It's all natural
Stone, hardwood are popular choices in flooring materials



Robert and Ruth Schmidt of the Town of Summit chose a 4-inch hickory wood with a beveled edge and oak leaf inlay that combines cherry, maple and walnut hardwoods for their eating nook. Schmidt Custom Floors Inc. of Waukesha installed the floor.

Sometimes there is elegance in simplicity. The “natural” route seems to be finding its way into more and more homes these days, and in particular the flooring. Homeowners are taking their games up a notch or two as more upscale options in flooring have become available. It’s no longer a quick decision over which color of linoleum or carpet to lay down.

At least, that is the opinion of several local purveyors of flooring materials. When discussing natural flooring there are basically two routes to consider — some kind of hardwood floor, or going with some kind of stone/ceramic tile rock-like material. Each can have advantages over the other, and some materials perform better in certain parts of a home than in others. It largely becomes, as one owner of a flooring business said, a question of how much traffic will be in the area and a matter of mood and comfort.

So why consider stone and stone-like products? “They look better, and they look richer than most other materials,” said Chad Collath, owner of On The Surface Tile & Stone, “and then, of course, there’s the whole longevity issue. They’re usually easier to clean than carpet, especially when there could be smokers or pets in the house.”

Collath and his staff have completed dozens of masonry jobs in the Milwaukee area in new construction, existing homes and in additions. He said that people call or come in to his showroom asking about the stone family of products and he is always more than ready to point out the benefits.

“It might seem like a greater cost initially,” he said, “but in the long run, you’ll save. Carpet and some of the other man-made products need to be replaced every five years or so after wearing out or from picking up odors from a variety of sources. Stone never has to be replaced. Stone has what I like to call a ‘forever’ look to it,” Collath said. “It’s a material that you tend to see a lot in nature. It’s all around you all the time, and it’s been there for quite a long time.”

The exciting part about the new stone products is that they come in colors that one wouldn’t ordinarily associate with rock. There is a rainbow of colors available including blues, reds, oranges, slates and many others. Marble is available in a variety of colors and shades, as is granite, Collath said.

The sunroom in Pat and Stuart Levin’s Wauwatosa home was renovated with a tumbled marble to give an ancient look. Adding to that look are custom made metal tile by Stuart Levin. On The Surface Tile & Stone, a division of C.E.C. Inc. of Hartland, assisted in the design and supplied the material and installation.

“I’ve seen granite used in a master bathroom whirlpool area at the foot of the shower and even going up the shower wall. Polished limestone can also see action in the bathroom on the floor and on the walls.”

Not only are there new materials on the market, but there are new twists on some of the older favorites that are making a comeback. When it comes to certain kinds of stone, what’s old is new.

“Slate is one of the surfaces making an impressive comeback,” said Collath, “and it’s enjoying a second life in a highly polished form. This newer form of slate is aggressively honed and polished rather than having that rough look to it like the slate from 30 or 40 years ago.”

The green, grey and black slate is an old material, but its new look is winning over many homeowners who appreciate a classic. It is typically found in foyers and entryways where there could be heavy traffic.

Another kind of slate called India slate is incorporated into many commercial jobs as well as into private residences. In addition to sandstone, quartz and onyx, there are several varieties of tumbled materials that are finding their way onto floors in today’s more upscale homes.

“Tumbled marble — including marble mosaics — along with tumbled limestone and honed limestone are becoming popular choices,” Collath said. “Marble is being used in counter tops a lot such that you don’t need to use a cutting board over it. It’s that hard, it’s that durable.”

Marble and granite are slowly making their way into homes in the Midwest, he said, but these materials have long been a standard in places such as Florida and California where dust mites can be a problem.

“You might see marble or granite in a living room around here, but it might have a throw rug over it. It’s rarely used in a bedroom here, but in the warmer parts of the country it keeps the floor cooler and therefore more comfortable. It’s also easier to keep clean.

