Most people associate concrete flooring with commercial flooring, imagining the gray floors in warehouses or the super-shiny floors in department stores. However, this association is quickly changing as concrete flooring is becoming an accessible, affordable and beautiful residential flooring option.
The benefits of residential interior concrete floors are vast. From endless design options to durability and low maintenance, concrete flooring is the rising star of residential flooring.
Two myths associated with concrete floors are that they are louder or more echoey than other hard floors and that they are slippery. They are no louder than other hard floor surfaces and area rugs can be used to offset any noise. Concrete installers add a non-slip additive to the finishing of residential floors.
Concrete flooring is a smart and sustainable interior flooring option that offers many benefits:
Durability – Concrete floors can last a lifetime if maintained properly. There are no tears, staining, flood damage or signs of wear associated with concrete flooring.
Low Maintenance – Depending on the amount of traffic, concrete floors need to be resealed about every two years. This inexpensive process will help ensure a long life for your floors. Cleaning is easy; simply sweep and wash with vinegar or a gentle floor cleaner.
Economical – Concrete flooring allows you to save by eliminating the need to purchase an additional floor covering. When you choose concrete flooring the floor slab is the floor covering.
Improves Indoor Air Quality – Unlike carpeting, concrete floors do not harbor dust mites. For allergy sufferers, concrete floors can be a blessing.
Eco-Friendly – Less energy is used in production of concrete than any other flooring type. No trees need to be cut down and concrete is recyclable. Choosing concrete floors helps minimize waste. Other flooring types create lots of waste, such as the waste from carpet padding and carpet scraps. Concrete floors do not contain harmful VOCs (volatile organic compounds) as many synthetic carpets do.
Living in Comfort and Joy is pleased to welcome guest blogger Marcy Tate to this post.Marcy Tate is a home improvement blogger at www.Networx.com. She has been working with concrete contractors for more than a decade.
Living in Comfort and Joy does not sell advertising and receives no payment from the products and services that appear in its posts. Guest bloggers must meet the journalistic standards of this publication and are solely responsible for the content they write.
Energy Saving Capabilities – Concrete floors reduce energy consumption. Because they can make one feel cooler, there is less of a need to use the air conditioning. During the winter, concrete floors absorb the heat from the sun, helping to keep your home warm. Concrete floors work well in conjunction with radiant floor heating systems. These systems get installed under the concrete floor and are energy efficient. They decrease the need to use forced-air heating systems.
Cost-Efficiency – The average cost of concrete flooring is more than other residential flooring types but the return is higher as the floor will never need replacement. The higher costs are from the finishing of the floors, often completed by a concrete artisan. The average cost for concrete floor installation (including the decorative finishing) is about $15-$18 per square foot.
Beautiful Design Options
There are literally endless design options. Concrete floor artisans can design and create a floor to your specifications.
There are five ways by which concrete floors are finished:
Polished Concrete – Also known as honed or burnished concrete, polished concrete floors have that shiny, waxed look. This is the most basic type of concrete floor installation. Dyes can be included in the finish to add color.
Acid Stained Concrete – Acid and water are mixed with metallic salts. This method can be applied in a variety of colors.
Scored Concrete – Scored concrete is a popular choice for homeowners who install concrete flooring. Circular saws are used to create shapes and patterns by making shallow cuts in the surface.
Stamped Concrete – This method results in a textured appearance to resemble other flooring types such as tile, wood, stone or brick. It’s often used for outdoor flooring (such as for patios). Stencils can also be used to create distinctive shapes and patterns.
Concrete Overlays – Overlays consist of polymer coatings or overlays onto an existing concrete floor. This option is only for structurally sound floors.
Concrete Floors – Great overview of concrete flooring options, resources for finding a contractor
If the word “linoleum” conjures up stodgy images of granny’s old gray kitchen, think again! Linoleum has been rediscovered as an earth-friendly flooring that comes in a pleasing range of colors and also can be used to create custom patterns that match the colors of your room. With linoleum what’s old – nearly 150 years old – has become new again as we have become more conscious about the impact our interior choices have on our finite resources and our health.
This post, another in my occasional series on flooring, shows some of the beautiful things you can do with linoleum. I will also review lino’s history and the environmental advantages of this venerable, yet vibrant floor covering.
