Planks, Tiles, and Blocks
Bathing Beauty: Formica's 24-in.-sq. Fired Earth tiles ($5 per square foot) carry a 15-year water-damage warranty.
A vast majority of the laminate flooring sold today is a plank product with a wood-grain pattern. But unlike traditional hardwood strip flooring, which typically is 3/4 inch thick x 2 1/4 inches wide, laminate planks
measure 5/16 to 1/2 inch thick x 7 to 8 inches wide x 47 to 50 inches long.
They also come in a dizzying array of wood species and colors, including natural maple, distressed heart pine, Brazilian cherry, weathered barn oak, bleached driftwood, and Australian cypress. However, wood-grain planks are only part of the story. Over the past few years, every major manufacturer — Armstrong, Bruce, Formica, Mannington, Pergo, Tarkett ,and Wilsonart, to name a few — has expanded its product line to include an exciting assortment of new patterns that feature realistic images of tumbled stone, polished marble, antique bronze, terra cotta, weathered slate, and many other materials. Most of these new patterns come in planks, but they're also widely available in large square tiles, rectangular blocks, and small diamond accents.
The major benefit of all these new sizes, colors, and patterns is that you can mix and match planks with tiles and wood grains with stone patterns to create a truly original floor.
When using planks and tiles in the same design, "You can create a stunningly beautiful floor by mixing and matching various patterns," says Kevin Boothe, marketing manager for Formica Flooring. "Just make sure that all the flooring comes from the same manufacturer." Boothe adds, "The pieces are precisely made in compatible sizes, which allows you to lay out a design without trimming or cutting." For example, when using Formica flooring, three planks are as wide as one tile, and two tiles are as long as one plank.
To avoid vertiginous designs, use bold colors sparingly, and don't mix more then three colors or patterns in a single room. As a general rule, use smaller patterns in small rooms and larger patterns in large, open spaces. Checkerboard patterns, which are made up of tiles or blocks, can be used to visually break up spaces that are long and narrow.
Another common design dilemma occurs when working with laminate tiles, which are made as large as 24 inches square. The tiles look great in a large space but are too big for use in a smaller space, such as an adjacent hallway, foyer, or powder room. Ron Gagnon, the director of product design for Wilsonart, offers a solution: "Look for a line of tiles that offers the same color in both large- and small-scale pattern designs." Gagnon continues, "Set large-scale tiles in big, open spaces, but when you get to a smaller space, switch to a small-scale tile that has images of four or more smaller 'ceramic tiles.' All the pieces in the flooring design will be the same size and color; only the size of the pattern is different."