Polished concrete floors were a novelty when they appeared in domestic settings in the early 1990s. Combined with white plastered walls, concrete provided the ideal backdrop for the minimalist aesthetic which dominated that decade. Polished concrete floors still find favour for those seeking a warehouse/industrial look. However, while concrete still appears underfoot, other materials, such as rubber, linoleum, cork and epoxy, are slowly emerging as options. Brick floors, a hallmark of the late architect Guilford Bell and evocative of the 1970s, are also heralding a return.
“Floor materials need to respond to the feel of a building rather than simply being considered as an afterthought,” says architect Andrew Piva, director of b.e. Architecture. Piva and his colleagues are currently working on a new brick house in North Caulfield. Constructed in a light-coloured brick to create an informal and relaxed house, evocative of a farmhouse, the architects were keen to also include a brick floor in the kitchen and living areas. However, unlike the often raw brick floors with the uneven edges that sometimes resulted, the brick floor in the North Caulfield house will resemble terrazzo in its level of finish, extremely smooth. “We’re in the experiment phase at the moment. As with terrazzo, you need to select the right bricks and ensure they are extremely well-sealed,” adds Piva.
When b.e. Architecture uses a hard floor such as concrete or terrazzo, it’s mindful of creating sufficient surface interest in the mix to ensure crumbs or dirt can’t be detected. “Concrete floors can look fantastic in the right setting, but you need to integrate them into the initial building phase, using a secondary pour or a top screed,” says Piva, who also looks at the floor material in relation to the specific function it’s used for. For areas such as kitchens, laundries, or pantries, where there’s a high level of foot traffic, Piva suggests using materials such as rubber or cork. “Rubber feels wonderful to stand on, particularly if you spend a lot of time at a kitchen bench”.
Using large formal tiles inside and out to strengthen the connection to the outdoors is also widely used by b.e. Architecture. “It comes down to finding materials that respond to the architecture, as much as how they perform in a given area,” says Piva.
AlsoCAN regularly uses concrete in its homes. However, it regularly suggests to clients to try other floor finishes, such as marmoleum (like a linoleum but available in a wide range of colours and finishes). “People often think marmoleum is vinyl. It’s not, being environmentally sustainable,” says architect Jane McDougall, director of AlsoCAN.
AlsoCAN is currently working with a number of floor finishes across several different projects. In one house, it’s including a meshed grid-like floor at the top of a landing, together with a bright yellow builder’s form, a plastic composite. “We would love to use cork a lot more than we do, but there’s still some resistance to it, given clients may have grown up with it as children during the ‘70s,” says McDougall, who sees the new cork products on the market as much improved, with a greater variety of options. Likewise, marmoleums are sometimes seen as a more affordable alternative when budgets are limited. “Cork and marmoleum are not particularly cheap, but they’re extremely soft to walk on,” she adds.
For a studio attached to a home in Sandringham, AlsoCAN was asked to repair an existing concrete floor as part of the renovation. However, as the concrete floor was uneven and in poor condition, the architects used an epoxy finish and applied swirls of grey and black. “The epoxy isn’t quite as spongy as rubber, but it’s quite soft and allowed us to create an even level,” says McDougall. Other floor finishes proving popular are tiles, ceramic and in porcelain, often in a large format, 900 by 450 millimetres in diameter. Bluestone tiles, as well as stone tiles are also proving popular. “People are looking for floor finishes that feel integral to the building. But they’re also mindful of comfort and the amount of time spent on their feet,” she adds.
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About the Author: Stephen Crafti
Stephen Crafti has been writing about design and architecture since the early 1990s and is a regular contributor to DesignBUILD. Inspired by the architecture around him in Melbourne, Australia, he was keen to share the things he saw, whether buildings, furniture, fashion or other stunning pieces of contemporary design. After many years of writing about his favourite things, and with numerous books and articles behind him, Crafti still delights in discovering and promoting exhilarating design. He is a regular contributor to several Australian newspapers and local and international design magazines.