How to choose the right flooring

Carpet or exposed floorboards, tiles or vinyl, laminate or real wood? Here’s how to get the flooring look you want without blowing the budget…

Flooring can be expensive and once it’s down you can expect to live with it for many years, so it pays to research your options.

Make a balanced decision

What you choose will be dictated by practical considerations as well as personal taste. For instance, real wood isn’t advised for kitchens and bathrooms (the high humidity causes expansion) and cream carpets won’t stay cream if you share a home with kids and a dog.

“Your choice of flooring may also be defined by which storey you live on, what the sub-floor is and whether you want under-floor heating,” says interior designer Wendy Newman. “If you live in a flat, the lease often has limits on choice of flooring because of noise and acoustics.”

The wonder of carpet


Soft, durable, beautiful, carpet remains a popular choice and with the many colours and patterns available, the right design can take a room from mundane to marvellous.

“The trend is for stronger colours in carpets at the moment – and there are some amazing stripes, tartans, florals and patterns available,” says Wendy.

On-trend stripes are great for hallways, as the linear patterns give the illusion of lengthening the space, while patterns can camouflage stains, making them ideal for busy areas.

Wool is widely considered the best fibre to use in carpets as it is flame-retardant, durable and has natural insulation properties, which reduce both heat loss and noise. It also retains its appearance well – making it ideal for stairs and hallways.

Natural matting such as sisal, jute, coir and seagrass look great but stain removal can be more difficult than wool-mix carpets. You should never fit them on stairs as wear and tear can cause them to become slippery underfoot. 

Pure wool carpet can be expensive but there are plenty of cheaper wool-mixes available. If you’re on a tight budget, polypropylene is the cheapest option at under £5 a square metre. Though stain resistant, they lack softness and won’t last as long as wool mixes.

“There are ways to make the most of a limited budget,” says Wendy. “Many carpets come in a choice of different weights, so you can opt for a more heavy-duty version in reception rooms and on stairs, but a lighter, cheaper version in bedrooms.”

While it’s wise to invest in good-quality underlay (to extend the life of your carpet, make it softer underfoot and increase noise insulation), you can save by having lesser quality under-lay in bedrooms, where wear and tear is less.

Rather than fitting a room with carpet, consider having a huge rug made. “These can look amazing with just a border of floorboard showing – and most carpet companies will cut to size and bind the edges for you, which isn’t as expensive as you’d think. Plus, you can take the big rug with you when you move,” adds Wendy.

Natural wood flooring

It’s always worth lifting up existing flooring to see what lies beneath. You may be lucky enough to find wooden floorboards that can be sanded.

If the original boards aren’t good enough to keep, they can be replaced with salvaged planks, for character, or new wood. Solid wood planks and are relatively easy to lay - or opt for less expensive engineered real wood, which has a wood core with a solid veneer.

Growing at a rate of a metre a day, bamboo is a sustainable choice and makes an attractive alternative to wood. While more moisture resistant than natural wood, avoid getting it soaking wet and take care with stiletto heels as it’s susceptible to denting.

Wood laminate


Laminates have come a long way in recent years. The latest style incorporate textured woodgrain finishes and bevelled edges that are virtually identical to wood.

Stain and scratch resistant, laminate is good for high-traffic areas and more moisture-resistant than real wood - though you'll need a special water-resistant laminate if you plan to use in the kitchen and bathroom.

Linoleum and vinyl

Soft, durable and easy to clean and maintain, linoleum and vinyl are both good at repelling moisture and are scratch and stain resistant.

Available in tiles or sheets, they come in a range of patterns and colours and can be designed to resemble wood, marble, ceramic stone and metal - and for a fraction of the cost.

“With the better quality vinyls such as Karndean and Amtico you get the advantages of many different looks – slate, stone, wood etc – but the warmth of vinyl.  It’s easy to maintain and easy to fit in difficult shaped areas,” says Wendy.

Don’t forget rubber flooring. “This is an ideal option in bathrooms, kitchens, playrooms and utilities,” says Wendy. “It’s soft, warm, anti-slip, hygienic, quiet, easy to fit and comes in a huge choice of colours and finishes in both tiles and sheets. You can choose an off the peg colour or companies such as Dalsouple will custom make to suit your colour scheme.”

Stone and terracotta

Popular for hallways and kitchens, natural stone tiles come in a range of shades from dark slate and brown quarry tiles to cream limestone and pale sandstone. While they are hard wearing and easy to clean, they need sealing to prevent stains.

“Natural stone flooring is often the most expensive – limestone, travertine, marble, slate etc – and all need sealing to maintain their beautiful finish. But there are many porcelain and even ceramic tiles available which mimic their looks and textures at a fraction of the price and with much easier maintenance,” says Wendy.