Today’s linoleum comes in both rolls and easy-to-install click-together tiles. As you will see below, there are also borders that you can mix and match to your heart’s content. Want a floor to set off a collection of African masks? No problem! You can choose an ochre red body mottled with earth tones, and set it off with a primitive patterned border like the one in the Farbo Marmoleum floor shown in the photo at left.
If you want the logo of your business styled into the floor of your home office, you can do that too. Linoleum can be custom-cut with water jets and inlaid to achieve curvilinear patterns like those shown in the Armstrong Marmorette floor below. Then again, maybe you just want a kitchen floor that’s easy to clean, comfortable under foot, and coordinates with that glass tile you got enthused about after reading last week’s blog. Because linoleum can be purchased in sheets, you can avoid the clean-up problems that come with maintaining tile and grout.
The design and color choices for linoleum are vast. The two manufacturers with the widest selection are Forbo, a Scandinavian company, and Armstrong. Forbo offers a palette of more than 100 colors and an impressive selection of 18 patterned borders and corners, which are shown below. Armstrong offers multiple lines of linoleum: Marmorette, a collection of 67 marbled surfaces; Colorette, a collection of 20 lively solid colors; Granette, 18 colors that have a granite-like coloration; Linorette, 18 deeply mottled patterns; and Uni Walton, a commercial collection of 9 strong, modern solid colors.
While linoleum costs more initially than its usual rival, vinyl flooring, it’s far more durable and cost-effective in the long run. A good quality vinyl floor will last around 15 years, but a linoleum floor can easily last 40 years! Plus, linoleum delivers health and environmental advantages that vinyl flooring can’t touch. More about those later. First, I will briefly look at the origins and history of linoleum – an interior material that was invented as the result of a fortunate industrial accident.
History of Linoleum
Linoleum was invented in 1860 when an Englishman named Frederick Walton failed to seal the linseed oil he was using to thin his paint. Walter was a manufacturer of a rubber flooring called Kamptulicon – a covering that was a cheaper alternative to the wood, tile, and stone floors of the time. Walton was interested in finding something cheaper and more attractive than Kamptulicon. When his linseed oil was exposed to the air overnight, a skin developed on top of it, and he wondered if that film might be useful as a flooring material. He began tinkering.
Walton invented a new floor covering and named it “linoleum” by combining to two Latin words: “linum” which means linseed and “oleum” which means oil. He received patents in 1890 and 1894 for it. Walton’s “floor cloths” were made from oxidized linseed oil, pine resin, and granulated cork on a hessian (hemp) backing. In 1868, Walton established a factory in Staines, England and was soon exporting to Europe and the US. By 1877, Kirkcaldy, Scotland was the linoleum capital of the world, with six manufacturers in that one town.
The first US company opened on Staten Island in 1877. In 1887, Scotsman Sir Michael Nairn founded another company that in time became Congoleum.
The popularity of linoleum floors continued to grow for decades. It was widely used in homes, and also in schools and hospitals. The lino floors installed in the thousands of schools built for the post-World-War-II Baby Boom crowd definitely stood up to traffic. Having visited many aging primary schools, I can testify that many of them still remain serviceable.
By the 1960’s, vinyl flooring became widely available, and linoleum faded from vogue. Armstrong, which had produced enough linoleum to pave a six-foot path to the moon and circle it four times, stopped manufacturing linoleum for a period of 25 years.
Some US companies even allowed their patents to lapse, an oversight that they came to regret decades later when ecological concerns prompted renewed interest in linoleum not only for flooring, but also for wainscoting, counters, and tabletops.
Linoleum Versus Vinyl
Linoleum and vinyl floors share some common characteristics and are considered as alternatives in similar installations. Along with cork, vinyl and linoleum are classed as “resilient floors.” This means that they are somewhat springy, will absorb impact and can “bounce back” to their original shape. (Within limits, however. High heels are the enemy of all floors, and because of the extreme pressure they exert in a small area, they can permanently dent any flooring material other than ceramic tile or stone.)
While these two types of flooring look and feel similar, I think that in terms of environmental impact and personal health, there’s not much of a contest between them. Both are available in a wide range of colors and patterns, and both are produced in sheet and tile forms. Both are good choices for people with dust allergies because smooth flooring, in contrast to carpeting, does not provide a good habitat for dust mites. But each has advantages and drawbacks. Here’s a summary of the pros and cons for linoleum and vinyl:
Linoleum is the green choice. Its ingredients make it recyclable and biodegradable.