“Ultimately, I think we will see a lot more marble and granite and stone products in general in people’s living spaces. More and more clients are seeing the value of the products, and the beauty of the stone products is often quite dramatic.”

Bob Phillips is the owner of Tile ’N More in Waukesha and knows how much his customers have come to appreciate stone flooring. He also knows, however, that there are instances in which hardwood floors could be the way to go.

“Hardwood flooring is popular and has been for some time,” he said. “It’s a renewable source — trees are always replanted to replace those used commercially and has the advantage of potentially enjoying a brand new look to it several times in its lifetime. If there are signs of wear, it can be resanded or refinished many times. It can look brand new over and over again.”

Anders and Joyce Lewis of New Berlin chose 4-inch select, beveled maple flooring for the floor in their hearth room. Schmidt Custom Floors Inc. of Waukesha installed the flooring.

The key to making the most of hardwood floors, Phillips said, is to seriously consider what will be moving on top of it or nearby such as heavy foot traffic, pets with scratchy claws and splashy water bowls and possibly appliances that use water (dishwashers and washing machines). Generally speaking, water and children and pets tend to be enemies of wood floors, and homeowners need to examine the whats and wheres of the rooms in question before deciding between stone and wood.

“If there are three or four kids, a couple beds, a kitchen or a foyer, a ceramic tile product might be a better bet. You don’t wash it like you do stone or the laminates. Water and wood are natural enemies, and the more water is exposed to it the more phone calls you’ll be making to Mr. Resanding and Refinishing.”

Always investigate the quality of the wood when considering laying down a hardwood floor. Are the builders putting in top grade materials? Check the grades of wood and be sure you’re getting one that won’t look like the plywood in your garden shed. While many types of wood are used today in flooring such as oak, pine, maple, cherry, elder, ash, beech, walnut and merbau, oak is still perhaps the most common of the wood material used and has its own grade scale.

The higher the number, the rougher it gets, Phillips said. “Clear” oak means free of defects, but may have minor imperfections. “Select & Better” is almost clear, but contains some characteristics such as knots and color variations. The common grades number 1 and number 2 have a few more imperfections and markings than either clear or select and are often chosen for those markings and natural features and the character they bring to a room. Number 1 has a variegated appearance with light and dark colors with knots and worm holes. Number 2 is more rustic in appearance and allows for many more variations in color and grain.

There is prefinished wood and unfinished wood. The prefinished types come in three grades: regular/standard, cabin and tavern.

Bruce and Janice Behling of Hartland chose a polished cream-colored marble for their master bath suite floor. The same elegant material was used throughout the bath on the walls, recesses and the whirlpool surround. On The Surface Tile & Stone, a division of C.E.C. Inc. of Hartland, supplied the material and installation.

Then there are the finishes on top of the wood. Urethane is very durable and very popular, but it can scratch. If the floor is exposed to water or humidity the finish can split resulting in a phone call to the sander/refinisher. There are also types of wood flooring that have acrylic injected into the cellular structure of the wood that still require a urethane coating (Hartco, Mannington). These are natural materials that feature a somewhat “carefree” aspect to them.

Some of the more popular places to incorporate a wood floor, therefore, are those with less exposure to water and less traffic such as family rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, dining rooms and rec rooms.

“Wood floors can’t always stand up to the abuse that stone products can, but there are rooms in the house where wood is ideal. In a rec room, for example, there might be a pool table, a card table, maybe a bar. That’s not really what we in the industry would call ‘hard use,’ so wood would perform well there and would look great.

“Use dictates everything,” Phillips said. “In areas where there could be a combination of traffic, water and sun, you’ll want to go with a ceramic tile, a slate or a stone product either instead of wood or possibly in conjunction with areas of wood.

“A sunroom is a good example where a stone product is the better choice. The sun will not affect or fade the stone and there’s no finish to worry about. The stone won’t age because of the sun the way wood might.”

Either way, it’s clear that when it comes to flooring options, there’s high quality in low places. Whether you pine for wood or stick with stone, remember that use should determine what material goes where.