As the season of snow boots and slush arrives in much of the country, entryway floors will take a beating.
The spot where we enter our homes -- and welcome guests -- can be a tricky one to decorate. It's meant to be a showcase, expressing our style and setting the tone for a visitor's stay. But the floor must withstand dripping umbrellas, muddy shoes and more.
Los Angeles-based interior designer Betsy Burnham is often approached by clients who want help with entryways. Choosing a floor covering is a priority, she says.
Here Burnham and two other experts offer tips on durable, easy-to-clean flooring that doesn't skimp on style, from cork to porcelain tile to washable rugs.
Burnham and designer Brian Patrick Flynn, founder of decordemon.com, are fans of cork flooring in high-traffic areas.
Cork squares are durable, made from natural wood fibers and can handle moisture. They also absorb sound well and come in a variety of colors and patterns. "Don't just picture a bulletin board" when you think of cork, Burnham says.
Cork offers a look similar to hardwood, but is less expensive. And you can replace just one tile if a section gets damaged.
Another flexible option is FLOR carpet tiles, Flynn says. "You can add color, texture or pattern by laying them out in the desired pattern," he says, "then cutting the end tiles to size." FLOR tiles can be laid out to give the look of an area rug or wall-to-wall carpeting.
Flynn also recommends vinyl plank tiles. These inexpensive tiles are thin but durable, and easy to install. They can be mopped clean. And do-it-yourself installation is simple, Flynn says. "It simply requires a utility knife for installation. The planks attach to one another with an upward-facing sticky strip. Each time a plank reaches a wall, it's cut to size," he says.
Rugs can be a great way to delineate the space at an entryway, and many styles are washable. "I've done everything from rag rugs to Turkish carpets" in entryways, Burnham says.
Rather than investing in one expensive rug, she says, buy several that can be swapped out when one is being cleaned.
Meg Caswell, host of HGTV's "Meg's Great Rooms," suggests shopping for carpet remnants. Carpet stores often keep their remnants out of sight, she says, but if you ask they should direct you to them. If you find a remnant piece you want, have it cut to size. You can ask to have it banded with a canvas edge in a contrasting color, Caswell says, or in a patterned fabric you've chosen (check the remnants at fabric stores for affordable finds and bring the fabric with you to the carpet store).
By using a remnant, you've created a custom piece with little expense. If it's damaged by foot traffic over the course of a few winters, the loss will be minimal.
Stylish but inexpensive and washable rugs are widely available online, from Ikea.com to eBay.com or Etsy.com. If you find a style you like at a great price, these designers recommend buying two so you'll have a backup.
Another approach that Flynn and Burnham recommend: Buy a vintage rug that's already worn. Faded colors and frayed spots are part of the charm, so you won't mind if further wear-and-tear happens.
If you'd prefer the finished look of wall-to-wall carpeting at your entrance, Flynn suggests buying several smaller rugs and attaching them underneath with carpet tape.
The edges can be cut to fit your space, giving a permanent, wall-to-wall look. But pieces can be removed for cleaning.
Caswell often recommends porcelain tiles for high-traffic entryways. "The minute I say porcelain tile, people think it's going to shatter, that it's fragile," she says. "But really porcelain tiles are truly the most durable tiles out there."
They're nearly "impossible to chip," Caswell says. "But the best part is that if it does chip, the color is all the way through the entire piece."
Burnham agrees: Porcelain tile, she says, "looks like stone, but it's much less expensive than actual stone. We've done charcoal-gray, big rectangles of porcelain tile, and it's so much easier to sweep out or mop up because you can get it wet."
Whatever material you use for your entryway floors, these designers suggest avoiding pale neutrals and solids in favor of slightly bolder colors, patterns, and textures that hide dirt and signs of wear.
For wood floors, Flynn suggests, "have a pattern painted directly onto it using porch and deck paint," he says. "The porch and deck paint is insanely durable and will last a long time. To make it even more foolproof, consider adding another coat of sealer to it just before the winter."
Bold florals or sunbursts might not be your taste, says Caswell, but entryways are a great place to "be riskier and push yourself, so you can incorporate a little more of your personality. You're making that statement when someone enters your home."