Linoleum is far more durable. A linoleum floor will last two to three times as long as a vinyl floor. The pattern on a vinyl floor is printed on the surface and then covered with a clear “wear” layer. But both the outer wear and the pattern layers are relatively thin and can wear through, showing obvious abrasion in high-traffic areas. By contrast, the color in linoleum flooring goes all the way through. This means that the pattern on a linoleum floor cannot wear away.
Linoleum initially costs more, but is cheaper over the long run. Linoleum flooring squares run $6-$8 each while sheet vinyl runs $1-$5 per square foot and sheet-style linoleum costs about the same as high-end vinyl sheet flooring. Installation for linoleum may also be a bit higher. But when you’re figuring the lifetime cost of your flooring, double the price of that vinyl floor, because you’re going to have buy and install two of them during the lifetime of the linoleum floor.
There’s a lot of waste with vinyl flooring, and that runs up the cost. To get a seamless installation, you must often buy far more than you need. This is because the width of the sheet often will cause seams to fall in the wrong places.
With linoleum squares, you can avoid waste by just buying what you need. The most popular size of linoleum tiles are 12″ squares, packaged 9 to a box. You can buy boxes of several colors and mix them to coordinate with your color scheme.
Vinyl is easier to install. Because it’s synthetic, vinyl is less vulnerable to moisture and water damage than linoleum – even though it too will curl and warp at the edges if they are not well sealed. You have probably seen this in old kitchens or bathrooms.
Vinyl is also somewhat more resilient in the face of sloppy maintenance. Linoleum should be cleaned using little water, whereas the face of vinyl sheet is impervious. (The seams, however, can leak.)
Some linoleum floors should be waxed; others don’t need it. Armstrong’s Marmorette, for example, is finished with NaturCote, a high-performance coating that protects against dirt, scratches, and scuffs, and provides resistance to chemicals and discoloration. With this choice, the need for polishing and buffing is virtually eliminated.
Linoleum is a healthier alternative, both in terms of indoor air quality and germs. While linoleum does emit linseed oil fumes for a brief period – a week to a month – while it’s new, and while some people dislike that smell, it is harmless. Lino does not emit volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and vinyl does. VOCs are real culprits in indoor air pollution. In addition, linseed oil has natural anti-bacterial properties.
Your installation method can add to indoor air pollution. Sheet flooring is glued down, and the glue usually contains VOCs unless you make sure to buy an adhesive that is free of them. A good alternative to a glued floor is Forbo’s snap-together Marmoleum Click tiles; they can be installed as a “floating floor” that doesn’t require any glue.
What’s in Today’s Linoleum?
Since Frederick Walton’s time, the recipe for making linoleum has improved, but the ingredients haven’t changed much.
Contemporary linoleum contains cork powder for bounce and resilience, resins (which come from pine sap), wood flour, and limestone dust for hardness. Various pigments – which may or may not qualify as being green, depending on the manufacturer – are added to create pattern and color.
The basic ingredient is still linseed oil, which comes from the flax plant, 80 percent of which comes from Canada, the world’s leading flax grower. To create flooring, linseed oil is oxidized. Other ingredients are then added, making a thick paste called linoleum cement. This is heated until it becomes spongy. Then it’s ground up, mixed with wood flour and other ingredients, applied to a foundation and rolled smooth. It is seasoned in drying rooms, then cured and hardened under ultraviolet light.
After you get it and expose it to light, linoleum will “amber”, subtly changing its color and yellowing slightly. This is most noticeable with white, off-white and light-colored floors. You can preview the effect of ambering, and see how your floor will look permanently, by placing a sample of the flooring in a window in the sun for an hour or so before installation.
Here, as always, are some links that will help you learn more about linoleum and see what’s available.
A couple years ago, I took a trip down memory lane and visited Montview Elementary School in Aurora, Colorado. This was the school I attended during the Eisenhower years – which seemed to last forever! Although Montview has been extensively remodeled, some of the original linoleum floors are still in place and still serviceable.
I remember the floor pattern well because I spent the better part of the third grade on crutches due to a ski injury. During the four months I waited for my broken leg to heal, I had to pay particular attention to where I placed my crutches, avoiding slippery puddles from melding snow. I can close my eyes and visualize many of the floor surfaces to this day!
