Focus on floors: Alternatives for screed or tiles

Not keen on screed or tiles? Consider these popular alternatives...

Photographs Francois Oberholster, ER Lombard and supplied | Styling Marian van Wyk and Amanda van Wyngaardt

Bamboo floors create a contemporary yet natural look and feel in Magdel and Ulrich Stander’s Durbanville home.

1. Bamboo

Bamboo has emerged as a trendy, ecofriendly alternative to hardwood flooring, says Nicole Russell of Italtile. While hardwood is milled into flooring boards, bamboo flooring is usually manufactured by gluing together strands of bamboo to create a material that can be milled into a product resembling hardwood boards

Why bamboo?

Cost-effective bamboo is available in a vast range of colours and textures. Bamboo flooring boards are milled slightly thinner than hardwood boards, but most have the same click-in system and can be installed in the same way.


Trendy bamboo can elevate the elegance of a space and provides a warm look and feel with its natural growth patterns and texture. Bamboo is more scratch-resistant than most hardwoods and offers a strong eco ethic in the form of sustainable bamboo farms.


Although bamboo is more resistant to water damage than the average hardwood, it is still a natural material made of organic elements and, as such, excessive moisture will cause it to warp or allow mould to grow. Don’t use it in bathrooms or rooms that could get wet.


From R790/m²

Simply sweep or vacuum regularly; otherwise, clean occasionally with a damp mop or a non-wax, non-alkaline hardwood or bamboo floor cleaner.

The floor in Thea and Werner Kluyts’ loft in Bellville was covered in vinyl (Memphis in the colour 549) from KC Flooring.

2. Vinyl vs laminate

Vinyl and laminate are still confused by consumers today. Understandably, since both of them are made using 3D printing technology and both replicate the look of natural materials such as wood but at a fraction of the cost, explains Sasha Kozinsky of FinFloor

Vinyl has a synthetic resin or calcium-carbonatestone dust core with a printed wood-look image and a protective wear layer on the surface. Laminate is manufactured with a high-density fibreboard core produced by compressing resin and wood fibre using heat. It is then treated with a printed decorative layer to create the appearance of real wood.

Why vinyl?

Today’s vinyl is nothing like that of bygone years; it performs well under extreme conditions, direct sunlight and a wide range of temperatures. It’s soft underfoot and quiet to walk on.

Why laminate?

Laminate is more affordable than vinyl and technological advancements over the past decade ensure better core boards with more water-resistance and a better locking system.


The biggest advantage of vinyl flooring is that it’s 100% waterproof, making it ideal for kitchens and bathrooms; it’s also very durable. Laminate flooring, on the other hand, is much less costly to manufacture and install and could even be a DIY job.


While vinyl flooring is durable, it could be punctured by very sharp objects. Low-quality vinyl might yellow with age or fade in direct sunlight. The main drawback of laminate remains that it isn’t 100% waterproof. Low-quality and cheaper laminates may have an artificial-looking texture and poor surface treatments.


Good-quality laminates range between R250 – 500/m2 and good-quality vinyl starts at R480.

Is vinyl king?

“In the eye of the consumer, vinyl is not king,” says Theresa Venter of Floorworx. “Homeowners have become used to the laminate concept, but are still a bit wary when it comes to luxury vinyl planks (LVPs). Those who are informed have had pleasant experiences with vinyl, but I find that those who are unsure of the benefits opt for either ceramics or laminates.

“However, when it comes to durability I give vinyl a thumbs-up! In terms of design, it has also become much more colourful, modern and easy to install and maintain than it was in the past.

“Laminates have also come a long way and remain my personal favourite. I’ll buy a laminate product before any other type of flooring. If you buy one of the top brands in South Africa, you’ll never have to replace your floor, unless you decide you want a change of colour or a more modern look. Beware of inferior products as they don’t handle heat or direct sun very well; they can also get scratched and will lift or peak if installed incorrectly.”

Black Forest laminate in the colour Maplewood Mist from FinFloor creates a luxurious touch in this open-plan kitchen and dining room.

Jeanne and Conrad Botes of Mowbray, Cape Town bought their parquet from various sellers online and, as a result, the blocks weren’t all the same. The solution? Stain them black to create uniformity.

3. Parquet

Unlike contemporary wooden planks and engineered floors, original parquet blocks are at least 15mm thick, so even the oldest of timber is more than thick enough to be sanded and restored, says Joe Mkhosi of JM Flooring in Cape Town. “By today’s standards, this offers you great value for money,” he adds. Installing newly manufactured parquet is also an option, but the blocks or planks aren’t as thick as they’re mostly made from engineered wood – and they come with a hefty price tag.

Why parquet?

Parquet is very versatile and easy to update with contemporary finishes such as white-washing and various staining processes or treatments. For variety, it can be laid in a herringbone or basket-weave pattern or a more contemporary chevron or hexagon design.


With reclaimed parquet, you get a lot of timber for your buck – and it will last a lifetime! With professional help, an old floor can take on a brand-new look.


Restoring a damaged parquet floor is not a DIY job; in unskilled or inexperienced hands, your floor could easily turn into an uneven mess. Moisture might be an issue and previous coatings and work done should be assessed by a professional. The correct stain and sealant also requires expert advice. When it comes to reclaimed blocks, some come in short lengths which won’t meet every design need.


