Take a Walk on the Wild Side New Flooring Materials Gain a Foothold

Sick of stone? Weary of wood? Not to fear. There are new choices for flooring all the time. Whether any of them "stick" and become mainstream favorites remains to be seen, but they certainly offer some exciting new possibilities. Here is just a sampling:

Bamboo: It's not just for pandas anymore. This tall tropical plant is actually a grass. That means that unlike hardwood trees, it has a very short life cycle - three years from planting to harvesting maturity. So, presto! What we have is a truly renewable resource. Bamboo is now being manufactured and sold just like wood, in a variety of colors and finishes, for far less than wood costs. Some claim that its hardness matches that of maple, its strength matches that of red oak, and that it shrinks and warps far less than wood. Unfortunately, it is such a new application that little is known about how it stands up to long-term abuse. Nevertheless, for the environmentally friendly, this could be just the thing to soothe the conscience. Cork: Ah, the feel of cork. There's nothing quite like that wonderful resilience. For those concerned with the ergonomics of the foot and spine, cork is certainly a tempting choice. Purveyors of the new cork floors claim the treatments make them stain-resistant, and they are reputed to be surprisingly durable, too. What could make a bedroom more snug? Leather: Admittedly, the phrase "leather floor" does sound a bit Austin Powers, but don't be too quick to dismiss it as just another gangster/international man of mystery fad. Leather can be used as an extremely sophisticated design tool as well. Luxurious to the eye, warm and supple on the feet, leather definitely has its charms. And as for durability - it's tough as"¦well"¦leather. As you might guess, it doesn't come cheaply, but chances are, if you're looking for leather floors, you're someone who can afford to pay for originality. And you can bet that it'll be a while before anyone rolls his eyes and yawns, "Oh. Another leather floor."Tile: Strictly speaking, tile is not new. But the advances in tile manufacture are, and they've been fueling the tile trend to new heights. According to Rebecca Alston, of Rebecca Alston, Inc., a Manhattan interior/architectural design firm, "These days you can get extremely durable porcelain tiles that look almost indistinguishable from real stone, for a fraction of the cost of the real thing. There's a particular company called GranitiFiandre that has introduced a line called Geologica, which is really taking things to a new level."

Then there are the new glass tiles as well. "Glass tiles have great translucent look that's very popular right now. But they're more expensive than ceramic - depending on the pigment, they can range anywhere from $20 per square foot to $500 per square foot for gold," she says. Of course, regular old, glazed ceramic tiles are still a perennial favorite because they're so easy to clean and they're very affordable.

So, if your feet have gotten tired of the same old, same old, there's sure to be something out there that fits your floor and your fancy.

Alexandra Wolf is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn.

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