As one of the housebuilding sector's best-known flooring brands, Amtico has to keep abreast of the twists and turns of consumer tastes. Kate Bliss, general manager of UK residential business at the company, spots a few trends and offers some useful tips
Our home design consultants are reporting that consumers are looking to add a more traditional style of furnishing to their homes. Minimalism might look cool in the pages of a magazine but it can come over as cold and impractical for real living. A home has to provide interest, and this can be achieved in many ways. For instance, you could use textured surfaces such as granite worktops, adopt soft finishes, or install a replica period fireplace.

Choosing the correct flooring, often considered to be the fifth wall in the home, is vital to pulling together an interior. The demand for hard flooring remains strong, with wood, laminate, ceramics, natural slates and stones giving plenty of design flexibility.

Woods continue to be a popular choice, but care needs to be taken in selecting the most appropriate type of flooring. Natural woods are beautiful, but they need care and regular maintenance. They

are not normally recommended for rooms where there is high moisture or variable temperatures such as kitchens, conservatories or bathrooms. In these conditions, natural wood can swell, stain, warp and crack.

Laminated woods are usually a lower-cost alternative, but laminate flooring does not absorb sound very well and can create a noticeable echo around the room. We have worked with housebuilders to increase sound absorption by installing a wood-look floor over a special substrate.

Manufacturers are applying their technology and expertise in other ways to develop products that reflect the consumer's desire for tradition. New floor finishes with an age-old look, as with replica fireplaces, have been inspired by the genuine item. Amtico photographed the floors and pews of a 16th-century Lancastrian Abbey (shown right) to study the inherent character, nature and history of the wood to come up with the product shown. Rather than being high-fashion statements, these natural finishes are the kinds of look that homebuyers can live with – and have lived with – for many years.

The Building Regulations have made the floor specifier's job a tricky one of late, but manufacturers are eginning to come up with some enterprising solutions
Remember when you had a really bad haircut, knew all the words to Boney M's Rasputin and choosing between forest green and rose pink carpet was the most taxing decision you had to make in floor specification? Deciding what goes underfoot has got a bit more complex since the 1970s, thanks to the ongoing changes to the Building Regulations, particularly the recent demands for improved sound insulation.

The amended Part E of the Building Regulations that came into force in January posed a bit of a challenge for the industry. Housebuilders can meet the regulation's demands for greater sound insulation for separating floors in apartments by simply upping the thickness of their floor construction. However, that can mean adding a course or more of bricks to an apartment block overall – not exactly the kind of cost penalty or inconvenience that can be taken lightly when annual unit output runs into four figures. As a result, manufacturers have been launching new and upgraded products that give the necessary sound insulation to make high-density apartment living more peaceful, while adding the minimum extra thickness to the floor.

Stramit Industries has come up with a new system of composite floor panels. The ElecoFloor panels are available in 36 and 40 mm thickness, both of which outperform Part E requirements. They comprise an 18 mm layer of moisture-resistant, tongue-and-groove chipboard, a sound-absorbing membrane, a 9 mm layer of MDF and a bottom layer of acoustic felt. The manufacturer points out that this combination complies with Part E at about half the thickness of a typical built-up flooring system.

Joist maker Trus Joist has gone for the option of joining forces with board company Puhos Board to offer a package solution to Part E. Puhos Board and Trus Joist are offering a combination of the former's Weather Dek2 22 mm floor panels with Trus Joist beams to achieve a Part E-compliant acoustic performance of 41dB.

By contrast Finnforest, the company behind the Finnframe floor system, is preening itself after passing the Part E test with flying colours. The Finnjoist I-Joist at the heart of the Finnframe system achieves the required value for airborne sound insulation of 40 dB in single occupancy dwellings with a joist depth of 220 mm. "People said it wouldn't be possible to achieve that at a joist depth of less than 240 mm, but we have tested and found that, contrary to expectations, the 220 mm passes, and with no acoustic quilt," says Finnforest's building systems manager Mark Baillie.

In the light of the test results, the company says it is picking up some key business from housebuilders, and that could become a nice little earner for Finnforest as it is marketing not only a structural floor system, but real wood or laminate flooring to top the whole lot off with. Real wood flooring is available in Classic and Rustic styles, the former giving a more even wood tone than the latter. Laminate flooring has a natural wood-effect layer, laminated to 6.9 mm thick high-density fibreboard, and is slotted together rather than glued, making it easy to use on site. They're clever, those Finns.