Vinyl flooring – visual tricks

Most people would never consider resilient flooring the obvious solution to a room with an awkward floor plan. But remodeling with flooring is second nature to designers and remodelers, who know how it can be used to alter the perception of a room’s proportions. “Consumers shy away from using flooring to achieve special effects because they fear making a mistake,” explains Leonard Ludivico, vice president for product styling and design for Congoleum.

To overcome that fear, Thomas Cook, corporate creative director for Armstrong World Industries, suggests thinking of the floor as a big canvas and of the flooring as paint. New  trends in vinyl flooring: color and patterns can be used to direct traffic away from appliances and other work areas, to create an interesting focal point or to reshape an unwieldy room.

Cook isn’t talking about a single color or pattern of sheet vinyl, but a floor that incorporates two or more colors with inset shapes or borders. The only limit is your imagination and budget. If your creative juices need priming, magazines are among the best sources. There you can see the final effects, and it’s easy to copy or modify details shown in a photograph.

Another source of ideas for patterns and shapes may be the room itself. “Pick a detail, such as an interesting archway, a shape in a cornice or a hutch,” Cook says, “and repeat it in the flooring. just keep in mind that the flooring may last longer than the item you used as the basis for your design.”


To get an idea of whether your design will work, draw the floor plan on graph paper. Make several copies so that you can experiment with a variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Once you’re satisfied with the shapes, use colored pencils or pens to experiment with various color combinations. To see what these colors might do to the room itself, borrow samples from the dealer and lay them on your floor. This will help you decide whether you want a lot of color contrast or something a little safer.

As a final test of your design, cut shapes from colored paper (available at hobby shops) and tape them to the floor with masking tape. This will tell you whether a border should be thicker or thinner, or whether a pattern is too budy–before you buy the flooring.


Custom vinyl floors are relatively expensive. And trying to save a buck by doing it yourself may not pay-a slip of the knife when cutting in borders or patterns can ruin the project.

As a rule, the more colors in your plan, the mostly the floor. To ensure that your plan fits your budget, “Take your colored sketch to the store. The dealer will help you determine the cost and modify the design, if necessary,” says Cook.


Borders are great traffic cops and keepers of boundaries. Too many doorways, nooks and jogs in a room’s perimeter and it begins to look like the hallway of a medieval castle. You can bring some order to the chaos with a border that fills in deviations but keeps a straight line against the inner field of color.

If you’ve got a long and narrow space that looks like a landing strip, make it appear wider and shorter by using two different colors of vinyl in alternating horizontal stripes, creating a ladder effect along the length of the space. In a long hallway, these stripes could be 12 in. to 18 in. wide; in a shorter space, 6-in.-wide stripes will work better. For a more complex variation of this idea, use 2-in.-wide contrasting color strips on one or both sides of the wide color stripes.

To make, a short hall look longer, run narrow stripes of contrasting colors parallel to the long walls. It’s the same principle as dressing short people in vertical stripes so they will appear taller.

Square rooms tend to be very static and boring, and often look either too large or too small. If you’re adventurous, split the space into large triangles of color.

If your room is large, use two or more bold, strongly contrasting colors to make the room look smaller. If your room is small, use only two colors in low contrast (off-white and medium beige, or white and pale blue) to make the room seem bigger.

A second approach is to set several increasingly smaller squares of different colors into a big square. Experiment with colored pencils and paper to see whether you want the lightest color at the room’s perimeter or in the middle. A third variation is to set a simple square of patterned flooring inside a bigger solid-color square, or vice versa.

If you want to draw people to a bar or kitchen island, make this element the room’s focal point by emphasizing the flooring around it. There are several ways to achieve this: If you’re treating your room to a perimeter border, for example, repeat it around the island. For variety, reduce or widen the border.

A second option is to call attention to the island with feature squares of color in an otherwise plain floor.

You can also create an “area rug” for the island with an accent color. If your island is too close to adjacent cabinets to be completely surrounded by color, position only two-thirds of it on the area rug so the stools can also be on the accent color.

Breakfast tables and chairs often are adrift in an ocean of plain flooring. Anchor them with a simple square or rectangle of color. To jazz it up, add a 2-in.-wide border around the square or rectangle in a third color.

You can also place the color field on a diagonal so it reads as a diamond. Or combine several intersecting diamonds to define the field.

If you’ve got enough money in the budget and are up to the challenge, you can even replicate a simple pattern from a favorite quilt or drawing in your flooring design.

As indicated in the box at the bottom of this page, even a simple plan can double your costs. But if you can turn an awkward space into an inviting room, it can be worth it.

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