Fancy Underfoot Work
Three sublime choices for the home decorator to walk all over.
Thursday, April 19, 2001
As befits such an important element of the home, there''s a huge variety of material available for flooring, from rough-hewn stone to plushest carpet.
But let''s not talk about carpeting and how difficult it is to really clean it, with all those pet hairs and cracker crumbs and grains of beach sand sifting deeper and deeper into the pile, breeding God-only-knows-what down inside there. In fact, let''s not even think about it.
And let''s not worry our pretty heads about stone and heavy tiles, which may require sub-floor reinforcement and special prep work.
More practical for most people are a couple of environment-friendly flooring materials that are coming into vogue. And if you have deeper pockets and are into something a little more adventurous, there''s a local company that can help turn your 1950s ranch-style house into a quaint rustic cottage--sort of.
More than Bulletin Boards
"There''s a resurgence in cork," proclaims Les Prather of Carpets & Floors in Monterey. "It''s quite firm--it will respond and come back up."
Every nine years or so, the bark from cork trees in Spain, Portugal and other Mediterranean countries is cut from the plants, then ground into granules of varying sizes for uses ranging from bulletin boards to wall coverings. Cork for flooring is available both for glue-down applications or laminated onto wooden sheets that can be laid down to produce a "floating" floor held in place by floor molding.
In color, a cork floor will range from a natural light tan to a sort of rich, orangish brown that comes from toasting the cork granules. There are a couple of different finishes available: matte, oil and a glossier polyurethane varnish.
You''re probably thinking, "Cork? Isn''t that the stuff that gets all crumbly after I''ve stuck too many thumbtacks into my bulletin board?" The answer is yes. And therein lies its beauty, according to Prather. He reports that cork is remarkably durable and that there are homes in the area that have cork floors 50 years old.
In fact, he tells a story about a home at the mouth of Carmel Valley that was flooded a few years back. Though other repairs were needed, the owners were adamant about keeping their hardly damaged cork floor.
Unlike many other floors, which will retain the impressions left by heavy furniture, cork will almost always spring back. And if the floor does get gouged, repairs are fairly simple.
"After the floor is installed, you want to have a few pieces left," Prather advises. "You grind up some leftover pieces and mix it with glue and putty it into the hole. Once it dries, it''s virtually invisible."
Walking on Skewers
Anybody who''s been plagued with a stand of rogue bamboo in the back yard knows how hardy the plant is and how quickly it grows, even in the relatively cool climes of the Monterey Peninsula. In the tropics of Asia, bamboo, which is a grass rather than a tree, grows much more quickly--in some places, up to two feet a day.
Prather describes the look of bamboo flooring, almost all of which comes from China, as being similar to birch or maple.
"It''s very soft-looking, a yellowish white. It loses the flavor of the knotting," he says, "but that makes it stronger. It''s harder than some hardwoods, and it is a totally renewable resource.
"It has a natural die-back--every so many years, entire areas of the bamboo forest in China just die. So they take a look at what''s coming up and re-harvest those areas, which promotes new growth."
Bamboo flooring is created both from long strips of bamboo and from smaller cross-sections cut from the plants. In either case, the pieces of bamboo are laminated together to create planks that can be installed onto a subfloor.
Prather says installed bamboo flooring is comparably priced to hardwood flooring, ranging from $12-15 per square foot, depending on how much prep work is required before the floor is put down.
Forward, Into the Past
If you''re working with a bigger budget than most people and your tastes run toward something a little older and more elegant, you might want to consider paying a visit to Renaissance Old World Flooring and Door Company. The company was started by Scott Spiess in his garage in the late ''80s. Although the company relocated its main office and manufacturing plant from Salinas to Fresno at the beginning of this year, Renaissance still maintains a showroom and does some manufacturing in Salinas.
Gary Courtright''s main job at Renaissance is directing sales and marketing, but he knows all aspects of the business. "You name it, I do it," he says. Courtright emphasizes that all Renaissance products are "hand distressed and Old World in appearance."
Working primarily in cherry, walnut, mahogany and alder, Renaissance craftspeople strive to achieve a completely handmade look in everything they do, from floors to cabinets, rendering styles that were popular hundreds of years ago.
While the handmade look has become popular in recent years, most producers of furniture or flooring rely on stamps or molds to imprint distressed markings onto milled lumber. It''s easy to spot the synthetic repetition of patterns in many of these reproductions. What sets Renaissance apart is that their products bear the random marks that distinguish truly hand-crafted pieces from machine-created.
"Basically, all we''re doing is taking the top layer [of factory-milled lumber] and hand-planing the top off," explains Courtright. "It looks like it''s just been carved out of a tree."
Even within the relatively narrow confines of handmade hardwood flooring, Courtright says there are a number of considerations that go into the choice of what kind of floor gets installed in a given home.
"You can change the flooring and baseboard to change what the house feels like," says Courtright. "Not everything is form and function--it''s what''s pleasing to the customer."
The first consideration, of course, is price, which dictates the choice of woods. From there, the customer has to decide what he or she is trying to achieve, whether it''s brightening up a dark room or emphasizing its shape with narrow or wide floorboards. "Typically, if there''s a lot of wood in the room, it''s easier," Courtright notes. "It''s easier to match up tones of wood than it is match [other wall coverings]. We also try to find out how rustic a floor they want."
Beyond making your house a more pleasing place to live, there may be another advantage to putting a new floor into your house: It''s a way to increase the home''s value. If the carpet or floor really needs replacing, you might be able to profit from the investment--or at least take away one of a future buyer''s negotiating points.
On the other hand, don''t rush to replace a floor that''s still in good condition--in the end, you''ll probably spend more money than you''d make off the deal.