As the lines between residential and commercial architecture continue to blur, we’re seeing a range of new flooring options emerging from their industrial roots to grace our homes. These products, which include rubber, epoxy resin, terrazzo and concrete, have proved their mettle in the workshop. Reimagined for residential applications, they offer equal measures of durability and show-stopping good looks. Tempted? Here’s what you need to know.
Concrete is the ultimate in no-fuss flooring. Durable and low-maintenance, it’s a snap to clean and is versatile enough to underpin just about any interior styling, from bare-bones industrial through to cosy and eclectic.
How do I get it? In many cases, getting a concrete floor is as simple as dressing up the slab your home is built on. For new homes, the concrete must be sufficiently cured before the polishing process begins (give it about a month). In older homes, the slab may first require cleaning, patching, and sometimes a heavy grinding to level out lumps and bumps. A specialist will then transform the ‘raw’ concrete by grinding it with a series of diamond-grit sanders until the required level of smoothness and gloss is achieved.
Sydney architect Elaine Richardson decided to have the structural slab do double-duty in this inner-city terrace. “I liked the idea of exposing the structure for what it was,” she says. Because it was to be exposed as a floor, the slab was constructed with additional reinforcement and extra joints to help prevent cracking.
If your existing concrete substrate isn’t suitable for polishing, a new layer of concrete can be poured over the top. If you want to add more interest, the concrete can be ‘seeded’ with aggregate (i.e. have coloured stones, glass or quartz mixed into it). For the floor in this coastal home in Victoria, designer Jasmine McClelland selected a concrete from VicMix called ‘Alpine Ash’, a grey base seeded with crushed Creswick quartz. The addition of colour and visual texture helps to soften the look of the concrete.
Why it’s a great choice: One of the best aspects of a concrete floor is its ability to regulate internal air temperature. When it’s used in rooms that receive the winter sun, the concrete absorbs the sun’s warmth during the day, then slowly releases it during the night. Matt Williams Architects put this strategy to use in this Tasmania beach house, which is designed to capture the winter sun while eaves provide shade in summer.
In parts of the house that don’t receive the sun, an in-slab heating system, which is installed before the concrete is poured, may be needed to stop a concrete floor feeling uncomfortably chilly in cold weather.
Good to know: Polished concrete is a great choice for the bathroom. In this room, the exposed aggregate adds visual interest but also (crucially) conceals dirt. Plus, there are no grout lines to worry about.
However when using concrete flooring in wet areas (bathrooms, laundries and kitchens), it’s important to be mindful of slip resistance requirements. In these rooms opt for a matt, honed finish, and seal with a product designed to increase slip resistance.
Like concrete, terrazzo is a highly durable flooring finish that’s both beautiful and easy to live with. This design classic was first invented by Venetian mosaic workers in the 15th century, and is traditionally composed of marble chips embedded in a cement base, which is then ground flat and polished to a glass-smooth gloss.
Modern incarnations use either cement or epoxy binding agents, can be tinted, and include a variety of aggregates such as coloured glass, granite and quartz.
How do I get it? Terrazzo is a poured-on-site product, and must be installed by trained professionals. The base (epoxy or cement) is tinted, then mixed with the desired aggregates and poured over the prepared substrate. After curing, it is polished with progressively finer abrasives until a gleaming, glass-like surface is achieved.
Why it’s a great choice: There’s a reason why terrazzo is used so widely in commercial applications – it’s incredibly robust. It’s able to withstand huge amounts of foot traffic with minimal maintenance, without showing signs of wear. In-situ (poured) terrazzo also has no grout lines, which is contributing to its renewed popularity.
A terrazzo floor is as individual as you are. The base can be tinted any colour, and you can select aggregates (the coloured glass, marble and quartz chips) to suit the look you’re after. This fabulous kitchen/living area by Kylie Radburn Design is the epitome of pale and interesting: the bleached-out terrazzo base subtly accented with neutral-coloured aggregates perfectly suits the room’s understated elegance.
A warmer-hued terrazzo creates a more homely feel. In this Melbourne apartment, the floor underpins the mid-century styling.
Correct installation of traditional (cement-based) terrazzo is highly specialised and time-consuming – so if you want this look, be prepared to bring in an expert to get it done properly. Alternatively, you can achieve the same kind of results using cement-based terrazzo tiles, which can be laid without fuss by any qualified tiler.
In the bathroom of this inner-Sydney terrace, 600 by 600-millimetre Fibonacci terrazzo tiles in ‘dove grey’ achieve a beautifully contemporary look while preserving the integrity of the home’s Victorian character.
