Hardwood floors are typically designed as staggered planks of maple, pine, ash, oak, cherry, or walnut. Narrower-width planks offer a more traditional look, while wider planks have a more rustic appeal. Parquet, made out of smaller hardwood pieces patterned into geometric shapes, creates a more elegant look.
Any style of hardwood floor is a great neutral selection and complements many types of décor. In addition, it is durable, easy on the feet, easy to clean, and can be resanded and restained multiple times.
Consider pre-finished hardwood. It is considered more durable than hardwood that is finished on site. Plus, it comes with better manufacturer warranties and is available in a wide range of stain colors.
Bamboo is a grass, not a wood; nevertheless, it is still considered a type of hardwood flooring. In look and function, it is very similar to traditional hardwood flooring, with the considerable added benefit that the bamboo plant is a fast replenishing resource.
Reclaimed lumber is another great "green" alternative. It has a lovely patina that can only be acquired through age, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that no trees were harvested on your behalf.
Engineered Hardwood (also called Laminate)
This form of flooring looks a lot like a natural wood floor, though it is a manmade product of a thin hardwood veneer over laminated sheets of wood. The end result is flooring that has more "give," and is better able to adjust to changes in moisture levels. This makes laminate a great product for basements, and it is gaining popularity in the kitchen due to its extreme durability and easy maintenance. Most engineered floors come with an impressive 20+-year manufacturer warranty.
Vinyl (also known as Linoleum® or Congoleum®)
Vinyl flooring is a layered plastic product with a design either embedded directly into the vinyl layers or applied topically. It is lauded for its ease of installation, relatively low cost, durability, and easy maintenance.
Ceramic tile is a popular flooring option for good reason. It wears well, is easy to clean and maintain, and has a moderate price point. There are endless choices of colors, shapes, and finishes.
Consider a glazed finish on your tile, as it is more water and stain resistant and easier to clean than a matte-finish tile. Make sure to specify a non-slip glaze.
Stone Tile: Granite, Marble, Limestone
This type of flooring is great for a warm, natural look. It is powerfully strong (it's stone, after all), and the tiles come in myriad colors, textures, and sizes. Like wood, stone can be a great neutral and works as well in a rustic farmhouse kitchen as in an elegant pied-a terre. Since stone is susceptible to staining, it must be sealed. Though it can be slippery when wet, a good, non-slip sealant can overcome this issue.
Designers often recommend purchasing the largest size tile possible to cut down on grout lines.
Cork flooring is manufactured from the bark of the cork oak tree. The bark is stripped in such a way that it does not damage the tree, making cork a popular "green" flooring option. It comes in tiles or plank form, and is known both for its extreme comfort (the honeycomb structure of cork gives it a natural springiness) and durability.
Concrete flooring has now gone mainstream. Enthusiasts laud its extreme durability, economy, ease of maintenance, and gentleness on the environment, while decorators love its versatility. It can be colored, stamped with any design, or glazed, and does not discolor, warp, or stain.