Our 1930s house feels cramped. We love the elegant living room with its coved ceiling, candlelit alcoves, and art deco fixtures, but it doesn't hold a big gathering well. No more than six diners can eat in the dining room at one time. And the kitchen is tight. Chatting around the stove, which is tucked in one corner of the 10-by-10-foot room, is out of the question. We love to entertain, but the limited space is becoming a bother. So, last summer, husband Patrick decided to remodel. He envisioned a great room encompassing the kitchen and family room. Near the top of the long list of to-dos is kitchen flooring. Patrick wants vinyl; I lean toward a wood look. We're both pretty sure we don't want tile. But neither of us had knowledge of the products until I hit the phones.

"All the flooring options come in different qualities," explained Kathy Anderson, hard-surface manager at Coles Carpets. "They are all fairly easy to maintain nowadays, with the finishes that they put on them." Vinyl flooring "sometimes is less expensive but there are some grades now that are so high that they are competing with ceramic tile. Vinyl is more resilient: when you drop something on it, there is less chance of breaking. It's also a little warmer underfoot. The tile vinyls, if they are installed improperly, water can get under them, but generally they are very durable, and they come in all different grades. They're also easier for the do-it-yourselfer.

"Porcelain tiles are very popular," continued Anderson. "People are moving to them because of the durability. The tile is fired at a higher temperature [than ceramic tile], so it is less likely to crack or break, although it is not impervious. Many have a natural stone look. You don't have to seal the porcelain tiles, but traditional sanded grout should be sealed. There are new epoxy grouts that don't require sealing, that are very easy to maintain.

"Natural stone," she added, "is also a trend now. It requires a little more maintenance -- you need to seal it, for instance -- but for those who want a natural product, it is a very upscale look."

I told Anderson about my soft spot for wood floors. "Wood and water don't mix," she replied. "People still do use hardwood in their kitchen and there are improved finishes on the wood now so that it is less likely to scratch. But spills need to be wiped up immediately."

Spills in the Kelly household are an hourly occurrence, so hardwood is out of the question. But Anderson offered a solution. "The laminates are completely stain-resistant," offered Anderson. "A lot of people with young children and pets choose a laminate because it is a little easier to wipe up things from; it doesn't absorb stains. Laminate is a floating floor, so often it can be installed over existing flooring, like old vinyl flooring that might have asbestos in it. You don't have to pay to have the old floor removed correctly; you can often go over an existing floor and save money."

I have heard that laminate floors are noisy. Anderson explained why. "It's because the finish they use on them is so hard, they can be noisier. But then the underlayments that a customer can upgrade to can help deaden that noise."

Another flooring, Anderson said, is "Cork flooring. It's becoming more and more popular now. It's quiet and easy on backs and legs for standing. It comes from the bark of the cork tree, and it is environmentally friendly. It can be glued down or put down in the floating method. The pricing varies, but I would say it is in the middle of laminate and wood."

Mike Bartholomew, showroom manager at Superior Floors Gallery, touted the Karndean luxury vinyl tile. "They have a product that you can create your own design for. It looks like natural stones, wood, marbles, metallics, terra cottas, or Italian mosaics. They also have very unique borders, like laser inlays, so we can get very creative. Karndean also has a practical advantage; it is hygienic. It will not harbor dirt and bacteria, so it's especially suitable for the kitchen environment. The range price for that product installed is under $10 a square foot. They do use a two-part epoxy adhesive, so it will not curl or fail. And it is very, very low maintenance."

After my phone work, I sent Patrick out to home-improvement stores to find some more options. At Lowe's, 12-foot-wide rolls of vinyl flooring caught his eye first, particularly the Bracton Ultra by Armstrong. At $1.27 per square foot, it's cheaper than tile, wood, or laminates, which are all more than $2-$5 per square foot, plus more money for the required extras -- padding for laminates; concrete backerboard, mortar, and grout for tile; and nails for hardwood -- to say nothing of tools. The Bracton Ultra, which comes in textured wood-plank and tile patterns, carries a ten-year warranty. And it doesn't require the glue used to hold down most vinyl floors. "It's held down with two-sided acrylic Glass-Tac tape [$9.99 for a 50-foot roll at Lowe's or Home Depot]," Lowe's flooring specialist, Pedro, told Patrick. "You put a line of tape around the perimeter of the room and under any seams in the middle of the room. Then you roll the flooring out onto the tape. The no-glue vinyl flooring is a fairly new product but it's catching on very fast. A lot of our customers who have put it in have come back in and told us that they're very happy with it. One lady put it in a ballet studio that she runs. She said she wasn't sure that a taped-down floor would stand up to dancing. But she said it's held up extremely well."

1. Laminate wood

2. Linoleum samples

3. Tile floor

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