As always, more ideas come to us from history than from a showroom. Look at the flooring choices here—not only to see the variety of conventions, materials, and finishes available, but also to confirm the decorating importance of the floor.
Some types, such as parquet borders and wide pine, are closely associated with an era. Others are more generic (hardwood tongue-and-groove), or easily adapted to an inspired new use.
Take, for example, English geometric and encaustic tiles. These unique, lovely, and practical tiles reappeared during the 1980s Victorian Revival. Encaustics are a medieval-period tile whose manufacture was rediscovered in England during the 19th-century art movements.
Besides their use in restoration today—as for Victorian brownstone entries and old city-library floors—geometrics and encaustics can be used, in an endless number of tile patterns, for newer houses. They’re especially handsome when paired with English Tudor or Arts & Crafts influences.
Painted floors have long been associated with early American and country houses. Their strong geometric and faux-marble effects, though, are sophisticated enough for, say, 20th-century Colonial Revival hallways.
Floors painted with trompe l’oeil effects date to colonial days but have become popular in personalized new interiors.
Wood flooring by itself offers hundreds of options, given different species of wood, reclaimed and new stock, varying widths and jointing options, inlays and parquetry, and finish types. Though you won’t find all such options at the Home Depot, suppliers are not hard to locate.
If you are refinishing or installing a period floor, don’t overlook the importance of final finish, whether it be penetrating oil or surface varnish, high gloss, low sheen, or flat.
Flooring conveys character. Wood floors are the standard for public rooms and more formal private ones, as wood suggests tradition, durability, and depth. Fancy-cut wood floors, like patterned parquet, evoke European elegance and a gilded age of decoration. Slate, stone, and tile are no-nonsense surfaces for foyer, sunroom, or bath. Published in: Old-House Interiors March/April 2010