Ask the Architect: Materials that do not belong in foyers, basements

Ask the Expert
The architect used a “through-body’’ porcelain tile called Bronzo in her own mudroom.
The architect used a “through-body’’ porcelain tile called Bronzo in her own mudroom. Shelly Harrison

There seems to be a love affair with hardwood floors here in New England. We want them not only in our living, dining, and bedrooms, but also in our kitchens, baths, and even mudrooms.

While a nice look, hardwood floors in foyers and mudrooms, the first spaces people enter from the outside, will get a lot of abuse and not hold up well. People will drag in dirt and moisture and those once-beautiful floors will get scratched. Think an area rug will prevent this? Chances are dirt will get underneath and the rug will shift.

Foyers and mudrooms should have scratch- and water-resistant flooring. The best materials are some type of stone like slate, limestone, or marble (not polished) or ceramic tile. A real workhorse is “through-body’’ porcelain tile. “Through-body’’ means that the material is uniform throughout; there is no layer of glazing on top to chip off. Through-body porcelain tile is extremely durable, very reasonably priced ($5 to $10 per square foot), and dense, and it comes in a wide variety of styles, including ones that look just like hardwood.

Basement floors present a similar dilemma. Carpet and plastic-laminate flooring seem like cost-effective choices, but given the risk of flooding or water seeping through the concrete slab, homeowners should be prepared to replace the floor if it gets substantially wet. Plastic-laminate flooring that has a fiberboard backing can swell and buckle if there is too much moisture, and it may not settle back down when dry again. With carpet, the issue would be mold.

There are plastic grid systems you can install to keep the flooring off the concrete slab. They just snap into place. This would address any moisture seeping up from the slab but not actual flooding. For this, an interior French drain around the perimeter of the basement would be a good solution. With basements, it is not just the choice of flooring that needs to be solved; you need a whole system that will provide a moisture barrier and good drainage and still give you the look and use you want.

With all the flooring choices out there, it’s easy to get your own look without sacrificing durability.

Chris Chu is an architect in West Newton who specializes in residential design. Send questions to Subscribe to our newsletter at