Published by Soundings Magazine for The Sea Ranch
For many new Sea Ranch homeowners, the first project they embark on is to remove the ubiquitous carpet found in many homes with everyone’s favorite: hardwood floors. Our homes tend to have many wooden features including paneled walls and ceilings, most often with decades of rich patina. Adding more wood to the mix can be a challenge, and if not done carefully, can result in a look that resembles the inside of a cigar box. Here are three floor options that you may not have considered, which like wood are easy to clean, environmentally friendly, and beautiful to live with.
Cork has been around since Victorian times, but its heyday began in the 1930’s as architects like Richard Neutra began to use it in their homes. Aesthetically, cork floors provide the color tones of wood, but in an understated, uniform texture and color that doesn’t overwhelm the room.
Cork is sustainably harvested. The Cork Oak is harvested by having sections of its bark peeled off, which are self-replenished over time. Its spongy nature makes it soft and warm under bare feet, and it is perfect for second story flooring, acting as sound insulator. Cork flooring contains a natural waxy substance known as suberin, which repels vermin and insects while resisting the growth of microbes.
Cork flooring is most commonly found in tiles, which are glued down using standard thin set mortar. It is also available in prefinished tiles that click together. In both cases, you should apply multiple coats of a water-based sealer to protect your floors. Cork can be refinished, which, like refinishing hardwood floors, involves sanding down the finish, staining and or reapplying the finish sealer. Be sure to shop for higher quality tiles with a thick layer of cork on them. Cleaning cork floors is easy, requiring only sweeping or vacuuming up the dirt and wiping up spills as soon as they happen.
Cork does have its disadvantages. Cork is sensitive to fading in the sun, so be mindful of that
entry rug you placed in front of a sunny glass door. It’s also soft, which means it can dent from heavy objects being dropped on it. When placing furniture, legs and feet may need to sit on top of furniture coasters. Cork floors are also not ideal for households with pets, as the finish can become scratched by their nails. Unlike wood floors, however, individual cork tiles can be easily replaced, should one get damaged. I recommend quality cork brands like Expako or Wicanders.
Mention linoleum, and many people think of black and white checkerboard kitchen floors, or worse, it is mistaken for cheap vinyl sheet flooring. Natural linoleum is made of renewable ingredients, including linseed oil, wood flour, cork dust, tree resins, jute, ground limestone, and natural pigments. The color palette ranges from muted earth tones, which perfectly complement our wood interiors, to brighter colors, for those who’d like to make more of a statement. Like cork, it’s soft and warm underfoot, perfect for our barefoot beach lifestyle, and is superior to cork floors in that it’s more durable. Like cork, it’s easy to clean, requiring just sweeping or vacuuming.
Linoleum can be installed a few ways: sheet linoleum, best laid by a professional; or tiles, available in glue-down and click-together installation. Natural linoleum is a porous product, so it needs to be sealed when installed, and annually thereafter to provide water resistance.
Linoleum works well in living and dining spaces when laid as one singular color and texture. In smaller spaces like entries and kitchens, consider laying tiles, using multiple colors to create your own supergraphic inspired pattern. Disadvantages are few, mostly from being subject to fading in the sun. Forbo, makers of Marmoleum, and Armstrong are great resources for linoleum.
Rubber is a favorite natural flooring material of mine, which we used in the remodel of our Esherick cabin. You’ve likely never heard of it being used in residential homes, because it’s commonly used in institutional projects like hospitals. Like cork and linoleum, rubber is considered a resilient flooring, which means it’s soft and warm under foot. Rubber is generally a natural product made from the latex sap of a rubber tree, although some products are made from recycled tires. Rubber is durable, quiet to walk on, and water-resistant, especially in sheet applications. Rubber is available in many looks, but two favorites that I think are appropriate for residential homes are the Teles line from Mannington and the And/Or cork and rubber combination from Capri Cork. The Teles line comes in sheets, planks or tiles. This Bay Area
factory makes the tiles from natural latex rubber, and because of the close proximity, shipping costs are low.
The tiles have a subtle textural pattern, similar to natural linoleum, and are available in a range of colors and tile shapes. The And/Or collection from Capri Cork is a mix of recycled rubber, available in 24 colors, all with tiny flecks of cork embedded in the flooring that ties well with our wood interiors. It comes in sheets, which are good for bathrooms and other wet areas, as well as glue-down tiles and click-together tiles. Because of the cork content, this floor does require periodic sealing. Rubber floors are easy to clean, but there are a few downsides specific to rubber. Rubber floors do not take kindly to detergents or abrasive cleaning products, and are susceptible to stains from grease and oil.
Some believe for this reason it’s not recommended for kitchens, however we’ve had no problem with our kitchen floors over the past year. Our floors also had a basketball rubber smell for a few weeks after they were installed.
For all of its drawbacks, carpet provides a much needed visual and textural variance from the wood grain, which can be lost when replaced with hardwood flooring. These three options provide the benefits of wood flooring, and a change in texture that works well with Sea Ranch homes. Because of the commercial nature of some of these products, you may need to order them through your architect, designer, or contractor. All are straightforward to install, easy to maintain, are eco-friendly and ultimately biodegradable.
Chad is the Creative Director of Framestudio, with offices in Oakland and The Sea Ranch. He can be found at www.framedesign.studio.