Those floors didn’t look a bit like the fun and fanciful Forbo Marmoleum flooring shown here, but I bet the kids who play on this floor will remember it – and it may still be there when they come back to visit with their grandchildren in tow.
When someone says “wallcovering” most folks think of wallpaper – something with a reputation that smells a bit fusty and old fashioned. It can also smell – not just figuratively or from age – but literally due to the volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) used in making it.
This post is about urbane, eco-conscious alternatives. You can deck out your walls with visual delights that are neither your grandmother’s wallpaper nor an ecological faux pas.
These coverings are made from a variety of materials and offer a cornucopia of looks and textures:
Eco-friendly papers with an understated beauty
Paper and clay coverings that make it easy to create Venetian textural effects
Three-dimensional coverings that catch light and shadow while improving warmth and acoustics, and
Eye-catching exotics that feature glass beads, sequins, sea shells (real, not printed), feathers or even green mica chips.
Eco coverings need not feature the sort of fussy flowers, pastels and stripes we have come to associate with wallpaper. (If you like flowers, your flora can be graphically sophisticated in design and hue like the “Summer Oyster” Graham and Brown wallpaper below. )
You can certainly find more traditional patterns with flowers and stripes, along with art deco swans and even pink flamingoes.
My own favorities are the recycled, hand-painted papers from Avignon design house featured at the top of this blog and the textured paper “ripple tile” below. Another handsome, sound-dampening and insulating wallcovering I favor is cork, which I discussed in an earlier posting on this blog.
Where to Buy Wallpaper
If you are indeed looking for wallpaper, an amazing range of choices are available. Printed or blocked wallpapers do give you the broadest range of color and pattern, and they can be chosen to complement any furniture style from Craftsman to oriental to modern or eclectic.
If you’re not working with an interior designer, my advice is to order online. (I really recommend working with an interior designer – after all, I am one.) Nowadays, if you go to a bricks and mortar store to buy in person, you will be looking at sample books and likely having something shipped to you, just the same as ordering online. The difference is that store orders can take an astonishingly long time to arrive. Watch for the word “backordered” on websites too. A couple years ago, I ordered a wonderful wallpaper – lighthouses and old navigational maps – from a high-end store. The map rolls came in a couple weeks, but I waited more than six months for my lighthouse border. It took so long that I got to enjoy my repapered watercloset for only about a week before I moved!
Should you decide to go the e-commerce route, you will find a nice shopping list of resource links at the end of this posting. There’s even a link for a blog that covers the more unusual and hard-to-get options such as the wallcoverings made from seashells and mica. In most cases, you can easily have samples sent to you before commiting to buy the quantity you need. Always order a few extra rolls so you can cope with installation problems and have the right paper in case you later need to replace a section due to spilled coffee or a roof leak.
Making Healthy Choices
Since this “Living in Comfort and Joy” and not just any design blog, I’m of course going to tell you why I think we should all be choosing eco wall coverings. There are two reasons for sussing out the greener choices: 1) the health of the planet and 2) your own health.
Graphic wallpaper from Design Your Wall
The fact is that most “wallpaper” is not really paper at all. It’s usually vinyl, specifically polyvinyl chloride or PVC. It’s plastic, so it’s tough and washable. However, environmentally, it’s bad stuff. When it’s manufactured, highly toxic materials are released into the air. It lasts for years in landfills, where it leeches toxic chemicals. If it’s incinerated it releases them into the air.
If you need the durability of vinyl, you might look into the products from Cirqa, a company that is mitigating the disposal problem by offering “the vinyl industry’s first and only recycled wallcovering program”.
It’s the chemicals that give wallpaper that characteristic, and sometimes lasting, smell. I have a good friend whose apartment has a wall covered in 1960’s-era gold and silver “op” vinyl wallpaper, and we suspect that the “paper” has been there since the Brady Bunch kids were in elementary school. I have an acute sense of smell and some chemical sensitivity, and if I put my nose next to that wall, I can still pick up that petrochemical scent.
The eco wallcoverings discussed in this post are not only better for the environment, they’re also better for your indoor air quality.
Getting Pasted? A Word to the Wise
Most vinyl wallpaper is “prepasted”. That means that you can “book” fold it, soak it in the tub and put it up on the wall. Installing grasspaper, or non-prepasted coverings means you need to apply the paste. Some coverings must be reverse hung, so that the nap (or pattern) on adjoining pieces run in alternate directions, and in some cases, you may also need to trim the edges or overlap the edges, double-cutting with the seams taped to keep the adhesive away from the face side at seams.
