Reclaim the floors

Reclaim the floors

Flooring is one the most important design features of any home, but wading through the options to weigh-up relative eco-friendliness is not an easy task...

Text: Kay Hill
Lyon antique terracotta from Lapicida was moulded by hand and fired in French wood-burning kilns around 300 years ago. £318 sq m. www.lapicida.com

This lovely Lyon antique terracotta from Lapicida was moulded by hand and fired in French wood-burning kilns around 300 years ago. £318 sq m. www.lapicida.com

The very best option from an eco-friendly point of view, is almost always going to be to repair what is already there – carpets can be cleaned, wooden floors can be sanded and revarnished, while stone can be scrubbed and evened out if necessary. But let’s face it, if you move into a house with a purple swirly carpet, ancient lino or cracked tiles on the floors, no one will blame you for wanting to start again. If you can’t repair, then the next best thing is to re-use, and there is a thriving industry of salvage experts offering vintage and antique wood and stone that can transform your home.

Reclaimed wooden floors

'It’s better for the environment to re-use existing wood than to chop down more trees,' says Nick Newman from salvage expert Lassco. It also offers the opportunity, he adds, to use exotic hardwoods that are no longer felled. A lot of timber was taken from countries such as former Rhodesia and Burma in the early part of the 20th century, and while the harvesting was irresponsible and unsustainable, as with your grandmother’s fur coat, the damage is long done, and it would be even more irresponsible not to continue to use these beautiful timbers.

Reclaimed wooden floors range from magnificent 15th century boards and elegant Versailles parquet panels, through to the more mundane – vintage pine or parquet blocks from old schools and factories. At the top end prices can be eye-wateringly high, while the work involved in cleaning and re-laying old parquet can easily top the price of new blocks.

'Buying reclaimed materials can be a minefield for the unwary and untutored,' warns David Gunton of David Gunton Hardwood Floors. 'Many buyers are driven and blinded by nostalgia and false images of their expectation of the attainable results. Very often old wooden flooring is more, or even very much more, costly than new flooring of the same species of wood, and fitting second-hand flooring well is not quick, so if you are paying for a craftsman's time then expect a big bill.' But while buying used will not cut costs; good reasons to consider it, he says, are 'because that is the only way you can achieve the image you want or because you want to do your bit to save the planet and all the wasted trees.'

It’s worth noting, says Newman, that flooring finishes used in times gone by were often extremely toxic, with heavily off-gassing varnishes and sticky bitumen, but you can still get an authentic look without resorting to chemical nasties. 'We like to be environmentally friendly with finishing, so we recommend water-based lacquers or Osmo Oil, which is so safe that you could even drink it.' (But hey kids..don’t try that at home!)

Small, irregular pieces of wood in Crocodile Oak pattern, part of the Requiem Collection from Rainleaf, in association with Dutch flooring designer Albert Chapel.
Antique Reclaimed 17th century Lyon Terracotta from Lapicida, which was traditionally used to cover floors in rooms throughout European homes. £288 sq m. www.lapicida.com
Swedish firm Apokalyps Labotek makes funky modern parquet from old car tyres.
Antique oak panels from Victorian Woodworks, around £350 per m2
American Walnut Chevron from McKay Flooring, £100 per m2
Victorian oak blocks from David Gunton have been cleaned, sanded and polished

Top left: This pattern of small, irregular pieces of wood is called Crocodile Oak and is part of the Requiem Collection from Rainleaf, in association with Dutch flooring designer Albert Chapel. The pieces are cut and hand-shaped from massive old oak squares, then sanded, treated with water, coloured and polished with wax. Price on application Top right: Antique Reclaimed 17th century Lyon Terracotta from Lapicida, which was traditionally used to cover floors in rooms throughout European homes. £288 sq m. Centre row left: Swedish firm Apokalyps Labotek makes funky modern parquet from old car tyres. Made to order, price on application Centre row, right: Antique oak panels from Victorian Woodworks. The firm specialises in antique and reclaimed wooden floors. Antique around £350 per m2, reclaimed, from £150 per m2. Above left: American Walnut Chevron from McKay Flooring is made from salvaged adn recycled oak with an aged sculpted finish, treated with natural oils. From £100 per m2. Above right: Victorian oak blocks from David Gunton have been cleaned, sanded and polished. Price on application.
 

Reclaimed timber

There is a difference between reclaimed wooden floors and reclaimed timber that is not always clear. A reclaimed floor should be just that – boards or parquet that have been taken up from a floor, cleaned and re-laid. But much of what is available is actually reclaimed timber from other sources, anything from railways sleepers to the beams of old farmhouses, even Venetian mooring poles. That doesn’t mean that it’s any less beautiful, but the buyer should be aware that in general it won’t have the same natural patina as wood that has always been used for flooring.