Good to know: While cementitious terrazzo is a more durable option than marble, it still contains a high proportion of natural stone. For this reason it’s best to avoid using acid-based cleaning agents or harsh abrasives, as these can compromise the finish of the terrazzo. Cost-wise you may find terrazzo to be more expensive than other flooring systems, but the investment is repaid in terms of durability.
Decorative epoxy resin
Another growing trend that’s taking its cues from commercial architecture is epoxy resin flooring. Smooth, translucent, glossy and absolutely unlike any other flooring finish out there, a resin floor is guaranteed to turn heads.
How do I get it? There are several suppliers around Australia that specialise in residential epoxy flooring installation. Epoxy flooring is made from resins mixed with hardeners, and is poured over the flooring substrate (eg. concrete slab, chipboard sub-floor) and then slowly cured in situ until it reaches maximum strength.
One of the great advantages of epoxy flooring is that it can be poured right on top of an existing tiled floor. The surface is prepped with self-levellers which fill the grout lines, ensuring a perfectly smooth finish.
Why it’s a great choice: Aesthetically, an epoxy floor is limited only by your imagination. It can be tinted any colour: opaque, opalescent or translucent; metallic, marbled, glossy, satin or matt. Epoxy coatings are highly impact-resistant, so it’s less likely to chip or dent if something’s dropped on it. It’s non-porous and resistant to heat, water and damage from chemicals, abrasions and stains (it’s routinely used on garage floors because grease spills just wipe up).
Cairns-based builders Kenick Constructions created a bit of a wow factor for a display home with epoxy resin from Sexy Floors in ‘Aluminium’. The translucent, glass-like finish and light-reflective properties enliven the whole room.
“We used Sexy Floors as it was a more cost-effective alternative than polished concrete,” says Kenick’s marketing manager Rachel Whymark. “It provides a stunning, seamless, high-gloss finish floor which is easy to clean and looks simply amazing. Plus, as a builder specialising in sustainable building practices, we are always on the lookout for products that align with our values. Sexy Floors won the HIA’s Product of the Year a few years ago and is a VOC-free coating.”
Good to know: Correct installation is critical to the success of your epoxy resin floor. The surface must be cleaned, completely dry and dust free prior to installation. If the area is damp, it won’t adhere properly to the sub-floor. It also needs to be protected from sunlight during the curing process, or small bubbles can form. Talk to your installer about slip-resistance – depending on where you’re installing the floor, slip-resistance additives may be required.
Another crossover from the commercial world, rubber is rapidly gaining popularity as a domestic floor covering. Manufacturing technologies are constantly evolving and rubber flooring is now available in myriad colours, texture finishes and profiles. It’s hard-wearing, easy to clean, and suitable for use in every room of the house.
How do I get it? First of all, you need to decide what type of rubber flooring you want. If eco-credentials are important to you, choose a product that’s manufactured from natural latex or recycled tyres. Synthetic rubber flooring, which is derived from crude oil, will be cheaper.
Rubber is generally supplied as tiles or as large sheets. To achieve a smooth, even finish the tiles should be installed by an experienced professional. Australian supplier iRubber suggests readers contact its local carpeting store for recommendations. After installation, the rubber surface should be sealed for added stain- and water-resistance and easier cleaning.
Why it’s a great choice: Durable, practical and with good non-slip properties, rubber works well in high-traffic areas. Its biggest selling point is comfort: it’s soft and forgiving underfoot, which is ideal when standing for long periods. This kitchen features Flex rubber floor tiles, selected by Gardiner Architects to enhance both comfort and safety for their clients, who entertain often.
Rubber also has good thermal insulation properties, so it will never feel too cold to walk on. And it’s whisper-quiet, making it an attractive choice for apartment living.
While rubber has a naturally matt appearance, it can be glossed-up with sealers, or polished to a high shine.
In this ultra-modern inner-city warehouse conversion, polished white rubber flooring from Dalsouple has been used throughout to underpin the stark, monochromatic palette.
Good to know: Rubber tiles are not a seamless product – after installation, small joints will be visible. These can be minimised by ensuring you use a qualified installer, choosing the largest size tiles available, and selecting a darker colour (such as the brown Dalsouple tiles pictured in this kitchen by Jeff Karskens Designer).
And if you’re installing it in the kitchen, be sure to clean grease and oil spills promptly (with a very mild soap solution), as they can damage the surface of the rubber.
Have you used any of these flooring finishes in your home? Tell us what you love about them.