Decorative Floor Inlays – Globe and Mail

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Decorative floor inlaysViewed from the top of a spiral staircase, the intricate geometric and floral design below, like patterns in a kaleidoscope, gives the illusion of depth and movement, as if Aladdin’s magic carpet had casually entered the home furnishings market. Upon closer inspection, however, one discovers that this aberration is not a rug at all but an exquisitely inlaid floor composed of natural, multi-coloured and textured exotic woods.

In a retail installation in Vancouver, a Keith Haring-like design of a black cartoon cat, pursued by a skeleton and menacing sharks, has been inlaid into cobalt blue, red and yellow linoleum flooring like a macabre jigsaw puzzle.

Decorative flooring inlays like these are currently enjoying a resurgence in popularity, but with a typically environmentally – friendly spin: Virtually unheard of since the Renaissance when beautiful marquetry inlay floor designs were all hand made by use of hammer and chisel, the lost art has been resurrected with the help of computer-driven laser technology and is not limited to hardwood. Software is also responsible for taking Mom’s humble kitchen linoleum (a natural product made from the linseed or flax plant) and transforming it into hip and trendy Marmoleum, used extensively by architects when designing floors in restaurants, retail stores and hospitals.

Dynamic Laser Applications, a small company out of Marietta, Georgia, took seven years to research and develop the lasers and sophisticated software to produce a stunning collection of wood floor ïinlays and borders, carried exclusively in Canada by Elte Carpets & Home, 80 Ronald Avenue, Toronto (416) 785-4774.

Explains DLA marketing director, Jim Garth, “All inlays begin in the engineering department where the design is computer-generated. Duel lasers cut the exact pattern into two strips of wood, usually of contrasting colours, so the individual pieces are interchangeable. Quarter-sawn wood is used predominately throughout our inlays and all lumber is milled to 5/16 inch thick. Wood parts are assembled by hand as you would a puzzle – a very time-consuming and demanding process, then special glued and shipped to the installer.”

Only the finest quality woods from Africa, South America and the U.S. are selected for their colour, moisture content of less than ten percent as well as control of mineral streaks, knots, splits, grain and textures. Garth is careful to emphasize that “all of these woods are harvested. We do not deplete any rain forests and will produce certificates to verify this claim.”

Although there is a large colour spectrum of indelible dyes available (the only synthetic but optional component of a design, often requested by a client to illuminate flowers and leaves) the most stunning inlays are composed of colours inherent to a wide variety of tree species. A designer will juxtapose these multiple hues from earthtones to purple, red, yellow, and black, with the natural striations and grains of others. For example, a breathtaking inlay floor of repeating Japanese fans on a white ash background is composed of radiating caramel to chocolate-coloured Brazilian cherry fronds (the out-spread fan) outlined in black wende, a dense fine-grained African wood similar to ebony. At the base of each fan is a subtle, almost Art Deco-like design in a delicate, honey-coloured lacy patterned grain, produced from American sycamore.

Prices range from $38.59 to $89.59 (Can.) per square foot depending upon the intricacy of the design inlay and number and type of species of hardwood chosen. A 36” X 84” inlay created to resemble a highly decorative area rug using five different hardwoods is $7,398.59. Mary -Ann Metrick, director of public relations at Elte Carpets & Home acknowledges that “although this product is costly, workmanship, especially the matching of grains right down to the veins in leaves is impeccable. All prices include on-site installation. ”Elte also offer hundreds of patterns from their carpet selection that can be adapted to custom inlay floor designs.

Stratford choreographer, Brian Macdonald remembers when battleship linoleum (originally used for camouflage and durability during WWI and II,) came in one colour – grey – and changed the history of dance. “I remember being utterly amazed when watching the Broadway production of Can Can in 1953, and those male dancers actually slid through the girls legs, underpants in hand. It was a novelty then and every ballet and modern jazz company started using linoleum flooring after that!”

Once considered mundane and old fashioned, linoleum floors and inlays are now the hottest design trend in restaurant, retail and corporate installations across North America, although they have been popular in Europe for many years. Some striking examples include the be-ribboned foyer of the Ontario Crafts Council; a star-studded wing of the Wellesley Hospital and a subtle pastiche of converging arrows and stripes in the floor of the much heralded restaurant, Bobas in Toronto.

Although invented one hundred years ago, linoleum fits perfectly into today’s environmental ethic: A natural product made from linseed oil, cork and wood flour, oxygen hardens the material to the desired resilience and flexibility. It is dust-free, anti-static and completely bio-degradable. Re-born as Marmoleum, and manufactured by Forbo Industries Inc., they are the largest producers of linoleum in the world with plants in Scotland and Holland. Ironically, most of the flax used in the manufacture of the product is grown in Canada and exported overseas to Forbo. Available in over a hundred choices of marbleized colours with a life span of 20 to 30 years, Marmoleum can be cut into virtually any design either by hand on-site or for more intricate patterns, using software and a computerized laser system powered by water, known as aqua-jet.

“It’s an amazing product and very easy to work with,” enthuses designer, Dan Menchions, whose firm II X IV won an indus try ARIDO Award for their design for Shark City Athletic Club in Toronto. “We created hand-cut Marmoleum shark inlays in the floors throughout the restaurant and washrooms. What makes them so unusual is that the sharks are also covered with ball-bearings that have been rosined, poured and grouted so that people aren’t slipping all over them. Downstairs, pool tables stand on Marmoleum floors inset with mosaic tiles in the shape of cue balls. Because Marmoleum doesn’t melt and requires minimal maintenance, it’s perfect for a high traffic bar/restaurant area. In fact, cigarette burns can virtually be buffed out. And, it’s not a high price ticket item. It’s very cost effective for our clients to use, about $3.00 a square foot installed.”

In the spring, Forbo will launch Artoleum, a designer linoleum that combines vivid colour combinations imprinted like Impressionist brushstrokes. Says Forbo Canada marketing manager, Tom Lerikos, “Tremendous interest in Marmoleum has always come from architects and designers doing commercial installations and we are also expanding into the residential market as well. But one of our most unusual inquiries for the product came from an unexpected variation in the dance field – strip clubs. So our natural product is used in the raw too!”

For Marmoleum and Artoleum product inquiries contact Forbo Industries (416) 661-2351.