The Stone Floor

Strength, Beauty and Performance Under Foot Created by nature and enhanced by man – natural stone is a building material unlike any other. Rich in color, tantalizing in texture and virtually indestructible, it is the perfect addition to any home. Stone used as a flooring material is not a new concept and for centuries it has been found underfoot in dwellings spanning the globe. From the narrow cobblestone streets of Europe to the walkways of New Orleans, stone has been laid before us as a pathway on which we journey through life. Many of these antediluvian examples remain in existence today more beautiful than ever with the marks of time written upon their faces. Entire markets exist merely to recreate the enduring beauty of these authentic time worn tiles. With this in mind, it is hard to believe anyone would shy away from the use of natural stone on the floor today. Myths invariably persist and are often the driving force behind decisions to select a different flooring material. Common misconceptions portray stone as unaffordable, difficult to maintain or unable to withstand the rigors of daily abuse. In actuality, stone is unrivaled in its strength, presence and aesthetics, especially when used upon the floor. With simple routine care and minimal maintenance, its beauty will grow exponentially over the years.

The selection process There is much to consider when choosing stone for your home’s flooring. It is a process that should be not taken lightly since this formidable material will become a permanent addition to your dwelling. Here are a few tips to get you on your way. The planning stage To ensure a pleasing outcome, it is imperative to begin the design process by asking yourself several specific questions before rushing out the door to the nearest tile center. Questions like

  • What is the main purpose of the room in which the tile will be used?
  • What kind of foot traffic and or abuse must it endure?
  • What is the general impression or style I wish to convey?
  • What other objects will be placed in the space?

Once you have answered these questions, activate your visual creativity by looking at books and magazines that feature attractive interior designs. Don’t limit yourself to those that simply illustrate the material you plan to use; what you’re seeking at this point is strictly conceptual ideas. Search for specific details in the way the material has been laid out and how that impacts the room’s visual appeal in order to discover what interests you. Shopping for stone tile Once you arrive at the tile center, it is easy to become distracted, so stay the course. Take it all in, explore, but don’t let yourself become overwhelmed. Keep in mind that certain stone tiles have the ability to evoke a specific style, therefore limiting your preliminary selections to those that reflect the look of your home is important. This will not only be a time saver but it will halt the frustration associated with trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Even if you experience love at first sight, it is wise to take at least two other options home with you. The opportunity to compare them once you’re there will help fuel confidence in your final decision.

Some popular options

Subtle & Serene: Limestone and Travertine Flowing uninterrupted across a room like the sands of an untraveled desert, travertine and limestone provide the perfect subtle backdrop for those wishing to highlight more prominent elements within their space. Exhibiting a fairly uniform surface with regard to color, veining and texture, limestone is the ideal choice for a subdued appearance, fitting for the pared down minimalist setting. Formed from the sedimentary process underground and in riverbeds, you will often find characteristic seashells and fossils embedded in the surface and while it shares a color range similar to that of travertine, you will find it commonly devoid of holes and depressions. Milky whites, golden yellows, sandy beiges and smoky blue/grays are the predominant shades found within this stone’s color palette. Travertine is an exquisite flooring material that has the innate ability to transport you to another time and place, ideal for instilling Old World ambience. It’s surface variation can be somewhat more diverse and rugged than limestone’s, so be certain to evaluate your choice well prior to purchase. Travertine’s color palette normally resides within the confines of earth tones, beginning with the palest hues of ivory and transgressing down through the rich deep shades of gold, red and brown. Its predominate color trait is that it actually never appears as one solid color, but instead the perception is swayed by inherent tonal variations and veining characteristics. Only after laying out a sizable portion of tile do you begin to perceive the overall coloration.

Rustic & Earthy: Slate Slate is the quintessential choice when striving for a visually exciting floor. Colors and textures are so vivid they almost leap up at you. Rugged cleft surfaces invite you to kick off your shoes and experience the rough texture beneath. Notorious for its ability to withstand abuse, slate is ideal in areas where high-traffic and dirt collide. With its deeply saturated color palette and high relief surface, slate is more suitably used where it is not in competition with rival elements. If you love the qualities of this stone, but wish to redefine its image, try a solid shade with a calibrated or honed finish. This will provide you with an even surface whose muted tones reflect an earth-like foundation, on which you can build any style. At home in areas such as the foyer, hallway, bathroom, and mudroom, this durable giant will add appeal to an otherwise uninspiring space.

Polished & Elegant: Marble and Granite Reminiscent of a shallow reflecting pool, polished marble and granite lie unwavering, mirroring the world around them. Adding a rich, elegant touch to any space, these stones nearly always evoke formality. From the classic marble pattern of black and white checkerboard to the intense drama of a vibrant Chinese red granite, these sparkling stones are guaranteed to make an unforgettable statement. When considering marble as your flooring material, remember that certain types exhibit a heavily veined surface structure and can, at times, overpower a space. Treat it like slate and choose a location where its immense beauty can be enjoyed without restriction or competing elements, or seek out a marble with less variation. Tightly grained granite exhibits less movement in its surface pattern than many marbles, therefore can normally be used without fear of antagonizing the surrounding environment. It’s extreme durability offers fewer care and maintenance concerns than marble when used upon the floor. It is always important to remember that polished stones become extremely slippery when wet and marble will bear the scars of use in high traffic locations. For improved wear-ability, consider selecting a honed or brushed finish, as it will add traction to your step and ease the burden of maintenance.

