Design Dilemma: Linoleum for the 21st Century
We associate it with hospitals, school cafeterias and 1950s kitchens, but linoleum (a type of flooring that has been around for the last 100 years) is making a pretty strong comeback in the design world in the 21st century.
Now, to be clear, we’re not talking about vinyl (which has often mistakenly been referred to as “linoleum.”) We’re talking about actual, real linoleum — made from linseed oil, recycled wood “flour”, cork dust, pine resin and limestone. The linseed oil made from flax seeds is boiled, mixed with the powdered cork, ground sawdust, and pine resin, as well as minerals such as ground limestone, zinc, and pigments. It is then applied to a burlap backing with an acrylic finish. The resulting flooring is honest-to-goodness linoleum which is naturally anti-bacterial, since linseed inhibits the growth of microbes.
What’s so cool about linoleum? Well, it’s:
- Eco-friendly. Linoleum comes from natural products that are all biodegradable.
- Hard-wearing. With a lifespan of thirty to forty years compared with ten to twenty years for vinyl.
- Easy to maintain. Just a quick dry mop and you’re done. And because linoleum’s color extends throughout its thickness, surface mars can be buffed out and the area re-sealed.
- Comes in many colors and styles. There are hundreds of different colors and patterns on the market, allowing you to create whatever look you want.
Just check out some of the looks:
Above, a muted checkered look is a new take on a traditional look. Below, linoleum can be designed to resemble wood and can often feature interesting curvilinear shapes.
Below, linoleum remnants are a fun and funky look in the kitchen:
And here, we see a traditional 1920’s cut linoleum look:
Linoleum does have its drawbacks, however, which you should be aware of before purchasing:
- Linoleum floors emit a small amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), but health experts don’t believe these particular ones are a concern. Some people are sensitive to linseed oil fumes and cannot tolerate linoleum until it has aired for several weeks, even months. Check your reactions before selecting it.
- Linoleum should not be exposed to constant moisture. Test the moisture content of floor slabs before installing linoleum. Caulk edges in bathrooms where linoleum abuts tubs and showers.
- All linoleum is currently imported from Europe. For U.S. buyers, that means it takes a lot of energy to ship it. On the other hand, manufacturing linoleum is relatively low-energy, and you won’t be replacing a linoleum floor anytime soon!
Forbo is currently the best-known linoleum producer, offering a product called “Marmoleum” in a palette of colors that mimics quarried rock, and “Artoleum” with colors that may have been taken from a computer-generated Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. Marmoleum costs $29 a square yard versus $6 to $40 a square yard for varying grades of vinyl.
So if you’re looking for a hip, eco-friendly, but decidedly retro flooring in your home, linoleum may be just what you’re looking for.