I’m pretty handy, know the techniques, and have done it myself, but if you’re not the artsy craftsy type (or forgiving of imperfections), you should probably enlist a professional. There are good wallpaper hanging instructions on PBS’ This Old House website. I also recommend professional hanging with clay-based adhesives to keep your nontoxic walls non toxic.
With that background, read on for a visual tour of the wonderful options in eco wallcoverings.
Ogura Collection from Avignon Wallcoverings
Avignon Wallcoverings, a specialty house in Phoenix and online that offers handpainted, recycled papers, created the paper that appears at the top of this post. Avignon offers three different collections of papers on their website: Cameo, Ogura and Original. The paper pictured above is from their Ogura collection. The paper at left is Amalfi from the Original collection.
The company is run by two women, Caryn Outwater and Ariane Stein, who decided to ditch their respective careers in 1992 to design wallcoverings. Avignon uses 100% kozo fiber which comes from Thailand’s native Mulberry tree. On that canvas, they paint radiant layers to create additional depth and elegance and then apply this covering onto a non-woven substrate. Avignon’s papers are eco-friendly, using 100% recycled paper and all water-based paints, and all their designs are Class A fire rated. This is high-end stuff and pricey enough that they ask you to call for prices; their website does list showrooms.
Ripple modular wallcovering
One of my other favorite wall covering are these modular, 3d wallpaper tiles from Ripple PaperForms. You can arrange the tiles in different orientations to create your own pattern – they are sized so that four tiles will make a circle, or can be connected in wavy lines as shown at right.
The tiles, which are made from 100% pre- and post-consumer recycled paper, can be installed temporarily with double stick tape or permanently with wallpaper paste. They can be left plain or can be painted. Each tile measures 12″ x 12″ x 2.25″ high, and pack of 12 tiles (12 square feet) runs $32.
The ripple tile has sound dampening qualities. It has also a sister product, a 3-D design that features a horizontal half moon design and is marketed as an acoustic product. Ripple tile is made in the USA and the Netherlands from locally sourced materials and it is recycleable.
Modular Arts Textural Wallcovering
Here’s another textural wallcover made from quite a different material – cementitious, mineral composites. This material offers superior fire-resistant properties, it’s relatively light weight, and doesn’t “off-gas” harmful, chemicals.
The ModularArts® Mineral Composite Panel surface is hard, dense, and flexible. It feels like rock or ceramic and is a fine, smooth, extremely dense cement that produces incredible detail.
The 32″ by 32″ panels can be installed seamlessly via steel reinforced, interlocking joints that ensure accurate panel-to-panel alignment and pattern matching in all directions. If damage should occur, the repair process is similar to what you would do to fix drywall, but without the paper layer to rip.
Innovations from Ecohaus
Several nice collections of tonal, handsomely understated solid and mottled color papers are available from Ecohaus. The manufacturer for their papers uses water-based inks free of heavy metals, and the factory recycles its wastes and uses recycled shipping materials. Many of their wallpapers were designed for commercial use and are quite durable and scrubbable.
Ecohaus also offers a faux suede, linen grass cloth and a hemp wallcovering called “Origins”. These wallcoverings are less durable than their papers, but visually more interesting.
EcoHaus’ prices range from $18.59 to $61.49 per linear yard, and their rolls are 36 to 54 inches in width. Not all of their papers have trimmed edges, which means that it’s a good idea to enlist some expert help in hanging these papers.
Roos International Wallcovering offers an amazing assortment of striking and earth-friendly wall coverings, ranging from raffia, grass cloth, wood veneer, hand painted papers to glass textiles and faux suede. They offer an elegant handpainted wallcover that looks slightly marbled with similar tonal qualities to Venetian plastering.
One of my favorites from Roos’ collections is the SRWood paper-backed wood veneer shown below. The SRWood herringbone pattern shown here is similar to Maya Romanoff’s “Ajiro” – but this is easier to find and purchase. Those of you who don’t spend your free hours reading sample books may not know that among interior designers and architects, Maya Romanoff is considered the king of wall coverings. His wall coverings include mother of pearl inlaid shell, precious metal leaf (copper, gold, silver), jewel paper that looks like silk, and 12 shades of wall mica! Maya Romanoff pretty much sells only to the interior design trade, though a small collection of his wall coverings can be found at some Sherwin-Williams paint stores.
