Interior Finishes: Flooring

Once we had paint generally figured out, we moved on to figuring out what we wanted to do for flooring in the house. Our current place has oak hardwood in a lot of the common areas. We like it, but with our in-floor heat, 3/4″ solid hardwood flooring wasn’t an option. It shifts too much with a heat source right under it, doesn’t transfer heat well, and has a ton of staples that can punch through the hot water lines.

Engineered Hardwood Flooring

So, we zeroed in on the next-best thing for our main common areas: engineered hardwood. “Engineered hardwood” refers to actual bits of trees that are shaved off and applied to some sort of a composite backing – usually plywood. The thinner layer of “real” wood, when attached to the composite, moves less with heat and moisture than solid hardwood since you have less of that pesky natural grain to deal with. It’s also cheaper, since you need less pretty “real” wood to work with.

We also considered “luxury” vinyl planks, or “LVP.” It’s a popular choice due to its durability, and it looks a lot more like wood these days than it did 10-15 years ago. But LVP floors still feel pretty plastickey to me underfoot, and we generally wanted to avoid things that were “fake” imitations of real materials (though this approach fell apart at certain points, like when we realized how fragile actual marble can be when it comes to countertops). Anyway, LVP was out.

The next challenge was our budget – about $3.00 per square foot for flooring. Engineered hardwood varies quite a bit in price, and prices are impacted by how “clear” the wood is (i.e. free of knots) and the thickness of the pretty wood layer. A thicker “wear” layer means more durability and the ability to refinish the floors more than once after they’re installed. A $3.00 per foot budget put us near the lower end of the scale, with some fancy options running up to $20.00 per foot.

Fortunately, we had pretty basic tastes. We wanted a lighter wood, and after ordering a bunch of different samples online, we realized that all of the samples we liked were either hickory or maple. Hickory tended to have a little more color variation between heartwood and sapwood, and maple a little less. They’re also both pretty hard woods, holding up well to foot traffic.

After doing some hunting, we found what we wanted at a discount flooring website, Floors to Your Home. They were a liquidator, selling specific lots of engineered hardwood floors, many in “lesser” grades, for significantly under market prices. We managed to pick up a lot of Mohawk maple flooring for just under our budget. And the slightly lower grade of floor meant that we would get a little more color variation – something I thought the “clearer” grades of maple lacked. We planned to use it in the living room, kitchen, office, and master bedroom.

maple flooring


Our carpet selection process was quite a bit less involved. We decided to go through Lowe’s, since their Stainmaster carpets seemed relatively well-regarded and there was one close to our build site. We chose the length that felt right – not too long, not too short – a color that we figured the kids wouldn’t destroy (“thundercloud,” a dark blue/grey), and selected the highest-grade carpet in our budget. Not much to it. We’d use it for the girls’ bedrooms, the activity room, and the connecting hallway.

signature carpet
This was the carpet but not the color.


Tile was a completely different story. Search for “blue” tile on Home Depot or Lowe’s and you’ll see hundreds, if not thousands, of options. And they’ll come in all different sizes and price points, from coin-sized to 2’x4′ sheets. And from dollar-per-foot cheapo tile to $50 a foot bluestone. The options were dizzying, and lots of them were well over our $3 per foot budget.

For the mudroom/entryway we liked the idea of a natural stone – something to tie the house in with the surroundings and “ground” things a bit. We also wanted to use something darker, to give a bit of a warm welcome in contrast to all of the brightness up on the second floor. We liked the look of true “bluestone,” but not the $20-50 per foot price tag.

Ultimately, we found the stone and the price we liked with the MSI “Montauk Blue” tile. The website photos didn’t really do the stone justice; what looks green on Home Depot’s website is really more of a blue grey:

For our bathrooms, we decided on a fairly basic Calcatta floor tile for the girls’ bathroom, which would give a nice contrast to the brighter color (a blush pink). We used the same one in the bright purple laundry room. Wall tile for the girls’ bathroom would be a white herringbone subway tile.

Downstairs Bath Tile

We had a lot of blues, grays, and whites so far, so we decided to switch gears a bit for the flooring in the powder room. We went with an emerald green tile there.

Powder Room Floors

Finally, for the master bathroom, we wanted a more basic flooring with shower walls that had a bit of pop. And pop we found…

Master Shower Walls

These thin-tile wall panels are 2’x4′ – huge! They should make a bit of a statement against our grey and white floors in the bathroom – the shower floor will be made up of little white hexagons so that we can shape it to the drain.