This autumn may have been one of the warmest on record, but it hasn't stopped us turning our minds to winter nights at home by the fire. It's one of the best things about this time of year - and that's before we add Christmas into the mix!

When it comes to winter interiors, you may think a cosy carpet is the only option for a warm and welcoming floor – think again. Muddy wellies, fireside debris, gingerbread crumbs trodden into the pile – this season can be messy, and carpet's just not very practical. But hardwood floors are cold and not very inviting, right? Wrong!

Here's why…

Banish those cold feet

Forget unsightly radiators, emanating heat from one or two points in a room, and warm your home from the floor up.

Underfloor heating is more efficient than traditional systems and is compatible with a number of floors, so there's no compromise between comfort and style.

Laminate and vinyl are by far the most popular flooring options, and it's not hard to see why. They offer the look of wood or stone but without any of the downsides, and they're also designed to cope with the high temperatures of underfloor heating.

An engineered floor is an alternative and offers a wider range. The top layer of solid wood veneer gives the desired finish, while the layers beneath can withstand the high temperatures.

Go on, your toes will be eternally grateful!

A welcoming fireside

There's nothing like snuggling up next to the fire on a cold day. Whether you have an open fire or a wood burner, the glow and heat of real flames is hard to beat – especially if it snows.

A fireplace really comes into its own at Christmas, providing a place for family to gather and play games, watch Christmas TV and generally spend time together.

A wooden floor completes the picture, complementing the rustic feel of a real fire. But which finish is best: oiled or lacquered? They're both perfectly suitable, but if you want something that's going to withstand the heat better and require lower maintenance, lacquered is probably the way to go.

It's also got more of a shine than oil - perfect for reflecting those flickering flames and giving your room a warm glow.

Full of character

Dark, distressed character boards are one of this winter's top flooring trends. As well as being far more practical than a light coloured floor, they fit perfectly with the wider vogue for modern rustic interiors that embrace the beauty and warmth of natural products.

For wooden floors, emphasis is placed on choosing boards with the most character. Knots, cracks and grain are the key to creating texture and interest, while distressing techniques such as hand-scraping, brushing, saw-marking and river stoning further accentuate the natural aesthetics of the wood.

This is not a look for those who like sleek lines and perfect finishes. It's far more rugged and honest – you can see and feel the age of the tree that lies beneath your feet.

And if you're not keen on wood, there are vinyl and laminate alternatives which have been designed to realistically recreate the look of aged and worn boards too – offering all the character without the up-keep and price tag of the real thing.