A guest blog by Françoise Murat of Françoise Murat & Associates
In 2010 we worked on an eco project that lasted six months. This was a complete refurbishment of a late Victorian house with ground and two floors above. Eco was not a choice but a necessity due to children suffering with life threatening health problems. Amongst other things we had to look at eco paint, floor stains, floor varnishes and other hard materials.
The kitchen was a complete gut and re-build. Apart from designing the kitchen we had to find a floor finish for the kitchen/breakfast room where this family spends 80% of its time and also the bedrooms and upstairs hallway in this detached Victorian house.
Hunting for the perfect healthy floor
For the kitchen our hunt began with ceramic, vinyl flooring, bamboo, carpets,recycled material, laminates, wood of course and even rubber amongst many other weird and wonderful things.
All materials had their own good and bad points and too long to go into here, but we tested and chose our final floor finish on: embodied energy, carbon emission for manufacture, shipping, durability, maintenance and of course it had to tick all the health boxes.
The clients did talk of cork on and off in the first few weeks of this project and my initial reaction was “oh my god it’s going to look like a 1950’s drab house with spotty floors”. But as a designer you have to keep an open mind….so we sent off for samples….and we were blown away!
Some samples looked like the typical cork you would expect from the old tiles you were able to buy years ago. Last time I looked at cork flooring, four years ago, the choice was limited to…cork looking? But this time, we received cork that looked like burr walnut, beech, quartz looking and there was a tremendous variety of colour, of course it can be tinted or coloured, but it was rather amazing. We needed something mid-brown and we chose the burr-walnut effect for the hallway and bedrooms.
Here we see the little boy’s room ready to be furnished again, with the mid-brown burr-walnut look.
For the kitchen (above and main picture) we chose a very pale even textured and slightly mottled cork to go with the light oak and light blue units.
In situ they look fabulous, but it was with trepidation that we laid them down, the builders were definitely not convinced – and still aren’t! The connotations with old fashioned horrible yesteryear flooring is too strong!
The flooring is different to other engineered boards, in that it comes as very wide, nearly 300mm and only about 1m long, 10.5mm thick, there is some colour variation and we had to choose what was going to be put down, but the system is a click and lock system, so very easy to lay down. We did put it on an underlay and it has a rather spongy feel to it and the little girl loves it as she can feel the sounds and movements through her feet. These boards use VOC free glue, so we were safe.
We read countless data sheets, contractors installed all the boards we chose to be “safe” for the family to test on areas for a few weeks and see how they performed. We also realised that the material is not UK made of course, it usually comes from Portugal, but the main importer did huge container loads that aggregated all deliveries, so we calculated that the carbon footprint would be much less than importing from the Far East or using salvaged boards to refurbish etc… The embodied energy was also relatively low on these products. After much emission calculations, testing and investigating various suppliers, we chose our flooring.
It comes pre-varnished with no organic solvents, UV treated and it can be sanded and re-coated. It stands up really well to scratches actually, even with our crew still doing work all over the house. I’ve washed it myself with hot water and Ecover floor cleaner, I have hoovered it myself and it’s a dream floor.
The kitchen being a light coloured floor does show up stains and marks easily, but the client wanted a very light room as their daughter need lots of natural and reflective light, so they are happy to hoover and wash as and when it needs it.
You do have to watch out when you move furniture as it is softer than wood.
In bare feet it feels fantastically warm, and soft, it’s a very organic experience. But it does look really elegant – I’m even surprised I am saying so myself.
As for pricing, well just like the Eco paint manufacturers and suppliers, here in the UK they are not much geared up to wholesale trading ; the discounts are 10%, again no competition on normal trade prices. Prices start around £20.99 per m2 to £31.79 but prices do vary. For us it was a huge outlay as we had to order over 300m2 of flooring. The engineered boards came in packs and not in linear metres. The shipping charges are enormous – the suppliers use courier companies.
So would I use it again? Definitely – in the right setting. It is not everyone’s cup of tea but in this instance the family came back to a healthy house and the little girl is thriving in her new environment.
Françoise Murat & Associates specialise in interior, garden & landscape design. For more garden and interior design information visit us at www.francoisemurat.com.