Wednesday, 17 June 2015


Like many other things, flooring too has a long history in this country. A hundred years ago, pale yellow lime concrete floors were the norm. The cool Cuddappah floor was also popular but had the disadvantage of darkening the house interior. Terracotta tiles were all the rage in south Canara being embellished by rangoli designs and were a favourite of missionaries. Marble was popular among the aristocracy. Porcelain tiles (Italian tiles) found their place in entrance halls, master bedrooms and sanitary annexes. Bathrooms were a convenient place for dressed granite slabs as they were not slippery. The high cost of smoothening with chisels prevented their use in main rooms.

Flooring can come in a dazzling variety of colours and textures. Today it is possible to be creative and original in the kind of floors you choose for your home. With one eye on your purse and the other eye on aesthetics, you can afford to have the floor of your choice at costs ranging from Rs.25 per sq.ft. to Rs.2000 per sq.ft. Together with matching wall finishes, furniture and other furnishings, the effect of carefully laid floors can be breathtaking, enhancing the quality of your life.

During the last thirty years, rapid strides in the technology of manufacturing and finishing have changed everything including the importance of flooring in the construction of houses. 'Indian Patent Stone' was the pompous name given to the cement concrete floor in the twenties and thirties. This was seen in Mumbai, Bangalore and other places. We have not been able to discover the origin of this name, but it still exists in the Bombay PWD handbook! During the forties and fifties a red oxide floor was the rule, adding a little colour to homes. This, mixed with pigments of green, blue and ochre, plus a bright sheen after manual polishing made it quite attractive, but it became obsolete due to lack of availability of labour. The next arrival was mosaic or 'Terrazzo' which was soon replaced by mosaic tiles. These were of better quality and required less labour. They were grey in colour with small chips embedded in them. They were followed by tiles in a variety of colours and designs, having large and small chips, and were popular in the sixties.

Wooden flooring was used in some European bungalows and higher class Indian homes, where wood was cheaply available. These wooden boards had their natural colour and were occasionally polished. However with the scarcity of seasoned wood in the fifties, this kind of flooring virtually disappeared. The cost of flooring was around 4% to 5% of the total construction cost.

In modern times there are almost thirteen different types of flooring in use. Some of these are: granite, marble, ceramic tiles, marbonite, linoleum, nylon carpet tiles, wooden, acrylic, glass blocks, fibre-based paper flooring, terracotta tiles, Mysore Chaape and mirrored glass. These have different advantages and disadvantages according to their composition, cost, aesthetic value and maintenance capability.

Prestigious commercial complexes, public buildings and exhibition galleries now often display granite floors, as it is easy to cut granite into thin slabs and polish it with the help of modern machines. Another popular stone is marble, especially Italian marble which is of a pure white translucency available in pure colours and has become accessible after removal of import restrictions on it. It should never be used where there is possibility of contact with acid or chemicals.

Tandur and Shabad now have a restricted use, Ceramic tiles come next and can be procured in large sizes and various colours, designs and textures. According to the usage, we can choose the degree of resistance to wear. There is a choice between glazed, matt and anti skid finishes. Their popularity has increased with the reduction in jointing where line and level maintenance was tedious. The coming of PVC spacers has added to their appearance and they are used by Section A and Section B house builders.

Another kind of flooring which is gradually becoming popular is Marbonite which is a copy of natural marble. One disadvantage of stone and ceramic flooring is that it could lead to lack of warmth in the winter season, especially for the elderly. 

Vinyl tile flooring which comes in many sizes and colours is also in vogue. It comes in a thickness of 0.55 mm to 2 mm, reduces noise level, is insulating, comes both in tile and roll form and the laying of tiles is fast and they are easy to clean. They may be damaged by sharp furniture and high heels. Their patch repair is simple, and it is wise to ensure good quality by purchasing reputed brands from authorized suppliers. Although linolum was tried it has gone out of use. Nylon carpet tiles are now being selectively used.

Wooden floors are presently in fashion among the more well-to-do. There are basically 2 kinds: solid wood and laminated wood derivative. Some varieties among solid wood are: hardwood teak, walnut, oak, maple, ash and pine. Most of it is imported on account of quality. Boards are obtained from Sweden and Belgium. Patterns may be straight, diagonal, checkered, parquet or boarded. It is also possible to use 2 different patterns to divide a space for different uses. For example in a drawing-cum-dining room.

Some of us may be disconcerted to hear that solid wood flooring could cost from around Rs.800 to 1000 per sq.ft. For the smaller fry, there are laminates ranging from Rs.100 to 200 per sq.ft. If you want to be ethnic, seasoned and laminated wood boards could fit the bill. Even bamboo laths all the way from China and Assam could be used for boards. They are for better strength and durability, have dimensional stability and can be recycled.

Surprisingly, some architects have tried laying wood with marble or granite. As these expand and contract differently, gaps may develop. It requires good maintenance and care. A soft dry broom is best for avoiding scratches. Wet mops are definitely out. They should be cleaned with a soft cloth and polished often with wax polish. Furniture should have soft pads on its legs. Vinyl and wooden flooring is easier on swollen feet in the cold season.

Fibre-based paper flooring is an eco-friendly material woven from paper cord, jute, bamboo, sea grass, corn husk, coconut fibre, sisal or hemp. These products are recyclable having a latex backing. As these are available in a variety of colours and loom lengths they can be used in place of carpets.

Another cost-effective technology has produced terracotta tiles which have a natural rustic quality. Quality control at the manufacturing stage should be good. Some products of an architect's imaginative creativity are rolls of Mysore Chaape made out of golden yellow grass reeds woven together. Mirrored glass is also an item coming down from centuries.

With all these diverse kinds of floorings to choose from, you have no excuse to neglect your house floors, and you can transform the appearance of your interiors with their help.

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