Flooring is one of the most expensive decorative items, so you can’t afford to make mistakes. Be practical first, then make decisions about colour, pattern and texture. Being practical involves thinking about various different aspects of your floor covering. What is it going to cover? – (it’s not usually a good idea to put ceramic tiles on a wood floor, or a delicate carpet on the stairs). Then ask yourself if it will be easy to put down, or will the cost be increased by the services of an expert? Once down, will it be easy to keep clean? Pale floors look tempting, but if you’ve a young family, they’re probably not wise. It is also essential that you take into consideration the warmth of the floor, its safety, and whether it will be noisy, or tiring to stand on for long periods.
If you have good floor boards, a cheap way to make them look good is to sand them down (you can hire a machine), then seal or stain them. Floor stain is not only available in the usual woody colours but also in red, blue and green. Plain sealer will bring out the colour of the wood, looks excellent and will show off rugs well, but it doesn’t provide insulation. Alternatively you could install a new wooden floor, replacing your old one. Plywood or chipboard can also be used as a surface covering over old floor boards or can be attached directly on to timber joists; both can also be treated by staining or sealing. Hardboard, too, can provide an inexpensive floor covering, and can be sealed, waxed or painted. It isn’t very hard-wearing but could perhaps be a first step when carpets are to be laid later.
Tiles are at the other extreme — tremendously hard-wearing and available in a wide range, from glazed or unglazed, ceramic or vitrified, in all sorts of colours, shapes and designs through to the well-known plain quarry tile. All types share the disadvantages of being cold and noisy, and their lack of resilience makes them tiring to stand on for long periods. Many of the more traditional types of flooring share these characteristics — old brick floors, flag stones, slate. Since they have an unusual quality that is irreplaceable, it’s probably worth preserving them by cleaning and sealing them.
If you want softer, warmer floors, cork is hard-wearing, a good insulator, resilient and quiet. The only disadvantages with cork are the possibilities of it fading, or crumbling at the edges. Linoleum is better than it used to be, but there is a great variety in quality: the cheapest will give poor service, the thicker and more expensive ones are hard-wearing, resilient and warm underfoot. Rubber flooring is very similar — synthetic rubber is less inclined to mark and plain-coloured embossed industrial rubber flooring is now used in homes, too. Thermoplastic tiles are inexpensive and tough but rather unyielding and chilly. Vinyl asbestos tiles are more resistant to grease but are easily marked by rubber heels, and can soften if they are too near a heat source. Though they need accurate laying, you can create your own individual combination of colours. Vinyl sheeting is durable, resistant to dirt, quiet and warm. The better quality has a cushion backing; it is in the same price range as carpeting.
Carpeting can be made of a bewildering range of fibres, though these fall into two categories — man-made and natural. Totally synthetic carpeting, though very hard-wearing, can give rise to static electricity, which gives shocks. One hundred per cent nylon is the worst offender for this, though the problems are being researched. It is extremely tough, but a dropped match will leave a mark. Acrylic fibre is more like wool; it is warm and wears well, but is not fire resistant. Polyester is soft and tough, and also waterproof. Polypropylene is usually used as a backing or blended with something else.
Of the natural fibres, wool has the most luxurious feel and, if blended with nylon, it can be extremely hard-wearing. Other animal hair is not so soft and warm. The vegetable fibres feel harder still, though they can be tough, attractive and relatively inexpensive compared to wool.
As with types of fibre, there are numerous methods of carpet construction. Axminster has a cut pile inserted into a woven backing, often highly patterned and with numerous colours. There is a great variety in price as the quality depends on how much fibre is used in each square centimetre (or square inch). The best blend is 80 per cent wool and 20 per cent nylon. Wilton carpets are made with a continuous yarn, which limits the number of colours usually to five, but many Wiltons are plain. The cost is comparable to Axminster. Tufted carpets are set into a backing and then secured by latex.
Cord carpets are similar to Wiltons but are cheaper and have a rfdged appearance; they are often extremely hard-wearing. Needleloom is also inexpensive and tough, utilizing synthetic and vegetable fibres enmeshed in an acrylic backing. Bonded carpets, that is, pile glued to a backing, are being developed rapidly and are now available in many varieties and prices. Carpet tiles are also available in a bewildering assortment of materials and colours; to get the best out of them, you must change them around regularly. Sisal, coir and rush matting is cheap, attractive and very good on cold floors.
Carpet widths range from 67.5 cm (27”) to 90 cm (36”), up to 4.5 m (15′) and even 5.4 m (18′). It is really best to rely on an expert to lay your carpet, but check on the amounts they estimate you will need. An underlay will soften the unevenness of your floor, greatly prolong the life of your carpet and will give it a far livelier feel, too. An ill-fitting wood floor should be covered with hardboard first. An uneven floor must be levelled up with hardboard (not with newspaper or old carpet) and damp must be eliminated or your carpet will be ruined very quickly. Raw edges can be bound with carpet tape to prevent fraying, or turned under in the case of cord.