Aged to Perfection: Antiquated Stone Unequivocally, one of the best choices for flooring is an antiquated stone. Because its beauty lies within the fact that it has already been worn, battered and roughed up, there really isn’t much that you can do to destroy its charm. Its earthy, muted tones are masters of camouflage when it comes to hiding dirt, and its distressed appearance is ideally cast for depicting an authentic reproduction of many Old World periods. Options for this genre include obtaining genuine antique tiles that have been carefully reclaimed from their former applications or the more affordable option of locating reproductions of these authentic beauties.

Stone characteristics to consider Color If there is one single element that can instill a specific mood or feeling in a space, it is most definitely color. Color can make a very powerful statement, so the selection process must not be taken lightly. Take cues from your surroundings, such as your choice of artwork, furniture, clothing, paint and so on, and you will probably have a good idea of what you are drawn to. You may be a lover of rich earthy naturals, quiet neutrals, or maybe you’re mad about bold daring colors. Sticking with something you already feel comfortable with will be much safer than deciding to make a sudden and drastic change, especially when it involves something as permanent as stone. When choosing color, keep in mind that light colors recede making a room appear larger whereas dark colors advance, making a space seem smaller. In warm sunny climates, light colors will evoke feelings of coolness, while going darker in colder areas will instill a feeling of warmth. Be conscious not to stray too dramatically one way or another, as too light or too dark may not be the ideal for your particular design. The color range and surface variations found within natural stone products can vary dramatically depending on the stone type and the location of the quarry. While granite, marble and limestone tend to be more consistent from tile to tile, slate and travertine will typically exhibit greater disparity. Regardless of which stone you choose, you should expect diversity in color. These inherent variations are one of the endearing and truly fascinating qualities that draw us to stone. Size, shape and pattern Most stone tiles come in sizes ranging from tiny mosaics to enormous two and three foot squares. The most commonly available sizes include 4-inch, 6-inch, 8-inch, 12-inch, 16-inch, 18-inch and 24-inches square. Thickness varies from 1/2 to 3/4 inches and as a general rule, as the overall size increases so does the thickness. The most important aspect of tile size is its scale and proportion, or its relationship to the space in which it exists. The goal is to be able to observe your selection in its intended placement and say to yourself not too big, not too small just right. Forget the “rules” as small spaces don’t necessarily require small tiles, nor do large spaces require large tiles. The best size is determined by evaluating each room as a separate entity, and determining what size flatters it best. Shapes abound from the routine geometry of squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons and octagons to the more exotic profiles of diamonds and rhomboids. By combining size and shape you create pattern. Square tiles can be placed in a simple jack-on-jack grid or offset to create a running bond. Square tiles are also used for diagonal runs. Rectangles can be placed at angles to each other formulate a herringbone pattern or be off-set in a brick fashion. Diamonds or rhomboids, when blended in various color hues, offer a distinctive harlequin motif. Triangles are used to create chevron patterns while octagons allow for the introduction of a contrasting tile or decorative insert. Shape and size are not the only aspects that contribute to creating pattern, as color can work visual magic as well. Mixing color results in the likes of checkerboards, ginghams, plaids, pin stripes, tumbling blocks and a variety of random looks. Not only does pattern add interest in a room, but it can also fool the eye into thinking the dimensions are not as they appear. Quite often, a bold pattern will make a room look smaller as a large butt jointed tile in a single tone will extend the visual expanse. In addition to size, shape and color to produce pattern, the interplay of light and dark, soft and rough and glossy and matte will offer significant interest as well. Pattern is a product of contrast and juxtaposition of varying materials which in the end is what creates the illusion. Don’t allow it to overwhelm a space or compete with adjacent elements. Instead, use pattern to your advantage, to induce excitement, not headaches.

Texture & finish Texture and finish combine to form the surface layer of something in which we can savor both visually and through our sense of touch. When it comes to stone tile, textures range from butter soft and smooth to rugged and rough. These textures affect the overall character of a tile which, in turn, affects its final appearance once installed. A rough, matte finished tile will instill a relaxed and casual mood where as a glossy tile will appear more formal and elegant. Shiny finishes emphasize clear brilliant color where matte finishes tone it down. Sparkling streamlined surfaces tend to magnify dirt as tiles with varied color and texture will camouflage it.

Reviewing your choices Once you’re satisfied with you’re initial design, it is time to head back to the house and observe your preliminary choices. Placing the stone tiles in the exact location of their intended use will help immensely with the decision making process. You will be amazed how your perception of a tile changes after leaving the showroom and placing it in a new environment. Your first assignment will be to reexamine the color. Many variables can influence the actual shade, such as the reflection of the paint from the surrounding walls or the glare from natural light spilling across the floor. Wood tones present in adjacent furniture and cabinetry can also cause you to view the color tones with a different perspective. Taking time to investigate, explore and play with actual sample tile applications will further boost your confidence in your final choice.