Beautiful examples of floors made from reclaimed wood include Crocodile Oak from Rainleaf’s Requiem Collection, in association with Dutch flooring designer Albert Chapel. The pieces are cut and hand-shaped from massive old oak squares, then sanded, treated with water, coloured and polished with wax. Whisky Barrel flooring from Glasgow-based McKay Flooring is made from the sides and lids of old whisky barrels, which still maintain a pleasant aroma of the drink...well, pleasant certainly if whisky is your poison.

Reclaimed stone floors

Only in very top end heritage projects is a floor likely to be removed from one building and refitted in exactly the same way in another. In real life, many stone floors are removed because they have become damaged in some way, and even those which are intact were probably quarried by hand so are difficult to re-lay neatly. Rebecca Cherrington, head of projects at stone company Lapicida explains: 'The nature of reclaimed stone floors ‘in the raw’ means that the individual pieces tend to be extremely irregular in their size and thickness; making them difficult to re-use.

'Lapicida overcomes this by crafting antique stone to new dimensions and regular depth. Our workshops extend the use of old stone by milling it to create three different products. The surface of the original floor, or ‘First Face’ retains all the patina of the antique stone but has uniform thickness. The middle section, or ‘Second Face’, gives a wholly uniform tile for walls or floors, while the ‘Reverse Face’, originally the underside of the stone, creates an excitingly irregular wall tile. All of the character of the old stone is preserved, but it becomes easy to lay in its new location and can even be used with underfloor heating.”

Iain Kirkpatrick, director of Bourgogne Stone uses a similar process, cutting old slabs into two products. The first cut has a real antique finish on the top and sides, while the second cut retains the original antique sides and can be distressed on the top to give an antiqued look. 'What you are doing is doubling the amount of flooring from the original,' says Kirkpatrick. 'And the second cut costs only around a third of the cost, but you still know that you are being environmentally friendly.'

Cost is a big factor with reclaimed stone, admits Kirkpatrick: 'Reclaimed stone is a rarity, which makes it three times the cost of newly quarried stone. People are environmentally aware and want to do the right thing, but a lot of the time these considerations go out the window when they see the bottom line.'  Beautiful French limestone or creamy York stone might be the most sought after reclamations, but other options can give a similar look to stone at a fraction of the cost.

Refin’s Wood2 collection of tiles contains waste from old cathode ray tubes. Colourway shown is called Wood. £45 sq m. www.refin.it
Fired Earth’s Lubelska flooring, which is reclaimed 19th century klinker bricks from Poland, salvaged from the demolition of old barns and dairies, , £150 sq m.  www.firedearth.com

Reclaimed bricks and tiles

Fired Earth offers Lubelska flooring, which is reclaimed 19th century klinker bricks from Poland. These heavy, dense and hard-wearing bricks have been salvaged from the demolition of old barns and dairies, and offer beautiful colour variations and an interesting texture. Fired Earth also has recycled terracotta tiles, sourced from similar demolitions around Europe, while Lapicida has 300-year-old terracotta tiles originally made by hand and fired in French wood-burning kilns. Antique bricks, slate tiles and more modern terracotta can also be sourced from salvage merchants around the country.

Floors containing recycled waste

Vinyl floors containing waste plastics are relatively common in industrial environments, but far less so domestically. But one to look out for is Swedish company Apokalyps Labotek  which uses crumbled waste tyres mixed with recycled plastic to produce a hard-wearing modern take on traditional herringbone parquet. Called simply The Parquet, the product can be laid in a zigzag of bright colours, or completely in black for a more subtle effect. 

Another company looking at ways to incorporate recycled waste into its products is Italian tile company Refin, which has just launched a range of tiles containing 30 per cent recycled materials. Paolo Cesana, marketing director, explains: 'Our new tile collection, Wood², is an eco-friendly ceramic formulation, in which 20 per cent recycled pre-consumer ceramic material joins 10 per cent post-consumer glass from recycled cathode ray TVs - these materials optimise the quality of the products, while minimising their impact on the environment.' The tiles are digitally printed with a variety of wood patterns.

Conclusion

If it isn’t practical to repair existing floors, then re-use in the form of reclaimed floors or those made from recycled materials is a good option.

Green for Go: Reclaimed wood, stone, bricks and tiles from reliable sources.
Amber for Caution: Products from unknown salvage companies – there are firms that try to pass off cheap new wood as antique by distressing it, or handle stolen wood and stone from listed buildings or conservation areas, so check provenance carefully.
Red for Stop: Avoid toxic lacquers and glues when fitting floors, choose water-based products or natural vegetable oils instead.

 
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