To untrained eyes, it may look as though the interior-design world has been infiltrated by a legion of attractive fraudsters. Products that mimic the look and feel of hardwood, natural stone, exposed brick and even leather have earned places in many interior designers’ toolboxes, and are on display in homes across the city. But this trend in home decor isn’t unwanted cheapening of aesthetics. What was once considered an interior-design faux pas is still very much faux, but thanks to improvements in quality and aesthetics, these products make for a stylish alternative to traditional building materials and home finishes.
“We use a lot of the faux stone products and faux wood flooring because the colour range is much broader, meaning you can be a lot more creative with the styles,” says Tracy Fortin, who started Flawless Interiors Inc. with her husband, Keith, in 2008. “In the last few years, it has just exploded with what is available. There are so many options now and the quality has improved so much. It gives us a lot more design flexibility.”
Fortin regularly suggests products like wood grain vinyl flooring and porcelain tiles to her clients. The manufactured material mimics the natural qualities of hardwood – available in scraped, knotted, grooved or flat finishes – without the stress of upkeep. “What I find now, is that people want to actually live in their homes. People really want something that is stylish, but not something that they are going to have to stress about all the time.”
And while the initial cost of some flooring may be cheaper, working with these specialty materials can still carry a hefty price tag. With higher-end products available on the market, faux wood flooring may cost close to, or even slightly more, per square foot than the real deal. According to Fortin, the vinyl wood planks can save you on average half what hardwood will, but high-end wood grain porcelain tiles may find you shelling out even more. In either case, the time and money saved on maintenance helps to offset the initial investment. “Typically, these products are very easy to maintain. You don’t have to refinish them, so the lifespan on the vinyl and porcelain is much longer.”
The versatility and longevity of these materials is what piqued Som Sourachit’s interest. Sourachit is the Vice President of design for Novhaus, an Edmonton-based company that specializes in environmentally sustainable steel-framed houses made using old shipping containers. The durability of these products means that it spends more time in your home and less in the landfill, and improved manufacturing practices reportedly cut down on harmful chemicals being released into the environment.
Sourachit looks to wallpaper and faux stone facings to update tired walls with patterns and textures. When sourcing for residential and commercial clients with Novhaus and her private design company Mod Studio, she is inspired by what is available on the market. “The wallpaper that you see nowadays is crazy,” says Sourachit. “There’s faux leather, faux and real wood, and fabric wallpaper that you can find. It’s really come a long way. I compare wallpaper now to how the fashion industry uses fabric. There are so many options for what you can do with it.” Because of the high-end materials and added cost for a time-intensive installation, adding one of these feature walls to your home will be an investment, but one that Sourachit swears by. “The price can really jump for a lot of these materials because of how much detail goes into these designs, but the final product is beautiful.”
For achieving the ever-popular industrial loft look, a faux-brick-tile treatment is a relatively quick and easy way to make a big statement. “That warehouse feel is really big right now, and the exposed brick look is great for achieving that,” says Sourachit. “The detail in these tiles are great, and you would be surprised with how real it looks.”
For Adele Maines of Klar Interior Design, the wide variety of brick-look tiles – with a multitude of colour options including metallics and even graffiti motifs – provides her clients the chance to give their interiors instant facelifts without massive structural and building headaches. “The industry has recently come out with more stone veneers with mesh on the back. The lighter tiles mean that you don’t have to worry about installing the brick onto a support wall. Because you are working with tiles as opposed to half-brick veneers, you can use a tile fitter for the installation instead of a mason,” says Maines, who has used the product for refacing fireplaces, kitchen backsplashes, and massive faux brick feature walls.
As the interior design industry continues to innovate, designers and homeowners have more variety of style options and quality materials than ever before. “For a long time, people were very dead set on real stone and real wood,” says Fortin. “Some of our older clientele is still that way, but now, people are looking for something that is going to be super functional, attractive and livable.”