WITH HUNDREDS OF SHOW-room samples to flip through and finishes to finalize, who has time to decide between hardwood, carpet, or tile? Buyers sure do. And their willingness to pay for what they want is clear when you take a look at the numbers. Chris Smith, of Chateau Interiors and Design in San Ramon, Calif., a design center consultant for Warmington Homes of Northern California, says 95 percent of the builder's customers upgrade, shelling out $15,000 to $25,000 for carpet, tile, and hardwood. “Most people are choosing the same kinds of flooring upgrades and are buying as much as they can afford,” she says.
In Warmington Homes' Bayport Alameda communities, where home prices range from $550,000 to more than $1 million, hard surfaces are must-haves in high-traffic public areas such as the entry, hall, kitchen, and even the family room. For ceramic tile and natural stone, the look is sleek and seamless, with large, 18-inch-by-20-inch modules and thin grout joints that make floor plans appear expansive. It's the opposite aesthetic for hardwood floors. The builder recently introduced some distressed hardwood upgrades by Clinton, S.C.-based Anderson Hardwood Floors, and they're getting the nod from buyers. Smith says the banged-up look hides scratches, dings, and the dog's muddy paw prints, so they don't have to concern themselves with maintaining a mirror finish.
The Hard Edge Down south in Jacksonville, Fla., Morrison Homes builds on slabs, so a lot of design-center attention is focused on tile upgrades. Lori Ophardt, manager of the Signature Design Center, which serves eight entry-level and move-up communities, says roughly 75 percent of buyers upgrade their floors, spending $5,000 on average. Most are switching out vinyl for ceramic in the kitchen, baths, and foyer, particularly those with young children, who we all know are rough on floors. “During our preview sessions, we go right for that ceramic tile board and tell them this would be good to do right now while the home is being built, because they'll never have to do it again,” Ophardt says. Buyers choose from among six levels of upgrades ranging from 12-inch tiles to thicker, 18-inch pieces with more refined screening.
Thanks to innovations among tile makers, options continue to increase all along the price spectrum. Portland, Ore.-based Ann Sacks Tile recently introduced the Summit, Sabbio, and Clair lines of porcelains. They offer a high-end stone look but are low maintenance and modestly priced, starting at $6 a square foot. Senior tile and stone designer DeeDee Dundberg says porcelain is going minimalist. “People used to make porcelain look like travertine or tumbled stone with all the veining,” she says, but “the look is very clean right now.” The porcelain is cut after it's glazed so the edge is crisp, creating a thin grout line. She also notes that monochromatic tones and rectified edges are popular, agreeing that 12-inch tile is on the way out.
Wood is another time-honored floor treatment that swings effortlessly from traditional to 21st century. Anticipating the growing market for green building materials, Honolulu-based Bamboo Flooring Hawaii opened its doors in 1997 and now has distributors all over the United States. Buyers seeking sustainable options will appreciate the fact that bamboo grows to maturity in five years, compared to 50 years for woods such as oak and pine. Owner Mark Elwell's selectively harvested supply comes from an area the size of Texas called the Bamboo Sea, which is on China's east coast. He points out that the finished boards, which are steamed, pressed, and sometimes carbonized for a darker finish, are 25 percent harder than red oak and 10 percent harder than rock maple. They're also affordable, selling for roughly $4 a square foot.
Distressed floors, on the other hand, seem to absorb the injuries inflicted on them. Anderson Hardwood Floors' DellaMano line, introduced 18 months ago, was designed to draw a line between distressed and rustic. It adds character without a country feel, says David Giese, the company's western regional manager. “There's a texture craze going on in flooring,” he says. “Texture is considered the new color now.”
Soft Sell According to Warmington Homes' Smith and Leach, that's true for carpet, too. In private spaces, a cushy carpet still symbolizes creature comfort, but the long-running monochromatic trend is giving way to pattern and texture. The builder has signed on with Moda, a carpet company in La Mirada, Calif., that just opened its doors. “They've got some interesting new tone-on-tone colors and patterns coming out that we're really excited about,” Smith says.
Those darker colors can deliver just the right vibe in a model home. Leach decked out the den of one model with a “wine spectator type of look” that included an elegant burgundy and green carpet. With a half dozen carpet manufacturers, hundreds of tile samples, and 30 to 40 hardwoods on display in the design center and the model homes, the trick is to make sure customers are clear on what flooring comes standard—and help them get the most pop for their dollar. “We've found that you just cannot be upfront and honest enough with customers,” Leach says. “The last thing we want is for them to be disappointed.”