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Laura Hunt

Your First Home

Contemporary Light - Up, Down, and Around

 Copyright Deborah Marks 2003

When you begin to make decorating decisions for a new home, one of the first considerations is how to finish the flooring, walls, and ceiling. As the name of the style Contemporary Light suggests, these components are to be primarily light in color. They furnish the backdrop for the colors and furnishings that are to come.

To get a feeling for the atmosphere which light colors create, visit some model homes which haven’t been furnished yet. Upon entering, you will be greeted solely by the particular architecture of each room. Try to soak up the atmosphere, the feeling coming from a space defined by its light colored tones. It’s open, it’s airy, it’s simple and, therefore, enjoyable and relaxing.

Walls and Ceiling

In a Contemporary Light setting paint usually is used on the walls and ceilings.

What colors are best? Sophistication and airiness are realized by using light grays throughout the space. Off-whites, beige, or creams are always correct. A cheerful but subdued yellow tone is a good candidate. Variations on the yellow theme, tangerine or mango shades in pastel, are becoming ever more popular; sea foam also is relatively new and popular color.

As I mentioned in a previous column here, to give a small apartment the feeling of spaciousness, use one color throughout the home. Later, you can add an accent color to one or two walls. Create interest by complementing and emphasizing a color found in furnishings and accessories. If your space is larger, you can use two colors throughout: one as the primary color and the other as the secondary one. They should be kept light and in relation to one another. For example, you may want to paint the majority of the house off-white and use a yellow tone in the kitchen and baby’s room.

The ceiling is painted in the same color as the walls, or you can add some white to lighten up the tone. The lighter the tone, the higher the ceiling appears to be.

Wallpaper, if used at all, should be used sparingly or as an accent. New geometric designs or textured wallpapers could add vibrancy to the room. Wallpaper always means extra work, while paint in a room can be changed easily and without too much effort.

Molding at the ceiling isn’t recommended, but if you can’t resist, purchase molding with clean, simple lines. The width for the molding of an 8’ ceiling is about 3", more if the ceiling is higher.

Just a few tips on paint: Interior paints are latex paints; quality paints have more pigment and you’ll be happier with the results. Flat paints are generally used in living rooms and bedrooms, and semi-gloss paints are best for kitchens, baths, and trim. There are new finishes, sheens, called satin or eggshell; they allow you to clean off marks with water and perhaps a little detergent. Use them in high-traffic areas, as in hallways and children’s rooms.

Ask for references and obtain estimates from at least two or three licensed paint contractors before you hire one. The least expensive contractor may not be the one you want to pick. It is important to listen to what a contractor has to say and try to ascertain how knowledgeable he/she is. Try to determine with whom you could work the best. It just makes life so much easier when you have a good rapport with the people you will be dealing with.


The type of flooring usually is a given when you rent or purchase your first home. You may be happy with it or not. You may be able to change it immediately or not until a later date. Whatever the case, plan now for the overall future look of your home. There are many choices for flooring, and they all have their advantages and disadvantages. The best choices for Contemporary Light are hardwood floors, carpets, and tile.

Hardwood floors are prevalent in many older homes and work very well with Contemporary Light interiors. They might have to be refinished if they are not in a good condition. The uniformity of the flooring material in smaller homes also gives the feeling of spaciousness. If the hardwood floors are dark wood or are stained with a dark finish, the walls and later furnishings should be light to create contrast. If the floors are of a lighter tone, e.g. oak or maple, use light colors throughout or bring in more intense colors. Hardwood floors are an excellent surface for area rugs which add color and design to the surroundings.

Although not wood but a member of the grass family, bamboo as a flooring material is gaining in popularity. The strips are smaller in width and they can be natural or stained. The look is fantastic! In price it’s comparable to hardwood. For the environmentally-minded, bamboo is the choice. It can be harvested every three to five years and, therefore, slows the depletion of the hardwood forests.

Engineered and laminated wood flooring are alternatives to hardwood. Engineered wood flooring consists of layers of wood cross-grained and bonded to the top decorative layer. Laminated wood flooring does not contain wood; the top layer is a decorative laminated paper such as used for laminated kitchen countertops. Engineered and laminated wood floors generally are less costly than hardwood floors and may be easier to maintain.

Carpeting can provide the most immediate and least expensive flooring transition in a home. It reduces noise better than hardwood and some people believe it creates a warmer atmosphere. For the Contemporary Light look choose carpets in off-white, beige, gray, or pastel tones. Don’t worry about keeping modern carpets clean. Choose one with a stain resistant finish, and spills can be cleaned up without problems. Carpeting especially suited would be cut pile, such as velour and Saxony. The shaggy carpet with its cut piles of an inch or more has made a comeback recently. A Berber carpet is a classic which can work well in a contemporary setting. Select the padding for underneath the carpet carefully; it determines the wear of the carpet and the comfort for the user.

Kitchens and baths usually require a different type of flooring than is in the rest of the house. An exception would be hardwood or bamboo floors, which can be used in the kitchen and the rest of the home. They have been proven to work quite well as long as spills are cleaned up immediately. Stone, such as marble or limestone, or ceramic tiles are a perfect match for contemporary settings and are good options for kitchen and bath. They provide a very clean and simple look. For stone flooring don’t pick highly polished finishes. The polish wears off of moderate to high traffic areas, leaving a marked path in the middle of the floor. Also, water, common in the kitchen and the bath, can be most dangerous! Honed tiles are a good choice. If the tiled area will be large, make sure your sub-floor can handle the weight. Stone tiles can be very heavy.

If you encounter any linoleum that was laid before 1978, it may have asbestos backing. That may require a special technique for removal, and a contractor may be limited in how he/she can work with this material. Consult a contractor before attempting to remove this linoleum yourself. Today’s linoleum has an updated look and selected patterns can be used in the contemporary setting.

If you like and can afford the unusual, there are other products on the market. Concrete flooring has gained in popularity recently. Slate flooring is a possibility. Cork tile would be an alternative to stone as it is considered "soft" flooring and would be easier on the user and on anything dropped on the floor. Even leather has been used as flooring. Sisal---a grass---has been woven into area rugs and wall-to-wall carpeting. Sheet vinyl---different than linoleum---has come a long way, offers interesting finishes, and is less expensive than stone and ceramic tiles.

My suggestion on flooring would be to find the look that you like and then try to see if the cost is within the budget. You may splurge on the living room and kitchen and have to make a compromise on the bedroom flooring. Remember, though, conformity and light colored materials are the key to a home in Contemporary Light! Try to use up to two, at the most three, different materials for the flooring. It will give you the look you are trying to achieve with the materials you most favor.

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