Dress it up!
Flooring options for midcentury modern concrete floors
By Rachel Simmons, your modern design diva
Those of us with an affinity toward the modern definitely appreciate the beauty of a concrete floor, especially a postwar original. The cool, slick, form-follows-function and take-a-hose-to it material is a thumbs-up option in any midcentury modern restoration; but what if you are sick of concrete? While it is functional and, beautiful, it is also cold, stiff, hard on the joints — and let’s face it, so typical.
It seems that concrete has become the archetypal flooring for our mid-century mod interiors; possibly due to the fact that many historic home owners are reluctant to forsake this original piece of the postwar ranch pie. I commend those of you that want to protect or even refurbish your concrete floors, but as your modern design diva I reassure you all that concealing concrete is not only acceptable, it is desirable, and yes period appropriate.
Many original postwar interiors did venture down this path. It is a myth that bare concrete will make your interior more modern. Suburban fifties families that had the extra cash laid cork, linoleum, vinyl, carpeting, and a myriad of other innovative post-war products on top of those cold concrete floors. If you choose the appropriate material you can enhance the history of your home and add visual flair.
While you have my encouragement to cloak the concrete, don’t stop reading here and run out to the local Home Depot; this can’t be done with just ANY product! There are some specific materials and manufacturers that would enhance the look and feel of your mid-century marvel. In fact, I believe they are essential for any modern ranch interior.
My favorite flooring options are linoleum (yes, I said linoleum), cork, and modular carpeting. Let’s begin with a brief history lesson, first.
Linoleum is a natural surface material comprised of resins, cork or wood flour, linseed oil, and pigments. It is placed on a burlap backing. It was originally invented in England in 1863 but found special purpose during the postwar period.
While in every other era hard materials such as wood, tile, stone, were seen as extravagant and linoleum was viewed as downscale and tawdry, the most popular floor of the 50s was the Armstrong linoleum pattern called “spatter” that was likely inspired by the painter Jackson Pollock.
The natural material remained popular into the 60s but was eventually forced into extinction by the creation of vinyl flooring, which was easier to maintain, and less expensive (but quite unhealthy!).The last production of linoleum ceased in 1974, not to be resumed again until the beginning of the green building movement in the early 80s.
The Armstrong Cork Company began as a two-man bottle cork cutting shop in 1860.Rather than toss it in the trash, they sold their cork dust to various linoleum manufacturing plants. With the fear of prohibition threatening the demand for their product, they threw their hats in the ring and proceeded to manufacture the flooring themselves.
Armstrong experienced enormous growth during the postwar years; they revolutionized the linoleum industry by launching a massive advertising campaign along with a series of design guidebooks. To lure consumers, they began referring to linoleum as ‘a floor, not a floor covering’ and they targeted the new do-it-yourself movement by offering a product that was easy to install, even arming the consumer with handy installation instructions and design options.
The postwar years offered design hungry homeowners a variety of linoleum patterns and textures to chose from; however, today’s linoleum is not available in as many variations.
Currently, the product is limited to marbleized patterns and solid colors to cut down on manufacturing costs, appeal to a larger audience, and to distance the current product from its past reputation. Linoleum flooring would be the best choice for resilient manufactured flooring in a postwar renovation and can be found in a variety of colors to please any palette.
Cork was not a highly advertised material during the postwar era, but it was amply used. Builder Joseph Eichler automatically included it in all of his postwar modern tract houses in California, thanks to cork’s functional and aesthetic appeal. Producing the flooring was a natural progression for the Armstrong Corporation, since the business began as a bottle cork manufacturer before branching off into producing linoleum. The natural, resilient material coexists well with modern furniture and accessories, and is easy to install and maintain. It is reminiscent of the look of some linoleums and vinyl flooring styles, and is considered rapidly renewable, therefore makes the greenies’ seal of approval.
Cork is offered in a variety of patterns and colors (the original l’ standby is my favorite) and is an excellent option in a postwar ranch home as well as a great alternative to hardwood. It is less expensive, easier to maintain, sound absorbing, and striking in a modern interior.
Carpeting offered postwar interiors added punches of color. While neutral carpeting colors were often used to offset the modern vibrant furniture, it was also common to see bold hues stretched from wall to wall. There are many carpet manufacturers operating during the period that are still in business today, such as Shaw, DuPont, Magee, Mohawk, and Bigelow, but rather than continue with these mature and experienced companies, I have chosen a recent carpet line, not available during the fifties and sixties. In the postwar tradition of innovation and utilization of new technology, I call on the product FLOR, by Interface, Inc. to stand as the best choice for carpeting in the postwar home.
Interface, Inc. began in the early 1970s as a modular commercial carpeting company recognizing the need for customizable flooring. Headquartered in Atlanta, GA, the company has become the world’s leader in flexible floor coverings. Their residential line, known as FLOR, was launched in 2003 out of Illinois aiming to provide design savvy homeowners with customizable, do-it-yourself carpeting that is environmentally conscious. This product is an excellent mix of postwar and modern elements, joining together the desire for high style, flexibility, bold colors and textures, technology, and social moral considerations. In other words, you get a “green star” for using this product. There is little else more Mid-century modern than a D.I.Y. weekend project, either.
Benefits of FLOR include its ease of installation (the average installation can be done without a professional in about two hours), customization, and removability. If an area of the carpet becomes stained or damaged, the affected tiles can be removed and replaced.
Also, FLOR can be removed and taken with the owner to a new location. With each tile measuring 19.7 inches, the design possibilities are endless, and can be installed wall-to-wall or arranged as an area rug.
Now that I have revealed this superb selection of mid-century friendly products, I expect that you are frantically searching the internet for places to buy these awesome concrete alternatives.
To help with your shopping I recommend one of my favorite local home product stores, a.k.a. green. Located in Scottsdale, they have an extensive collection of linoleum, cork, and FLOR samples to warm up, soften, and colorize those grand, but sometimes bland concrete floors.
If you have any questions on colors or selections please feel free to email your modern design diva at: firstname.lastname@example.org. May your feet thank me!