Thursday, September 29, 2011


As I was trying to blot out some disgusting stains on our carpeted floors my mind kept churning up alternatives to the cheap wall-to-wall so prevalent in the cheaply made homes dotting America today. I'm always swayed by the out-of-the-ordinary. Here are some of my favorite finds.

The gleam off of an epoxy floor can be almost blinding. It can look as cool as an outdoor ice rink on a crisp sunny day. There's an element of comfort that comes from its almost sterile appearance. Easy maintenance and durability have made it a darling of places like new car dealerships and industrial warehouses but recently more designers have incorporated these floors in high fashion venues. Besides its easy maintenance and durability, epoxy can be infused with almost any color Benjamin Moore can dream up. That's why designers like Karim Rashid have brought it into twentieth century residences
and Michael Tavano and Lloyd Marks have colored it chameleon green for their Jamie Drake inspired showroom in the New York Design Center.

In retrospect, it's hard to believe we ever managed to get out daughter into Beginnings pre-school in New York City. We were so naïve. We didn't realize people actually got their applications in while their children were still in the womb. We found out gay parenting had its advantages back in the late-nineties. Now you have to go that extra mile to get pushed to the front of the list. It's best if you're not only gay but bi-racial and wheelchair bound as well. This was a school filled with the progeny of movie stars and the uber-rich. Parent potlucks ended up in some of New York's toniest addresses. It was on one of these potlucks that I saw my first amazing use of leather as a flooring material. The parents of Emmy's classmate had a four thousand square foot apartment cut out from three floors in an East 21st building next to Theodore Roosevelt's birthplace. When you got off the elevator there was amazing art everywhere. Mapplethorpe photographs hung in the suspended office overlooking the living and dining area where de Koonings and Pollacks hung on the walls. The living, dining and kitchen area were a huge open space with two-story walls. The dining area seated twelve and was defined by its floor, a grid of chestnut leather squares with a smattering of maple leaves randomly embossed throughout. A thin metal line lassoed the leather separating it from the hardwood floor of the rest of the room. I wish I had a picture.
But I did find this leather floor made from vintage belts by Ting of London. The flooring is offered in the form of tiles. Each tile is handmade. The belts are selected for leather quality and then divided by color. Each belt is chemically washed and shaved to make then all the same height and then glued with a water-based glue onto a leather backing. The look is strikingly unique and great way of going green with your floor.

There was nothing but fear in our shoes when we walked into the room we had been given for the Kips Bay Show House in New York City. The room was huge and bare, nothing but sheetrock walls with exposed electrical, a wall of windows and a concrete floor. There was no detail, no character, no budget but what we could beg, borrow or steal from anyone we could hit up for a favor. One thing the Kips Bay organization did offer was an intro to Exquisite Surfaces. Exquisite Surfaces offered to provide flooring for free, all we'd have to pay for was the installation. Exquisite Surfaces specialized in reclaimed floor salvaged from French chateaux. The flooring offered was impossible to resist.
They offered handcrafted, aged wood floors in a variety of patterns and finishes. We chose a running border encircling a chevron-patterned interior. Rick had concocted a special stain that he wanted left without a shiny poly finish. They really resisted doing the finish but when they saw the results the compliments never stopped.
Now reclaimed French chateaux floors may not fit into your budget. If not, there are many alternatives if you're resourceful and handy. You can look for your own teardowns through local contractors and make a deal to salvage wood floors that might otherwise be thrown out or you can find some other unique sources.
Making a floor out of wine or fruit cases was a common way of installing floors in wine cellars in Europe. If you can't find your own, Parador, a German flooring company, will do it for you. The look is funky and goes from tres cher to kitsch depending on the vintage of wine or the name of the fruit vendor branded into the wood.

You can see the fear in a client's eyes when you suggest painting over a worn-down oak floor that has gone beyond reclamation. The thing is painted floors date back centuries.  Rugs and carpeting were for years, options, only for the rich. Painting a floor was a common means of decoration. Today is no different, although the cost factor is no longer the driving force. There's the use of stain to give a floor a faux inlay effect.
Stenciling was also common. The Chenery House in San Francisco uses an early American pattern found in the Buck House in Hanover, Massachusetts and contemporized by Gracewood Design in black, white and grey. The floor has the look of elegant tile work but without the grout and unevenness of tile.
On the other end of the painted spectrum is this inexpensive way of creating a rustic country look with a high style appeal. Lori Guyer of White Flower Farmhouse started with 4' x 8' sheets of quarter inch plywood, the rougher the better, and had them sawn into planks. She then gave them a coat of oil-based primer. When the priming had hardened she painted the planks with a latex low-luster exterior deck paint and laid the planks using random lengths on a clean sub-floor with liquid nails. Using spacers she gave the planks an eighth of an inch expansion trench between courses.
The result is a beautiful painted rustic farmhouse floor.

When you consider what flooring to use remember how the room that floor is in will be used. A mudroom is named that for a reason. Hallways are meant to be quiet aren't they? Do you want to slip and slide on the bathroom floor? And my worst nightmare learned first hand, never cook Thanksgiving dinner in a kitchen with a stone floor. "Oh my aching back, legs and feet".

Heaven to Hell, 2006
David Lachapelle, photographer
Represented by Creative Exchange Agnecy - New York


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