Terra Firma The Lowdown on Flooring

Used, abused, walked all over: Life is tough for flooring. That's why it's so important to plan wisely when the time comes to redo your floors. Given how quickly a poor floor will have to be redone, the right choice is much more than an aesthetic decision - it's also a real investment. On the bright side, a well-chosen, expertly installed floor should yield years of beautiful wear with the proper care.

So where does one begin? These days there's such a dizzying array of methods and materials to choose from, it can be difficult to figure out what will work best with your space. Luckily, we've done much of the legwork to help you understand the basics. Whether you're renovating your lobby, hallways, or your private residence, everything you need to know to get started is right here.

Laying the Groundwork

A good designer can go a long way in helping you plan your project, and you'd be well advised to hire one. However, the more thoroughly you've thought out your needs, the better he or she will be able to assist you - so consider some basic factors before you call in the professionals. Start by thinking about the function of your space. Is it utilitarian, or is it more for show? Should you emphasize durability, or can you use a more delicate material? What kind of traffic do you expect? How important are noise levels? Is it a humid or wet environment? How much maintenance are you prepared to do? What is the "look" of your building or apartment? How much natural light do you get? And don't forget to consider ergonomic factors like heat retention and "give" (the resiliency of flooring.) Remember, floors aren't simply decorative - they are functional objects that you'll be in physical contact with day in and day out. Think of them almost as furniture.

The Bottom Dollar

Once you've got a pretty good idea of what you need, the next big decision is your budget. There's an enormous cost spectrum, depending on what kind of floor you choose, and it's wise to know your spending ceiling from the get-go. According to Rebecca Alston, of Rebecca Alston, Inc., a Manhattan interior/architectural design firm, it's virtually impossible to even make a ballpark estimate on flooring costs without seeing a given space. "There are simply too many variables to give you numbers for a theoretical project," she says. But there are factors you can use as a starting point.

Begin with the basic scope of the project - how large and complex is your space? Are you just refinishing, or completely replacing the floor? Do you need a demolition crew to come in and dispose of old flooring? Will the floor have to be leveled, or is it already in good shape? Next, consider the cost of materials - which can be anything from $1 per-square-foot concrete to $500 per-square-foot gilded glass tiles.

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