Experts Share Their Top Tips for Finding the Best Flooring for Kitchens
Five interiors prove durability is just as important as design.
Updated Oct 12, 2018 3:17 AM
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When brainstorming a list of must-haves for your dream kitchen, do you immediately write out Farrow & Ball–painted cabinets; a supersize island; the waterfall marble backsplash of Amber Lewis’s Malibu farmhouse; or the 4-foot-long soapstone sink in Jessie Sheehan’s New England home designed by Hendricks Churchill? We wouldn’t blame you. Those are some of our favorite features, too. But one of the biggest design decisions (and investments) you’ll make isn’t even eye level. A subtle statement maker or the perfect blank canvas, flooring for kitchens shouldn’t be an afterthought—it’s an opportunity to ground your aesthetic, but it also needs to stand up to daily wear and tear.
Kitchens today are arguably our most-used spaces. Not only are they the hub for meal prep and dining, they’ve become the control center for everything from Zoom calls to homework to happy hour. You need a floor covering that can take you through it all—something that’s not only comfortable underfoot but hard-wearing enough to withstand barstool scooting, dropped mixing bowls, and spills of all kinds. Fear not: There are plenty of beautiful, durable options on the market today no matter the look you want. Here are just a few inspiring interiors and products recommended by suppliers, designers, and DIYers.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind
Types of flooring: There are many flooring categories to consider, but for the kitchen we recommend choosing from hardwood, tile, vinyl, or stone based on your lifestyle.
- Hardwood has been the coveted floor covering for centuries, used in all types of residences, even the most grand (hello, Palace of Versailles). While solid hardwood is still a go-to choice for designers, engineered hardwood is an equally good bet. A tasteful alternative, the construction is often a wood veneer top-glued over strips of plywood, complete with a supporting bottom. This material has a tendency to swell with changes in humidity, but the engineered core allows for more breathing room (preventing warping and cupping), making it ideal for places where messes can be an everyday occurrence. Of course, water and wood are by no means best friends, but planks today are a lot more durable than they’ve ever been, notes Raili Clasen of Raili CA Design, who opts for prefinished, sealed hardwood.
- Porcelain tile is manufactured to be denser and less porous than ceramic tile, which makes it less prone to cracking and the category’s top choice for kitchens. “While we adore a natural material that achieves a patina over time, we typically don’t recommend terracotta or concrete tiles for kitchen areas (although they are super-beautiful!),” offers Decorist celebrity designer Lauren Martin-Moro. “It requires multiple layers of a sealant against staining, and over time the wear and tear of dirt plus oil can show, plus the sealer requires more maintenance.” Bonus: Porcelain can mimic the appearance of all sorts of natural materials, from marble to wood.
- Stone is also a solid floor covering for the kitchen. Limestone, bluestone, and slate are some of Massachusetts-based designer Liz Caan’s favorites, especially for a kitchen that seamlessly transitions to an outdoor patio. Its ability to be installed in both interior and exterior spaces is proof alone of its performance and why Caan loves to choose it for clients with kids and pets. “Stone can hide a multitude of sins,” she shares. Inherently heat- and scratch-resistant, the material gives kitchens either a rustic or refined look depending on the type (this includes marble and travertine) you choose.
- For the look of all the above with a worry-proof level of dependability (plus a more affordable price tag), there’s vinyl. Not to be confused with laminate or linoleum, vinyl is a synthetic material that can be sold as sheets, tiles, and planks. “This is our number-one go-to because it does not easily fade in the sun, is quite impervious to moisture, and works well in high-traffic and kid (or pet) zones,” explains Martin-Moro. Vinyl may not have the same feel underfoot as its competing categories (it is the faux version, after all), but technology today has certainly come a long way, enough to where some choices on the market are easily mistaken for the real thing.
Maintenance: No matter the promised strength of your chosen floor, a proper cleaning regimen is key to its longevity. The biggest culprit to a floor’s degradation, offers Mark Casper, vice president of sales at Hallmark Floors, is grit. “When you stand in front of a sink for hours a day cleaning or cooking, that becomes an industrial zone,” he notes. Whether it’s dirt, crumbs, or sand, fine particles can wear at a floor. As one of the most high-trafficked areas in the home that is also prone to messes, the kitchen should be vacuumed and mopped regularly. For tougher grease and grime, tap a manufacturer- or industry-approved cleaner, like Bona, which offers both hard-surface (think: tile, vinyl, and stone) and wood-specific formulas.