Placing your order Once you have decided on a specific stone and style and feel confident that it will work well within your design scheme, begin making preparations to place your order. Before signing on the dotted line, you should be confident that you have asked all the right questions including –

  • Is the tile that I have chosen suitable for the area in which I plan to use it?
  • Does it require any special care or routine maintenance?
  • Is the material in stock?
  • If not, what is the lead-time?
  • Is the sample I am ordering from the current stock or has the lot changed?
  • Would you suggest that I order a current sample or two if this one is outdated?
  • What is your return policy?

Be sure when placing your order that you purchase more square footage than you actually need (typically 7% to 10%). This surplus will be your insurance against shortages that may occur due to breakage or waste due to cuts. A wise homeowner will order extra tiles to insure against future problems should there be a need for repairs. Chances of finding an exact match years down the line are slim to none.

Receiving your order Once your tile arrives, take the time to inspect it. As laborious as that might seem, it will save you heartache if you encounter a problem in the middle of the installation. Be sure that the tile has not been damaged during shipment and that it actually is the material you ordered. Your tile supplier should have already taken the time to explain that stone, being a natural product, possesses the potential to vary dramatically from one tile to the next. Once this explanation has been provided, it is not uncommon for a dealer to request that you sign a disclaimer. These disclaimers generally detail exactly what you should expect with regard to normal ranges of variations and what specifically would justify a return. Because stone is extremely heavy and can shift during shipment, some minimal breakage should be expected. Many of the freight carriers that deliver pallets of stone tile only extend a few days to make claims if the shipment is damaged, and the supplier typically will not accept returns once the shipment has arrived on-site and has been noted as safely delivered. Your effort here will be well rewarded. One last note on receiving your stone tile – a common occurrence, especially with more porous stones, is for the shipment to arrive damp. This may result in the tiles appearing much darker than the samples from which you selected. Before you panic and contact your dealer regarding a shipping error. Pull several pieces from the crate and allow them to dry. You will discover that they will lighten significantly. On the opposite end of the spectrum, often the stone arrives dusty and dry, and requires cleaning and sealing and/or color enhancing to resemble the showroom sample. If for some reason you are not satisfied with the material once it has been received or you have changed your mind all together regarding your selection, you will more than likely face a 20% – 30% restocking fee to cover the cost of returning the shipment to the supplier. Returning stone shipments is a cumbersome and costly job; so make sure that you have done your homework prior to placing your order.

A word on installation Very few things have the capacity to impact the final appearance of a stone application than the skills of the tile installer. Hiring a qualified installer is therefore imperative. Unless you are familiar with the work of a particular tradesman, it is wise to interview several before signing a contract. During the interview process, ask about the number of years experience working with natural stone. It is important to note that the installation of natural stone products varies tremendously from that of ceramic and porcelain tiles. Even the most talented and experienced ceramic tile setter can struggle with a stone application. Request references and if possible see a sample of their work. Also, it is a good idea to have a rough estimate of the going rate for stone installations in your area. A quote that seems either much too high or too low should be approached with caution. Even if you have received an “installed” quote from your stone dealer, insist on interviewing the tile setter that will be doing the actual work before proceeding. If the dealer is reluctant to allow you to interview the installers, it might be wise to look elsewhere for your product. Don’t be afraid to ask builders and architects if they know anything about the tile-setter that you are considering using. Don’t forget this is your money, your investment and your dreams that are at stake. Even if your building contractor is providing the installation of the material, complete the interview process with their installers. A good stone setter is an artist that will magnify the beauty of an already exquisite work of nature. You definitely do not want to skimp here!

Caring for your stone flooring One of the major enemies for any flooring surface is abrasion, stone is no different. Wear most commonly occurs when foot traffic and dirt particles collide to create friction. Taking a few precautions to eliminate this occurrence will prevent the premature aging of your floor. Place effective floor-mats outside the entrance of each door and remember the average person must take several steps before their shoes are significantly free of dirt particles, so consider a large size mat at your main entry, as well as just inside the doorway. Next, get into the habit of dust moping routinely, preferably with a non-treated dry dust mop. You can also simply vacuum your floors, just be certain that the vacuum you are using is in good repair and rolls freely across the floor to avoid inadvertently scratching it. Clean your stone on a regular basis with a neutral PH cleaner, ideally one made specifically for your stone type. These cleaners are readily available at most any home centers. Lastly, caring for a stone floor is easy if you are informed and choose a finish that will not be difficult to maintain. The best advice is to be honest about your lifestyle, know your stone and understand its qualities and limitations prior to purchasing. For example, you may not be thrilled with the results of a delicate polished marble at your beach house, however, that antiquated travertine will offer generations of beauty under those harsh gritty conditions. Education is the key to a successful stone floor purchase. Do your homework, be realistic and in the end, be sure and get what you love! Article By: Heather Adams, Author & Designer Featured in StoneDimensions, published by the Marble Institute of America