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What the well-dressed floor is wearing

Or indeed is not wearing in some cases. I say this because this month we are looking at floorcoverings – or possibly the lack of them. So, to cover or not to cover, that is the question. And if to cover, then with what? As in so many areas of interior design there is no one definitive answer (just as well really, or I and my fellow designers would be out of a job).

Generally speaking some locations such as hallways will benefit from the practicality of a hard floor such as wood or ceramic, whilst it’s always nice to feel the softness of a luxurious carpet under your feet when getting up in the morning. But even in these cases nothing is set in stone. Mind you, I say nothing is set in stone, but thankfully I haven’t seen kitchen carpet for many a year. And although it’s a rarity these days, I was actually asked to specify a carpet for a bathroom a few months ago – not my favourite idea, but it’s what the client definitely wanted, so who am I to argue.

If you have a porch with a hard floor you will be able to live comfortably with a carpeted hall, although do exercise a little gumption in your choice of colour. Many years ago in my first house I was rash enough to have an off-white carpet in the hall and up the stairs. Everybody told me I was mad, but I insisted that white wasn’t really such an impractical colour, and anyway it would be the height of style. Well of course it was, and it looked spectacular – for minutes !

Just a word about ceramic floors in porches and halls – and I suppose in kitchens and bathrooms for that matter; whilst a polished porcelain or marble floor looks spectacular, it can become very slippery when wet. That having been said, I’ve got a polished porcelain floor in my own porch, kitchen and bathroom, and I’ve not had an accident yet. Well, that’s probably jinxed it !!!

If you are thinking of installing a ceramic floor in a kitchen or more particularly a bathroom, it’s well worth investing in some form of under-floor heating. For small and medium sized areas the most convenient and cost effective system is electric. It looks rather like an old electric blanket, is simple to fit, and hardly raises the level of the floor at all. For large areas I’m afraid you’re talking about digging up the floor to a depth of at least a foot (sorry, 30 centimetres) and adding a full-blown piped system to your central heating.

If you have an older house you may find on lifting a well-worn carpet that you uncover a set of virtually mint floorboards that need little or no attention other than a light sand and seal. By all means leave these bare, as they will probably be the wider planks that were used in years gone by, and will look fabulous. Some original floors can be successfully patched and renovated, but do know when to draw the line and admit that age and use have taken just too much toll. I have sometimes seen floors that have so many different sizes and shades of plank that they look like a toddler’s jigsaw puzzle. In these cases it’s simply better to cover them up. Of course, if you don’t have the benefit of original floorboards but decide that wood is the right look for you, then by all means install a wood floor, but please, please make it a good quality one.

I know I always bang on about quality (and I’ll be doing it again later without any apology), but in this area more than almost any other in the field of interiors, a poor quality laminated wood floor sticks out like Bagpuss at Crufts ! The likes of the “Wood Floors to Go are Us” outlets that sprang up a few years ago selling wood and laminate floors at little more than the price of a bag of chips finally seem to have realised that it’s no good selling you 20 square metres of floor at fourpence halfpenny a metre, if you can only actually use 10 metres because the remainder is either warped or simply won’t click into the adjoining plank. If you’re looking for a basic product, such as a medium oak three-strip or plank, they can be quite good value for money. If however you’re looking for something a little more special, or an unusual wood, you’ll be hard pressed to beat Kahrs. They have a truly wonderful range, and the quality of the product is second to none. We installed their Oak Slate floor in our showroom a couple of years ago, and it’s been a great success. If you’re in the market for a jaw-droppingly beautiful, crisp and contemporary single plank floor check out their new Capital collection – particularly the Oak Berlin. Now that’s what I call the Wow factor !!!!

A wood floor in a living or dining room can look the picture of elegance, but will almost certainly need softening with a rug. Whilst for the traditionalists you’ll never better a hand woven oriental rug, for the more contemporary interior the range of available and affordable rugs is wider than ever before. Natural wools, with or without leather borders, give a smart tailored look. Heavily patterned or textured rugs, rich in colour, lend warmth to a room and can become a focal point. For the more adventurous there are fabulous hide or even layered felt rugs to be had.

Carpets are firmly back on the agenda for most rooms – if indeed they were ever really off it – and what a wonderful choice of different styles, piles and weaves we now have. Manufacturers of plain twist and velvet pile carpets have moved with the times and re-coloured many of their ranges, moving away from the traditional pastel greens and pinks to include a wide range of smart putty, stone and soft grey colours, along with breath-taking steels and graphites. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water though, a rich emerald or cherry coloured carpet can still look fabulous in an atmospheric dining room.

Finally, and here I am back on the “quality” soapbox, if you’re going for a fitted carpet do buy the best you can afford. I’m not suggesting you sell off the family silver or auction your granny, but in this field - almost as much as in wood flooring - quality really is reflected in the price. Currently, in response to every carpet warehouse trying to undercut the competition and virtually give the stuff away, the market has been flooded with cheap (and mostly inferior quality) twist pile carpets, which may be fine for a quick fix, but most certainly will not have the durability and enduring lustre, depth of colour and all round sumptuousness of a good carpet!!

There, I’m getting down now.

John Biddell, John Charles Interiors

Live 24 7 magazine editorial - August 2014