Linoleum tiles offer many patterns to choose from to create a floor design. For example, you can lay tiles in even rows that are square to the walls, set them diagonally to create a diamond design, alternate the grain—that slight marbling characteristic of linoleum—from tile to tile for a basketweave effect, or alternate it in rows of tiles to mix things up a bit. You can zigzag tiles in different colors or form a solid field bordered by a contrasting shade. It’s even possible to inlay a hand-cut design for an infinite variety of original floors.
We chose to lay our tiles in two contrasting colors, blue and green, alternating them in a diagonal pattern across the kitchen. Though a diagonal plan is a bit more demanding for laying out and for cutting materials, it tends to be more interesting and makes the room appear larger, at least to our eyes.
Before committing to the pattern, we mocked it up first by cutting construction paper to the approximate size and color of the tiles and laying it across about a quarter of the floor. This exercise helped us 1) judge whether our color choices were too bold or just right, 2) compare the diagonal plan to laying tiles square to the walls, and 3) see how the tiles could be laid most efficiently, especially where they met walls and cabinets. Making the best use of every tile was important because we did not want to have to order another $250 worth of materials simply to gain a few more tiles in each color.
Popping a carpenter’s chalk line (above) helps to center the pattern across the floor and keep tiles in alignment.
With the floor as clean as possible and our supplies-adhesive, notched trowels, straight edges, razor knives, rubber hammer, duster brush, and rags-right at hand, we got to work. First we laid out the installation by popping a few carpenter’s chalk lines to guide us. We began the layout by calculating the center point of the pattern in the room, which was important for two reasons. In our case, we wanted to bisect the door opening from the dining room to create a pleasing appearance with the tiles, and evenly proportioning the pattern in the room would allow us to employ the tile cut-offs (half pieces) on the opposite side of the room, or in every other row on the same side.
Once we were satisfied with our layout lines, we began setting tiles. First we spread about two square feet of special linoleum adhesive with a notched trowel, then carefully placed about four tiles, lining them up as straight as possible while trying to keep the mastic off their surface. If we did get adhesive on a tile, we quickly wiped it off with a cloth and a little water. (You can remove mastic after it’s dry with mineral spirits.) When we had four tiles laid to our liking, we pounded them down soundly with our rubber hammer to set them and moved on. Occasionally, we turned a pattern in the wrong direction-it’s easy to do this after staring at tiles for awhile-but they were easy to pull up and reset. If, however, you have to remove tiles the next day, insert a stiff putty knife under the tile and slowly work it loose.
Our biggest challenge was keeping the lines straight. Because our specially cut tiles didn’t come from the factory, they had slight variations in their dimensions. Consequently, we sometimes had to fudge the alignment of individual tiles in order to keep the row looking straight. Overall, laying the field tiles was simple and fast, which is a good thing because you want to work expediently once you apply the adhesive, or it will begin to set up.
After carefully laying a field of tiles and hammering them in place, Lisa Jordan smooths seams with a wallpaper seam roller.
We took extra care cutting the edge tiles because we had ordered only enough linoleum to finish the floor. If we made too many mistakes, we’d have to buy two more boxes of materials, one in each color. We had only one out-of-square wall in our kitchen, and here we used a carpenter’s bevel gauge to copy the angles. A bevel gauge is useful for all cuts if the room is slightly or significantly out-of-square.
As for pipes, we measured, cut the hole, and then made another cut to the edge of the tile so it could be carefully maneuvered around the pipe. We cut the tiles with a sharp razor knife while they were placed on a board, using a carpenter’s
speed square or framing square as a straightedge. You could use a carpenter’s profile gauge to measure weird or unusually shaped (not straight) areas. A sharp rasp was fine for cleaning up minor imperfections on tile edges and for making minor adjustments. Knee pads are handy to have too, but we used a gardener’s foam knee pad.
In the end, we ran out of tiles as the project neared completion and had to use various scraps under our refrigerator. Manufacturers recommend not walking on the floor for about three days to allow it to set completely, but you can lay plywood over the floor and walk carefully. Our floor has held up great. After five years of extreme wear with two young children, two sloppy adults, and an 80-pound dog, we’re still pleased with linoleum’s durability and patina. Whether it is dull with wear or shiny from a fresh cleaning, our floor is always beautiful and a delight to walk on. Sometimes, it’s the tried-and-true, low-tech solutions that are the best fit for old houses, and sometimes, the answers are right under our feet.