Of SRWood, Roos says that it is “custom-made by nature” and friendly to the environment. It can be made from any of 80 species of trees grown in FSC-certified forests, and it is fire rated for architectural use. The product is a thin veneer of wood backed with cloth or paper.
Roos International also offers a textured glass textile that was invented about 50 years ago in Europe to cover bumpy or cracked problem walls, but has only become known here in the US in the past decade.
This glass textile can be painted with latex acrylic or epoxy paints. If you feel daring, you could choose to cover it with one of the new metallic, pearlescent, multicolor, glaze or faux finishes that Roos recommends. Glass textile is produced in rolls that are 39.2″ wide by 27 yards or 54 yards in lengths. It’s woven into many textural patterns, such as basketweave and herring bone.
An even more novel option is the glass bead wallcovering shown here. (Outside of a restaurant or a night club, I’m not sure I’d know where to put this, but if any of my readers have ideas, I’m open to suggestion.)
Roos even sells a PVC vinyl wallcovering called “Envision” that, according to their website, does contain recycled and renewable materials and doesn’t contains heavy metals or VOCs.
Cirqua Recycled Wallpaper – Second-Look, a comprehensive sustainable solution, includes new wallcoverings with a minimum of 20% recycled content and a retrieval program that reclaims and recycles previously used vinyl wallcovering. The low-VOC wallcoverings can be repeatedly recycled to divert them from landfills for many years.
This is where I usually share a humorous or uplifting bit of poetry with my readers, but since there’s no editor to tell me what to do, I thought that it would be fun to alter my pattern by including a personal note.
I started writing “Living in Comfort and Joy” on January 7, 2009, and initially, I knew who was reading. My friends of course, and then folks from the San Francisco Unitarian Church who were interested in knowing what I was doing to help their (and my) minister and his family to live more comfortably in a much smaller house than they had previously occupied. Each new post got around 70 readers.
Four months later, more than 4500 people have visited this blog, and 200 or 300 hundred people read each post. The traffic hovers around 50 instead of dropping down to zero between posts, which means that someone, somewhere is visiting the site every few minutes.
I’m very, very curious about these statistics, and grateful to reader Christine for pointing me to some tracking tools that show, geographically, where readers are located. I also ask you to take this very short poll to give me a better understanding of what you hope to find in my blog.
I know two things for sure about my readers: some people are coming back for multiple visits, and they are not just my friends and acquaintances, because I surely don’t know that many people!
I do know that other interior designers and architects read this blog, because they engage in some very interesting conversations with me via the comments section. I have become pen pals with a few of them.
But by and large, you, dear reader, are an intriguing mystery.
Whoever you are, I thank you for reading, and especially for leaving comments. It’s wonderful to have your company on my journey to a new vocation and avocation, and I’m learning from you as surely as you are learning from me. I hope that sometime, I get to meet at least a few of you.
This week, I got two pieces of devastating news – one personal and one financial – within a single day. This crisis, and my reaction to it, has caused me to reflect deeply on why have I chosen an interior design specialty focused on aging in place.
In starting “Living in Comfort and Joy,” I had initially planned to blog about things like bamboo floors and beautiful furniture. Writing about the emotional challenges of aging feels a bit risky, especially since both the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle have recently outed my age by interviewing me in stories about retirement and the current financial crisis. Nonetheless, the emotional challenge of aging is my topic for this week, and I am firmly convinced that without risk, there’s little reward. I’d love to hear how you, dear reader, feel about this different-kind-of post so I will know whether to repeat this kind of philosophical writing in the future.
Growing Emotional Wisdom
If I had gotten this much bad news when I was in my twenties, I would have stormed and cried. But in middle age, I can no longer afford that kind of emotional sturm und drang. It’s likely to produce an asthma attack, and that can send me to the emergency room. Net result: a painful reminder of my physical limitations, but no forward progress toward solving the original problem.
Although the aphorism “with the decline of the flesh comes the beginning of wisdom” has at times struck me as mere sophistry, it is also true that I am now capable of managing myself in ways I could not have imagined in my teens and twenties. I believe that the ability to step outside oneself, observe, plan, and consciously alter one’s own behavior is a key component of what has been termed “emotional wisdom.”
