Smart Stepping

We love the historic appeal of floors covered with wood, stone, or ceramic. But let's face it: These materials can be high in cost, low in comfort, and often require more care than we have time or energy for. That's why the smart money is often on vinyl. This durable flooring shrugs off street grit, pointy heels, and sloppy spills while providing a slip-resistant and often cushiony footing that doesn't cost an arm and a leg. No wonder you find vinyl in almost every American home—usually in kitchens, baths, and entryways.

This category of resilient flooring encompasses an array of products, including sheets, tiles, and planks made of flexible PVC; rigid tiles that combine vinyl and ground limestone; and soft, ruglike sheets that are woven from vinyl-coated fiberglass strands.

Popularized in the mid 20th century, vinyl flooring is still evolving. It's more durable—many companies offer lifetime warranties—and can be installed faster than earlier versions. Patterns and textures convincingly mimic their old-school competitors or boldly go in a more modern direction. And in response to health concerns, some flooring is now certified to meet strict standards for indoor air quality. When a flooring is this versatile and has so many looks, who needs a historic pedigree?

Pictured: It looks like limestone tile, but this floor is actually a textured vinyl sheet, a practical water-resistant pick for bathrooms.
Similar to shown: FiberFloor Fresh Start in Capetown, $1 per square foot uninstalled:

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