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When it comes to remodeling, there are many directions a homeowner can take, but new flooring is one of the most popular and cost-effective ways to give your house a fresh, updated look.
In the National Association of Realtors (NAR) 2019 Remodeling Impact Report, 78% of consumers who installed “new wood flooring” reported a greater desire to be in their home after completing the project. And as for return-on-investment, “new wood flooring” had the highest percentage cost recovered (106%) among the interior projects evaluated.
Not only does the technology and quality of flooring materials improve over time, but the trending styles shift at a similar pace. We’ve compiled extensive data and consulted two experts with decades of experience in real estate, interior design, and flooring to provide you with a comprehensive, data-driven guide to the hottest flooring trends in 2021.
Cohesive design: An overview of flooring trends in 2021
At one time, residential contractors implemented a variety of flooring textures and materials throughout their builds — linoleum in the kitchen, tile in the bathrooms, carpet in the living room, and so on. But in 2021, mixed flooring is far from fashionable.
“All of those transitions chop up a house,” says top real estate agent Sandee Payne, who has over 20 years of experience in real estate and interior design. “With the trend of homes becoming very open . . . it’s not so easy to break up all that flooring without looking chaotic.”
Today’s homeowners want “clean and natural” in all aspects of their flooring, says Payne, “from the materials to the colors to the patterns.” People prefer the look and feel of simplicity, and a single flooring installed throughout the entire home helps achieve this aesthetic.
Opt for hard surface flooring in the living areas
Although consumers have hundreds of options when it comes to flooring, single-family home construction in recent decades indicates that most homeowners prefer hard flooring throughout the home.
According to 2019 industry statistics from Floor Covering News, while carpet remains the largest flooring segment, its popularity has steadily declined over the past decade, from 66.6% of the flooring market share down to 52.9%. Rich Clausen, co-owner of Thomas Kay Flooring and Interiors in Salem, OR, has witnessed this shift in taste first-hand:
“Until relatively recently, it seemed like people were doing a classic hard entry with a walkway to the kitchen, and then they do carpet in the living room and the den. But we are definitely seeing people do more hard surfaces,” he comments, reflecting on the trend shifts during his company’s 50 years of business. “People [generally] prefer a simple look . . . and that is being achieved often through the use of hard surfaces throughout the house.”
Carpets remain popular in bedrooms
With carpet growing less and less popular each year, carpet flooring dramatically dates a home, especially in high-traffic areas like the living room and entryway. In fact, for homeowners looking to sell, 62% of agents say shag carpeting is one feature most likely to deter buyers, according to HomeLight’s Q4 2020 Top Agent Insights Report.
Payne recommends limiting carpeting to the bedrooms and opting for a longer, looser pile, such as frieze carpeting with some color variation to mask wear. “A lot of times if a carpet is all a solid color and a shorter pile, you start to see that traffic pattern wear much quicker,” Payne comments.
Here are the most popular flooring trends in 2021
If you’re upgrading your flooring in 2021, consider these contemporary materials and finishes to elevate your interior.
1. Lived-in wood flooring
It’s been nearly a decade since HGTV discovered the Fixer Upper duo Chip and Joanna Gaines, but the home design styles they popularized like “vintage” and “farmhouse” are still going strong. One way homeowners achieve a rustic aesthetic in their homes is through subtle details like texture, which can add some visual interest without veering from a neutral color palette.
Embossed-in-register (EIR) finish
Like frayed holes in distressed denim, signs of wear such as scuffs, dents, and scratches are a popular feature in solid hardwood floors. However, not every homeowner is willing or able to fork out the cash for real wood. And with so many manufacturers developing realistic faux wood alternatives, the expense may be even harder to justify.
One way to replicate the look and feel of a true wood is through an embossed-in-register (EIR) finish on laminate or vinyl flooring. An EIR finish mimics the features of a natural wood plank, so you can see and feel the grain, indentations, and more.
“When you do the embossed-in-register finish, if there’s a knot in the print film, you feel a knot in the urethane,” Clausen explains. “In my opinion, [it’s] a nice option because it sells the floor as more believable.”
Laminate typically costs between $2 and $8 per square foot to install, and while you may pay an additional $1.90 to $3.99 per square foot for an EIR finish, it’s an attractive alternative to hardwood, which can cost as much as $12 per square foot. EIR finishes are also available for vinyl flooring products, which, like laminate, work well in all areas of the home.
2. Durability and longevity matters
Hardwood continues to maintain its status as a top flooring choice for modern-day buyers. In fact, real estate agents agree that homes with hardwood floors can sell for up to 10% more than an identical home without wood floors. However, with families spending more time at home, 2021 marks a turning point, with more homeowners prioritizing durability over authenticity.
“We all know hardwood, it wears. People don’t want to sand their floors, and [then there’s] water and traffic and cleaning chemicals . . .there’s a lot of maintenance,” Payne explains.
Luxury vinyl planks (LVPs)
For homeowners who want the look of real wood without the maintenance, luxury vinyl plank (LVP) flooring is an excellent solution.
