Wilsonart Laminate

Luxurious laminate

An upscale look in flooring without
the upscale cost

Story by Tosha Kelly

No one wants to be accused of being less than authentic. But in the world of flooring, faux doesn't have to equal a foul.

Take laminate – just because it's low cost doesn't mean it has to look the part. No longer cursed with that imitation look, today's laminates are more beautiful and sophisticated than ever. Thanks to new technological innovations, it's difficult to distinguish laminate floors from the costlier materials they mimic – from rustic and exotic hardwoods to ceramic tile, stone and marble.

High-design laminate flooring with special attention to physical texture is in high demand. 

"What's coming out in laminate right now is more of a weathered look," says Craig Priest, Classic Floors store manager. For a more realistic look, the tiles come in smaller, individual planks with a wood grain appearance, and more embossing with grout lines so you can feel where it changes, he says.

But aesthetics are just part of the equation.

Young, active families with kids, pets and a steady stream of friends and neighbors benefit from laminate's durability. "They're easy to maintain and they hold up better to dents and scratches," says Sarah Bratten of MacCheyne's Carpets Plus. Laminate also resists stains, won't fade, cuts down on household allergens, bacteria and static, and also tolerates moisture.

But not all laminate is created equal. Priest says that you get what you pay for because the less expensive the laminate panels are, the more the edging tends to flake away before they're even installed. "And if it gets any kind of moisture in it, it's going to fall apart," he says. "Because of this, people are spending more money on laminate. The higher-end ranges from $4-$6 a square foot. And it will hold up." He recommends Wilsonart, which offers many laminate options in seven different textures and finishes.

Mannington Berry Floor Mohawk
From left to right: Mannington's Spalted Maple Laminate; Chess tiles in laminate from Berry Floor; and Earthy stonework is inspiration behind this Mohawk laminate.
Wenge Wood from Berry Floor

There are two types of laminate flooring: high pressure laminate (HPL), which is manufactured at 1400 PSI of pressure; and direct pressure laminate (DPL), which is manufactured at 300-500 PSI. Even though both laminate types are made of the same basic layers of material, the pressure used in the manufacturing process helps determine both hardness and performance. HPL advantages include wear resistance, no dimpling or denting, higher sheen levels, less damage in handling and installation and no chipped corners.

Laminate flooring involves an easy click-type installation and can be placed on top of any existing floor, says Prins Samuel, sales professional at Florcraft Carpet One. "Homeowners can choose to do it themselves, but most warranties require that the floors be professionally installed." Be sure to purchase a good padding to underlay the flooring, because laminate can be very loud without it. Some types have a layer of padding already attached, but if not, Samuel recommends 'the Muffler' to cut down on noise.

A major benefit for Alaskans is the ability of click-together laminate to "float" — meaning there is no glue, nails, tape or staples used in the installation. This allows the floor to expand and contract with Alaska's climate — ideal too, for those homeowners faced with a less-than-perfect subfloor.

"It's the best installation method because of the extreme weather," says Bratten. For an added bonus, float it over in-floor radiant heating for a cozy retreat during the winter.

So whether you're looking for wood or wheatgrass, metal or marble, chances are there's a laminate out there that's perfect for the job. It's fashionable, functional and, best of all, affordable.