As much as people fuss about what color and/or treatment to apply to the walls in their homes, the reality is that your flooring choice is what will ground your space. In some ways, that grounding is what will make or break your room, pulling the rest of the elements together.

With the increase in open floor plans, the way a floor flows and transitions from one area to the next has become even more important than it was in the past. And with the amount of real estate flooring occupies — it is the biggest visual element in your home — flooring is an investment (and lifestyle disruption) most prefer to make infrequently, unlike the simple update of painting walls.

Hard-surface flooring — hardwood, tile, laminate and the like — remains the go-to choice over wall-to-wall carpeting. For those with allergies or breathing concerns, hard surfaces are considered more hypoallergenic. They are also generally easier to clean since it is much easier to wipe away a spill than to blot and pray it doesn't stain. Important, too, is that from a re-sale perspective, hard surfaces are simply preferred.

None of the above represents recent changes in direction, nor does it look like a shift will be coming any time in the near future. What has changed are color preferences, sizes and manufacturing technologies.

Wood and wood-look floors

Hardwood floors are not going anywhere. In fact, their use is expanding, with an increasing number of homeowners extending it into the kitchen. Some are even carrying through into the powder room, entryway and main bath areas.

There are definite regional and demographic differences when it comes to color. Some areas seem to be transitioning away from the dark black and brown tones toward lighter-colored flooring options, while others are staying dark. I find my clients are mixed in terms of preference, but they are going for extremes, either light or dark.

The difference is in the undertones; whitewashed and grayed finishes are prevalent. For those who prefer to stick with "brown," there is a shift away from reds and oranges, in favor of more neutral browns and golds.

Finishes are veering toward a more satin or matte look. Less sheen, along with some of the more textured surfaces that are available, is more forgiving of imperfections like dust and scratches. These are all strong considerations for those with young children or pets with claws that might mar the surface.

The argument of "bigger is better" holds true when it comes to plank size. Along with getting lighter, top sellers are getting wider, with preferences leaning toward planks that are at least 4 inches, though 5-to-10-inch widths are common. Planks are also becoming longer, especially for medium-high and premium brands.

For areas where hardwood may not be permissible and/or warrantied, such as basements and condos, there is no lack of choice in alternate options. Engineered hardwood, given its different composition, is often acceptable in both.

Laminates have made great strides as printing technologies continue to advance. Some brands are almost impossible to distinguish as laminate, particularly to the untrained eye. Wood-look tiles are also now readily available at all price points, again relying on advancements in printing technology.

This is a good sign for those who want a continuous-look floor throughout but would prefer something other than hardwood in areas prone to wet conditions, such as entries, bathrooms and even laundry areas, which often tie in to mudrooms and side entrances.

How so? Technology is at the point where some brands will be able to offer a tile or laminate that looks identical to their hardwood or engineered hardwood offering, thereby maintaining the look, and possibly even the feel, while ensuring better protection and lifetime wearablity. Expect to see transitional lines in the not-too-distant future.

Vinyl and tiles

As with wood, bigger is better when it comes to floor tiles. Rectangular and larger square tiles are preferred as they help visually enlarge spaces and minimize grout lines.

The same printing and technological advances are impacting the look of tiles: ceramic, porcelain and vinyl. There are incredible facsimiles to natural stone and hardwood. That brings higher end looks to a more accessible price point. Vinyl tile sales, which can be significantly warmer under foot, will undoubtedly make a dent in sales over the coming months.

High-fashion area rugs

With the preference for hard-surfaced flooring escalating, it should come as no surprise that there is a complementary rise in demand for area rugs. Not only do they help define open spaces, they provide warmth and aesthetic appeal. Any designer will undoubtedly tell you of the power of a great area rug to instantly alter the look and feel of a room.

As with wood options, area rugs and carpets are shifting away from beige toward gray undertones. But drama — bold colors, prints and/or patterns — is high style. Keep in mind that patterns need not be connoted by color differentiation, but rather by texture that results from a combination of varying tuft and loop lengths.

Geometrics and stripes are both popular pattern choices. While you are more likely to see patterns in area rugs than elsewhere at this point, that is starting to change. Tiles options are becoming bolder, and you will see an increasing number of installations that create geometric designs, be it herringbone or something new and interesting.

When choosing a floor, it's most important that you choose what you like and what goes with your house/décor. Don't just choose something because it's popular — choose what works for you. If, on the other hand, you are about to sell your house, choose what appeals to the majority and works with the style of your home.