Defining the term ‘high-end’ is often a matter of individual opinion, but this article will identify the top three schools of thought on this matter.

High-end residential applications can almost be viewed as a semi-commercial project. As much as the emphasis is often placed on cost-effective flooring installations, there are those who can afford and insist on the best of the best that the flooring industry has to offer. This translates into any one of a range of premium products, but what exactly is considered a high-end floorcovering is a matter of opinion.

There are different schools of thought about what is considered a high-end product. The most prominent are:
•    “An expensive/premium product is considered high-end”;
•    “A high-end product is measured according to durability and its ability to perform”;
•    “Natural floorcoverings are high-end products”.

It is usually up to the architect or interior designer/decorator when specifying a floorcovering as to what s/he deems a high-end product. This will be influenced by the needs of a client, but for the purposes of this article we will explore the three primary schools of thought, each with their own unique arguments and valid points.

The cheap vs expensive debate

Before commencing, it should be noted that the term ‘cheap’ is relative, and just because a product is considered “cheap” doesn’t necessarily imply that its quality and performance are inferior. On the other hand, the industry is warned to be on the lookout for products that are “cheap” because, if the price is too good to be true, the chances are that the product may be cost-efficient at the outset but over time maintenance costs will dramatically increase. In turn, the lifespan of the product will decrease at a rapid rate, either necessitating renovations or the removal of the entire floor in order for it to be replaced by another floor type. Neither of these options is ideal, and will increase the costs of the floor even more due to new installation and/or maintenance programmes. It may also indicate that the product is manufactured using non-environmental or cheap raw materials that would not be approved by the bodies that govern the manufacture of flooring.

This particular school believes that expensive products, or what they more often refer to as premium products, are worth every penny. They are of the opinion that the more expensive products offer greater functionality and variety in terms of product ranges, colours, sizes, textures, etc. and are more durable and versatile. These invariably also contribute to a much longer lifespan and phenomenal looks that are available in the latest trends. This debate is ongoing, with many strong opinions on the subject.

The points listed are valid and absolutely applicable at times. However, there is a vast array of products available that offer exceptional quality and performance without breaking the bank. An exceptional product that is beautiful doesn’t have to be expensive but, again, this is all relative and dependent on the interpretation of what is deemed cheap or expensive.

There are specifiers who strongly advocate the installation of premium products, especially when used in public facilities, as everyone deserves to be surrounded by quality and beauty. For example, a government hospital is often viewed as being sub-standard, but there are those who feel very strongly that the communities served by such a facility deserve the best, and the better the product, the greater the care that will be taken to maintain its looks.

Durability and Performance

The strength and performance of a floor influence the opinion of this school of thought on what is considered a high-end product. They turn to products that offer exceptional resilience and that can perform when exposed to numerous elements, be it climatic conditions, heavy wear and tear, areas exposed to water or moisture, or even the safety and acoustic needs of a given space.

Functionality and visual appeal go hand in hand; however, this school may lean more towards the functional aspects of each and every floor type. They believe that a floor’s quality and high-end attributes are directly related to the number of performance characteristics of said floor type. A floor type’s composition plays a key role here. There are floorcoverings that comprise constituents that can, for example, prevent the formation of mould or bacteria, or increase water and moisture resistance, or even contain trademarked products that make them easier to clean.

The technical specifications are crucial when turning to a specific product. Products are specified according to their composition, as certain rooms and spaces require very precise performance characteristics in order to service the needs of clients, but also the needs of a room to ensure the success of the floor. Durability and performance will always be key factors when specifying a floor, and while some trademarked constituents used within certain products may result in a more expensive product, it doesn’t automatically imply that a “cheaper” product is either lacking in quality constituents or that it cannot perform according to specification. Knowledge of flooring products is critical when making a decision, but there will always be those who seek the most functional products with a variety of trademarked constituents to ensure that they achieve a plush, high-end look.

Natural vs simulated products

The word ‘imitation’ often evokes the strong opinion that ‘nothing compares to the real thing’. Consequently, natural floorcoverings such as hardwood, sisal, cork, and stones including marble, granite, travertine, limestone, sandstone or even slate remain popular in high-end residential homes.

Undoubtedly natural wood and stone floors ensure quality floorcoverings that add a degree of luxury to any given space. However, these natural floors often require a greater amount of energy spent on cleaning (using very specific products) and maintenance to ensure that they maintain their original look for a much longer period of time. Products such as composite decking, porcelain and ceramic tiles that imitate the look and feel of real wood have infiltrated the industry at a significant rate, not to mention luxury vinyl tiles and planks that make it harder to distinguish between the real product. These imitation products are not only beautiful but practical (can be used in wet areas such as bathrooms – natural wood in bathrooms or even in kitchens was previously always avoided). They offer a long lifespan while being easy to clean and maintain.

There are those who would classify luxury vinyl tile (LVT) as being a high-end product, but many still prefer to go the natural route. There is something memorable about walking through a high-end residential home with marble floors indoors and a wood deck outside. However, advancements in technology may eventually change these strong opinions regarding natural floors, and high-end residential homeowners may start to rely on these imitation products to add the desired look of luxury while benefiting from their performance characteristics.

After exploring the above three dominant opinions on what defines a high-end residential home in terms of floorcoverings, it becomes obvious that it is a matter of opinion and up to the specifier to decide what this would entail and it is up to the flooring company to decide how they will position the products. There isn’t a right or wrong answer but, ideally, all of these factors need to be considered and implemented when selecting the floor type/s for a high-end residential home.

Any project could be transformed into a high-end space by turning to products built on a foundation of quality constituents that integrate functionality with visual appeal. However, certain perceptions need to be challenged.