In addition to a wide selection of colors and styles, LVP is also extremely durable and 100% water-resistant, making this material an excellent choice for buyers who want the same wood look throughout the entire home. As an added bonus, when compared to solid hardwood, LVP is a fraction of the price, at $4 to $6 per square foot for both materials and labor.
“[It’s] super sustainable. They come in all kinds of variations of thickness and realistic looks,” Payne comments.
“It just helps people not have to spend too much time on cleaning and maintaining their floors, and then they can focus on other things.”
Faux wood tile
Tile takes durability to a new level. Not only is this material waterproof, but its longevity is next to none, lasting as much as three or four times as long as hardwood.
As if this weren’t enticing enough, today, homeowners can achieve the look of real wood with faux wood tiles, including authentic features such as grain texture and knots, without the cons of splintering, sanding, and more.
Faux wood tiles are an excellent choice throughout the home, especially in high traffic areas like entryways and areas prone to spills and moisture, such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms. The average cost to install faux wood tiles is $7 to $15 per square foot.
Laminate has remained popular, in part due to cost. According to Floor Covering News, a national research-based publication, laminate is the only flooring category with declining prices. However, this flooring has a lot more than affordable prices going for it.
“We’re actually seeing a little more competition from laminate floors with waterproof warranties,” says Clausen. Waterproof laminates come with a water-resistant wear layer on top, which prevents spills from seeping down through the planks and damaging your subfloor. This same layer is also incredibly scratch-resistant, more so than vinyl lookalikes, so it’s a pet- and kid-friendly option for the whole home.
“There’s more work on the install, so that adds a little bit of cost… [but] I think that we’ll probably see more movement in the waterproof laminates,” Clausen adds. Expect to pay $3.58 to $4.86 per square foot, on average, for waterproof laminate.
3. Light, natural tones are in vogue
Gone are the days of rich mahogany and red chestnut floors; today’s homeowner prefers light and bright, paving the way for more natural and neutral wood tones.
Blonde wood flooring
While dark finishes like ebony and espresso have their place among 2021 trends, lighter colors have a way of making rooms feel larger, which complements the open floor layouts that are popular today. This effect has increased demand for more natural tones, including blonde wood finishes.
“We’re seeing more of a trend toward natural wood — kind of mid-grain wood tones to lighter wood tones,” says Clausen. Although states away, Payne has witnessed a similar trend. “I’m not seeing a lot of that cherry wood or super dark wood right now,” Payne notes. “In wood, it’s the blondes.”
Thanks to a lighter finish, blonde tones have a more natural, realistic appearance, adding to their appeal among 2021 homeowners. Additionally, blondes provide a classic feel that suits a variety of home styles, from contemporary to rustic.
For a durable alternative to solid hardwood, try a water-resistant engineered hardwood, like this Ceruse Blonde Oak by AquaGuard.
4. Prints and patterns create visual interest
While 2021’s dominant design trends will perpetuate a cohesive look with a single flooring material throughout the home, homeowners still express their creative side with accent flooring in small rooms.
Artisan tile work
Decorative tiling adds charm and interest to powder rooms and laundry rooms. “While we see people doing that more uniform look throughout the home, I think they’re accenting that with some jewelry pieces,” Clausen comments.
According to HomeLight’s Q4 2020 Top Agent Insights Report, artisan tile work ranks in the top five bathroom upgrades expected to resonate most with 2021 buyers, especially in the Pacific (29%), Mountain (26%), and South Atlantic (22%) regions. From large black and white prints to old-school, encaustic styles and even petite penny round tiles, this is one area of the home where individuals can feel free to go bold without breaking the bank.
While the cost to install porcelain or ceramic tile flooring varies, homeowners spend $10 to $15 per square foot on average.
As with elaborately tiled bathrooms, patterned woods provide individuals with another opportunity to create the look of luxury in their home. “[Homeowners are] taking a simple product with a neutral color palette, but creating a visual interest by laying it or installing it in different patterns, such as chevron or herringbone,” says Payne.
At one time, you could only achieve a patterned design with solid hardwood. But today, faux wood competitors are changing the game. As manufacturers develop patterned LVP, homeowners can now recreate the upscale look themselves with options like these two from Home Depot in chevron and herringbone. These products have made elegant parquet looks more widely available and, as a result, more popular.
Final thoughts: Consider your budget and home before diving into your floor remodel
As you prepare for your flooring renovation, it’s easy to get caught up in the many materials, finishes, colors, patterns, and more, and then forget your budget along the way. With this said, Payne encourages homeowners to anticipate expenses before pulling out the credit card — especially if they’re planning to sell.
“[First,] we want to look at the seller’s budget,” says Payne. “I would definitely recommend removing carpet, especially in the main areas of the home. On a lesser budget, I would say go with a laminate. If you do have the budget, add the luxury plank vinyl, or go with a wood plank tile look.”
Homeowners should also adjust plans based on their home’s age and price, as renovations won’t produce the same return on investment for every property. However, if your living room is decked in carpet or the kitchen floor is warped and scratched, new flooring is one improvement that can dramatically change the look and value of your home.
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