What is your floor plan? Stunning vintage hardwood or striking contemporary wood-like laminate?

Hardwood floors add warmth and charm to a home, as well as "depth and character," says Jennifer Stever of Stever Designs in Grants Pass. "There is richness in the feel and sound of real wood. Hardwood is enduring and elegant." Stever notes that bamboo flooring is popular right now, and a new trend is hand-scraped hickory or oak for "a more rustic look."

You can choose either traditional hardwood flooring made completely of solid natural wood, like oak, maple or cherry, explains Jim Rafferty, who owns Hardwoods Plus, Inc. in Grants Pass, "or, an engineered floor where only the top veneer is natural wood." Most consumers prefer the pre-finished, engineered flooring, he says.

The artisanship in laminate construction evokes the impression of wood. A photograph capturing the grain and hues of oak, maple or cherry is applied to dense fiberboard and laminated with aluminum oxide; in the trade, it is a "a photo finish."

Sturdy, stylish laminate is easy on the eye and the budget while hardwood is an investment.

A 12 by 12-foot room with laminate will cost a homeowner approximately $900 to $1,000. The same room in oak will run around $1,300, in Brazilian cherry about $1600, says Josh Pratt of Colonial Decorators in Grants Pass. Pratt adds that there is a 25-year warranty on laminate products, but hardwood "will last the lifetime of the house."

However, many homeowners are choosing laminate materials rather than wood, even when they can afford "the real thing."

One reason is the relative ease of installation. The tongue-and-groove planks are assembled by applying adhesive or simply snapping together.

"For the homeowner who is a do-it-yourselfer it's easier to install [than hardwood]," says Pratt. "If you have the tools and the know-how, you can save about $2 a square foot."

Lifestyle is a factor, too, says John Henrich of Lippert's Carpet One in Grants Pass.

"I have laminate in my own house," he says. "There's a lot of activity. The real wood is the nicest looking, but we have dogs, cats and grandkids. The laminate is more durable."

Steve and Debbie King like the added charm and value their new laminate floors give their Grants Pass home. "The look is expensive, but it was cheaper than new carpeting," says King. "It's also cleaner."

Stever, who has oak floors in her home and three young, active children, agrees with the Kings. "Carpets capture allergens," she adds. "My oak floors are easier to care for than carpets."

The Kings opted not to put laminate in their bathrooms or utility rooms. "We just used it in the living room, dining area and kitchen. There's too much moisture or possibility of water problems in the utility room and bathrooms."

Pratt agrees that it is not a good idea. "The wood or laminate flooring is not under warranty if it is in the bathroom," he adds.

Hardwood is a natural, classical beauty, while laminate is a well-designed, trendy model. Both can work for various lifestyles and design looks. The contest between the two is literally a photo finish.