Restoration could cost anything between R190 – R300/m², while a new floor starts at R600/m².

Slate floors create a contemporary farmhouse aesthetic in Illze Muller’s Herbertsdale home. Her builder did the floors many years ago and when she renovated, Illze installed more slate to keep the look cohesive.

4. Slate

Many of us remember slate floors, officially called crazy paving, from our childhood when stones were used in bold angular shapes. Love or hate them, these floors still feature in many old houses, especially on stoeps – and they’re even making a comeback in some instances! Today, you find slate mainly in tile format in varying sizes, says Ross Hislop of Union Tiles.

Why slate?

Slate is a natural rock product that creates a rustic aesthetic; it also comes in different colours which makes it versatile. If you’re keen to make a bold statement, try Union Tiles’ trendy 1 000 x 1 000mm black Brazilian tiles.


Strong and durable, slate can last a lifetime. It’s a popular choice for interior floors and walls and it can also be used outside.


Slate is not an easy product to install due to variations in thickness and size; it can also flake off and delaminate. Slate requires constant maintenance and it also needs to be sealed with an appropriate sealant such as S.Q.T Union Sealer.


Between R96 – R690/m², depending on size and colour

If you’re stuck with old-fashioned crazy paving in your home, work with it instead of against it, advises Ross. “Use retro furniture and combine it with a few modern pieces to create a contemporary feel. A classic rug will complement the aesthetic. This look has to be appreciated for what it is.”

Photo Greg Cox/Bureaux

Lalegno’s engineered wood creates a sophisticated look in a contemporary space.

5. Engineered wood

Engineered wood, usually in oak, has become the modern alternative to solid wood, which is no longer a popular choice due to cost and sustainability, explains Hanél Appleby of Lalegno South Africa. It’s a combination of multi-layered timber and a durable top layer of wood backed with a reinforcement of fast-growing timber laminated together for maximum stability. This allows for longer and wider planks. Engineered oak is also manufactured with the utmost respect for the environment.

Did you know?
An engineered floor with a 4mm veneer can be sanded to rejuvenate it or to change its colour two to three times in its lifetime.

Why engineered wood?

An oak floor not only creates a sense of warm hospitality, but also adds financial value to your property. Just like solid wood, the floor will become even more beautiful over the years as it gains character and charm. Popular choices today include herringbone and chevron patterns, while natural colours remain on trend with smoked, brushed, oiled and lacquered finishes.


Nothing compares to the beauty of a natural wooden floor and the feel of timber underfoot. Wooden floors are an investment that will last for generations if properly maintained. They’re warm in winter and cool in summer, and will complement any decorating style. Engineered oak floors only require daily vacuuming; you can spot clean with a damp cloth.


Just like solid wood, engineered wood isn’t recommended for use in wet areas such as bathrooms as moisture absorbed will eventually cause damage to the floor.


From R550/m²

The right care
On average, oiled floors need to be re-oiled every 24 months, depending on usage, while lacquered floors don’t require any periodic maintenance. The floor can be resanded and sealed when it’s between five and 10 years old, depending on usage and wear. The floor doesn’t need to be lifted, and sanding and recolouring takes place on site.

Handmade TerraStone tiles from Union Tiles provide the perfect finish for Zelda and Pieter Straus’s outside area in Mossel Bay. Cushions and décor items from Arabesque

6. Terrazzo

Terrazzo has been around for years – remember those old speckled tiles from the ’60s? Today, they boast a contemporary look and are becoming increasingly popular. According to Eben Albrecht of Union Tiles, terrazzo is a cementitious floor consisting of various aggregates such as recycled glass, marble, quartz, granite and other materials.

Nowadays, it comes in a wide variety of patterns with both smooth and non-slip options. For those who prefer a seamless finish, an in situ (cast on site) application is available; a terrazzo mix is supplied but this is a very costly application and has to be executed by a professional tradesman, says Eben. Alternatives include large-format tiles (800 x 800mm and 600 x 600mm) which are more cost-effective and easier to install.

Why terrazzo?

Terrazzo is well-known for its beauty and above all its longevity and durability. At 13–20mm thick, depending on their size, the tiles can cope with lots of traffic and will last a lifetime.


With the correct maintenance, terrazzo will stay in pristine condition indefinitely. If the surface is really worn down after 25–30 years, it can be grinded and polished on site to reveal the original beauty of the tiles.


Terrazzo’s Achilles heel is its porosity. It is important to protect the tile surface during installation to prevent possible blemishes caused on site by painters or electricians, for example, as the tiles will only be treated with a single coat of protective factory sealant.

Cleaning materials containing acid or ammonia should be avoided, as they'll cause etching of the surface. To overcome the porous characteristics of the product, two coats of sealant are recommended after installation.


From R340 per single-colour grooved tile up to R870 for a hand-poured multi-coloured Mediterranean terrazzo pattern tile; the cost of in situ application starts at R1 000/m².

Did you know?
More than 500 million people have walked across ± 21 000m² of Union Tiles’ regular and handmade patterned terrazzo tiles at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town (an average of 20 million per year) since they were first installed in 1992 (26 years ago), proving their incredible durability and longevity!
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April 2023

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