From the June/July 2009 Issue:

Choosing Stone & Tile Flooring

  • Writer: Janet Purcell

You’ve never had more choices for stone and tile flooring. This guide discusses advantages and disadvantages of some leading options.

Article Photo
enlarge | The “Tibet” line of porcelain tile, in this photo from Avalon Carpet Tile and Flooring, is imported from Italy in various sized blocks and mosaic patterns. Its durability makes it good for high-traffic areas.
From pyramids, cathedrals, and palaces of old right up to today’s most elegant edifices, natural stone has been chosen for beautiful and practical surfaces. But times are changing. New technologies are producing porcelain tiles that look like natural stone, wear as well as stone, and are virtually maintenance free. Which is right for you?

“You can drop anything — even battery acid — on porcelain and you’re OK, while stone floors need special sealers so they don’t absorb liquids or colors,” says Megan Carlisi of Mediterranean Tile & Marble in Fairfield. And the latest design options in porcelain seem endless, with tiles that look like wood, leather, fabric, crocodile skin, terra cotta, hammered copper, gold, and steel. Some porcelains have metallic appeal, while others even resemble marble with goldleaf detailing — fabrications that dazzle the imagination.

But the design options come with a caution: High-end porcelains can cost more than the natural stone they imitate. One reason is availability. Natural stone is more accessible than 25 years ago, when it was mined in Brazil or another distant country, shipped to Italy for fabrication, then brought to the U.S., says Scott Tolnai of Avalon Carpet Tile and Flooring in Cherry Hill. Today, stone is often fabricated where it’s mined and shipped directly to the U.S., lowering the cost considerably. “People have the perception that marble is much more expensive than tile, but that’s not always true anymore,” Tolnai says. “Some travertines and polished marbles are cheaper than ceramic tile.”

Avra Karak of Monmouth St. Tile in Red Bank, agrees the cost of high-end porcelain is close to stone but says you can still find some for $5-$6 and stone for $10-$12.

The tile experts say the final decision comes down to personal preference and whether you want a product that was manufactured or one with the allure of a stone that grew in the ground for thousands of years.

Regardless of price, remember design potential. “You can take porcelain and dress it up with stone or glass, or create bands and inserts,” says Anna Marie Fanelli of Floor & Décor in Tenafly. “It’s all about taking a piece of material and creating design like a fashion designer. You can make a fashion statement even though it’s cost-effective.”

Article Photo
enlarge | Slate mosaic tiles with glass tile accents from Stone & Tile Emporium create an interesting powder room floor in a Lavallette beach house.
Keeping Up with Maintenance

While product selection and cost are of prime importance when choosing between tile and stone, also consider maintenance. Across the board, designers and suppliers give porcelain tile top rating, calling it durable and maintenance free. (Porcelain is a sister to ceramic tile, but is made of clay that is more highly refined, making it denser, more rugged, and what some experts believe to be better suited to flooring).

Natural stone requires periodic professional polishing and regular cleaning with a neutral, non-chemical soap. Ann Romano of the Stone & Tile Emporium in Wyckoff recommends using Lemon Pledge on granite once a week because it acts as a sealer. However, she cautions it can make the floor slippery.

Just because stone is a hard, natural material doesn’t mean it’s immune to cleaning risks. Like porcelain, you should avoid cleaning most natural stone with any solution that contains vinegar or other acid unless it’s formulated precisely for your type of flooring. Instead, wipe up spills immediately and clean with a pH balanced cleanser or a mild liquid dishwashing detergent and warm water. Rinse several times so the cleaning solution doesn’t damage the grout.

Article Photo
enlarge | A pebble stone floor combines with walls of porcelain tile and cork and a stone mosaic chair rail in a massage room designed by Anna Marie Fanelli of Floor & Décor.
Installation and Design

The experts offer these additional tips:

• “A weaker tile installed properly will outlast a stronger tile that was not installed right, Tolnai says. “And because tile is so permanent, don’t skimp on the cement. Spend extra on better setting materials. It will cost you less in the long run.”

• Karak suggests using only natural stone in a matte finish for kitchen floors because polished stone or tile can be too slippery. She also suggests natural stone for a foyer and master bath because they add value to the home.

• The trend is toward large-format stone with clean lines, Fanelli adds. “Bigger is better,” she says. “Twelve-by-twelve was the old way of thinking. Now it’s thirty-six-by-thirty-six with fewer joints and a more contemporary look.”

• Tastes are moving away from rustic and turning to technologically advanced products, away from tumbled marble to straight-cut honed finishes.

• Regardless of trends, flooring is a long-term investment, so choose based on your own tastes.

• “Determine your cost factor and your maintenance preferences. Determine who you are and your personal style,” Fanelli says. - DNJ

Janet Purcell
a regular contributor to Design NJ
writes from her home in Hopewell.