar mix instead of adhesive, and also by the skill of the mason in adjusting the pattern to fit properly.” Tiles are laid using the butt-joint method, by laying the tiles very close to each other. Since the joint lines are very fine, it is difficult for the grouting material to stay inside. Some of this material may come out, causing the joint lines to be visible.

Madhur Daga, managing director, Orient Bell Limited, gives equal weightage to both quality and installation. “Tiles should only be laid by trained masons for satisfactory visual appearance. All our tiles bear tile-laying instructions on their boxes, and it is highly recommended that they should be followed to ensure better durability of tiles,” he remarks.

Laminated wooden flooring also needs some amount of expertise when being installed. Though the installation is not a very convoluted process, one needs to religiously follow the guidelines and steps to achieve flawless flooring. Chowdhury is of the firm belief that the key to improvement lies in precision and strict monitoring of the flow.

Other than how well installation is handled, there’s also the matter of the subfloor. “It is essential that the subfloor must be even (zero level), dry and clean,” emphasises Maheshwari. “The entire subfloor must be carefully checked for any unevenness. Using a 1m straight edge, make sure there is no unevenness of more than 2mm. Also, make sure there are no ‘peaks’ higher than 1.2mm within a 250mm radius. In the case of sand or grind peaks, use a self-leveling compound to achieve correct flatness. Let this cure and dry before installation. Textile flooring and the underlay must first be removed before installing a new wooden floor. An appropriate underlay is strongly recommended to avoid squeaking in joints and to level minor unevenness in the subfloor. Also, it is important to leave an expansion gap around the total perimeter of the floor and around columns, pipes, thresholds, etc.”

Environment-friendly floors
A flooring material that completes its lifecycle by going back to where it came from, can be said to be environment-friendly. Nowadays, when sustainability is more than just a concept, many manufacturers are coming up with different options of environment-friendly flooring. Shah explains, “Any material that conserves the consumption of natural resources is an environment-friendly material. The material itself could be made from recycled material or could be an eco-friendly material that is sustainable. The process of producing the material, too, determines its environment-friendliness.”

Linoleum, cork, wood, etc, are some of the options available, which may cost at par with any other floor covering. Singh, whose company Forbo manufactures Marmoleum (a true green product as it is made of up 97% raw materials), says, “The Indian market is rapidly catching up with the global trends of environment-friendly flooring, and many buildings aspire to be green-rated as well . Builders, architects and interiors also favour using green products wherever possible.”

It is a misconception that environment-friendly flooring is expensive. Daga says, “The cost of the flooring depends upon factors such as its ability to be renewed and recycled, its toxicity to the environment and lifecycle. Orient Bell is a green company and is certified by IGBC and GRIHA. Our tiles, which reduce the pollutant gases like NOx and CO2 and make the air healthier, are becoming popular slowly.” Other products — such as Century Floors’ recyclable laminated flooring — are made of PEFC-certified industrial wood and residual wood from sawmill industries, and contain neither PVC nor solvent.

Hardwood products become eco-friendly by virtue of the fact that wood stores carbon permanently and helps reduce atmospheric carbon. Legally logged wood that is third-party certified contributes to the well-being of the planet due to its natural characteristics. Wood materials have long been known to be warm and soft in perception, and contribute to mental wellness and relaxation of building occupants. Chawla explains, “Today, there are plenty of options for certified sustainable wood. Certifications like FSC, PEFC provide peace of mind with regard to the sustainable origins. The certification adds a bit of cost to the wood – but in the longer run, it is in everybody’s interest. The reason the cost goes up, is that each finished product is linked back to the entire chain of custody (from logging to transport to milling to end user). The entire chain of custody is mapped, so consumers can be sure of the legal origins of wood.”

While wood-based products derive their greenness from the constituent material, others, such as cement-based ones, are not so lucky. “We do use recycled materials whenever we can, but the basic ingredient in our tiles is cement (which is not a recycled material),” says Variava. “Since our business is in a niche category, our manufacturing processes are built more on the model of a cottage industry — with low power consumption and low emission. Our environment-friendly tiles may cost a bit more, because it’s expensive to source recycled materials (such as recycled marble or recycled glass) and it’s expensive to recycle them (an additional step in the manufacturing process) to bring them to a state that is ready for use in our tiles.”

With materials ranging from cement and concrete to wood and cork, different dimensions and formats, as well as myriad price points, the well-populated flooring category certainly has something for everybody.

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