Best for Natural Warmth: Hardwood
People want hardwood for a high-end look, but it also has a cozy, comforting feeling that can’t be mimicked. “We usually use wood floors in kitchens, as they are soft on your feet and generally more attractive in open floor plans,” offers Caan. “The pros of wood are that it has some give to it and it’s a warm material.” Nearly every designer we speak to loves hardwood—including homes designed by Studio McGee and Emily Henderson—and Clasen currently likes pairing reclaimed planks or warmer, browner oaks with painted slab cabinets for a modern-meets-vintage vibe. The biggest advice Hallmark Floors’s Casper can offer when selecting hardwood is to keep use in mind and select a dense species, such as hickory, maple, or oak, in an engineered construction.
Best for Classic Spaces: Tile
Tile is a natural fit for kitchens that allows you to play with patterns, like mosaic or fun chevron and hexagon patterns, even mixing contrasting or colorful grout lines. For this space, Karen Berkemeyer Home designer Mary-Beth Oliver tapped porcelain tile in a large-scale matter format to create a modern, textured look. She replaced the space’s previous terracotta floor, a remnant of the ’90s, to bring it into the precent and freshen up the traditional kitchen. Porcelain is a preferred product because it’s durable and low-maintenance, requiring less upkeep compared to its stone lookalike.
Best for Organic Durability: Stone
Designer Dee Murphy loves stone so much that she put it in her own kitchen. With a family of four and two dogs, she needed flooring that could double as camouflage, so she chose a dark gray slate from Clé with matching grout. So far it has done a fantastic job, and a quick sweep is all that’s needed to keep it looking clean. “I love everything about this stone,” says Murphy. “The mondrian pattern adds a subtle but interesting visual. I have absolutely sourced stone for clients since, because you can’t beat the combination of style, durability, and timelessness.” Caan particularly loves the variation found in Belgian Bluestone, and for Nancy Epstein, founder of Artistic Tile, “natural stone, in both mosaic and larger field tile, is always a winning choice.”
Best for Tight Budgets: Vinyl
When we say vinyl, we don’t mean the thin, rubbery-like pieces in your grandparents’ kitchen, but luxury vinyl tile—a layered plank that can look just like tile, stone, and even hardwood. Not only is the material affordable, it’s DIY-friendly, sometimes nixing the need for an installer. But the best part, according to DIYer Regan Mauck of Blooming Nest, is its worry-free resilience. “When designing our home, it was really important to me to have floors that were durable—two little kiddos can be tough on them,” she notes. “Spills, paint splatters, and kids driving little cars don’t stand a chance against them. Plus they look gorgeous in our newly renovated kitchen.” Mauck went with Shaw Floors’s Riverside Oak for a neutral, realistic look.
Q: How do I measure a kitchen for flooring-to-order?
Martin-Moro generally takes the overall room dimensions, adding any smaller areas like closets or a bay window, to measure how much flooring is needed for an install. “We take these approximate dimensions (length by width) and add them to the overall room calculation,” she explains. “Keeping the original footprint is an easy go-to for tricky spaces. It allows for a few extra materials, which helps if there is damaged product, waste, or coloring differences.”
With hardwood, for example, it isn’t uncommon to order material overage (as a natural product, variation in color and character between planks is likely). In fact, Martin-Moro recommends 10 percent. “It’s good practice for homeowners to keep at least one box of flooring in case a small area needs to be replaced over time,” she shares, pointing out things like water damage and breakage. “We’ve had boxes of tile arrive with the exterior in great condition, but found half of the interior contents chipped or broken in half. This will also prevent shortage issues with your installer, causing construction to stop while awaiting a new order (which is most likely now out of stock with the current supply chain climate).”
Insider Tips on How to Choose Kitchen Floors
- “A little camouflage goes a long way to create a livable scenario in your kitchen,” shares Epstein. And Casper agrees: With wood, if you’re worried about eye-glaring crumbs or potential nicks, consider a darker stained floor with character. “Distressed products can also help hide any kind of wear and tear,” he adds.
- If you’re someone who loves playful designs, try paint. A certified lover of color, Caan has painted her own kitchen floor a few times, including a bright yellow and a blue hexagon pattern. “It’s sometimes nice to do a pattern on the kitchen floor in the same material as the rest of the house to give it some dimension and visual interest, or to delineate the space from neighboring areas,” she says.
- For a rental situation where replacing your entire floor is a no-go, there’s always peel-and-stick vinyl. This versatile product has worked wonders for all sorts of DIYers, including Brady Tolbert, who went from a dated linoleum nightmare to a modern checkerboard in an afternoon’s time (and for just $50).
How We Vetted These Products
Every product in a Domino guide meets these criteria:
- They blend form and function. We believe the best-designed products reflect your personal style and are a joy to use.
- They’re expert approved. In addition to our team of editors, we tap a range of designers, makers, renovators, and all-around knowledgeable people to share their intel.
- They’re endorsed by people who actually own them. We pay close attention to real reviews to know that they pass the test IRL.