While decline of the flesh is mandatory, wisdom is optional. I know a handful of people in their twenties who have a measure of emotional wisdom, and I also know septuagenarians who have virtually none.
I suspect that those of us who gain emotional wisdom usually begin to do so in our thirties; I have a couple of close friends of that age who have become aware that while they can’t choose what happens to them, they can choose how they will react. And when it comes to aging, that makes a whale of a difference. There are now plenty of medical studies about multiple diseases, as well as about depression, which conclusively demonstrate that the ability to change one’s own attitude and behavior improves physical outcomes.
I have an interesting anecdote to relate here. My friend Elisa, who is not yet 40, has been making a concerted effort to decorate and claim her apartment over the past couple of years. A PhD engineer, Elisa is analytical and applies the scientific method to her life without even being conscious of it: she observes, collects data, tests, and looks for patterns. She is also very studiously and intentionally acquiring emotional wisdom, learning to manage work relationships and her own reactions to situations.
Elisa recently told me that her newly decorated bedroom was marred by the fact that the floor was “always cluttered with stuff.” I was afraid that she would go on to say that she was too lazy to put her things away, so I interrupted and challenged her to apply her investigatory skills to figuring out why she didn’t put things away. I asked her to “observe the behavior of the animal called Elisa” and see if she could discover patterns to this creature’s behavior. Maybe the closet was too far away. Maybe the things on the floor wouldn’t fit in the closet. Or maybe the closet wasn’t in the regular path of travel the animal called Elisa would follow.
I’m happy to report that Elisa was able to step outside herself, observe what was happening and then plan a course of action. Drawing on what she learned, I took her through an interior design evaluation and planning process I use with clients, then lent her a bit of design help. The result: three re-organized closets, one set of peg-hooks in the bedroom, one set of coat hooks in the hallway, and an uncluttered bedroom floor that nicely shows off Elisa’s new French blue carpeting.
Creating a Design for Aging
When it comes to aging, there’s far more to consider than just habits or convenience: How do we sustain our spirits in the face of the inevitable losses that come with aging – losses of hearing, vision, mobility, income, status, friends, and loved ones? Variations of these questions echo in my thoughts as I’m thinking about several potential clients:
How can I help Sandra to physically and emotionally plan for the fact that she’s going to be eventually be dependent on a wheel chair?
How can I help Stella to nest in her own apartment, creating a life for herself when her husband of 40 years has left her and moved in with another woman, without ever getting a divorce?
There is very little I can do for my friend Katie, who has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. It’s an aggressive killer, and few people survive even five years with aggressive treatment. Katie, who is a single mom with a son who had just graduated from college, may need to move back in with her own parents. She doesn’t know yet whether there’s enough upside to warrant going through cancer treatment. I haven’t had the courage to call her yet. I’m trying to come to terms with my own grief about losing Katie before seeing her. I want to offer support, not become someone she needs to comfort. While I know that none of us gets out of this life alive – it’s a question of when, rather than if we’re leaving – it’s especially hard to cope with the idea of someone dying in their mid-forties, let alone a bright, energetic former gymnast.
If there’s a lesson in this tragedy, I think it’s this: Be here now. Live fully now, because we don’t know how many days we have left to us. Ironically, the only way to be fully present in the here and now is to fully let go of what we have lost; you simply can’t be fully present if you’re living in the past. Children have no trouble with this. Unencumbered by habits and expectations, they can always change course and learn something new. Adults who aspire to a measure of emotional wisdom have to consciously practice to attain a state of “beginner’s mind”.
Like adolescence, aging is marked by continual change. To fully live while passing through those changes, we need to be able to learn from our own mistakes and failures (including the failure of bodily functions). We also need to be able to learn from the object lessons of those around us. I have been consciously trying to do that for several years – to create a design for aging – that will enable me to sustain my quality of life despite living with loss. I want to avoid some of the object lessons I have seen along the way:
One older woman I know has become completely isolated following her husband’s death. He was her whole world, and when he died, she was left without sustaining relationships.
Another older woman has maintained a suburban house which is now falling into disrepair because it’s much too large for her to maintain, and it has also made her wholly dependent on her car – a huge problem when she blacked out at the wheel and lost her driver’s license.
A gentleman I know thinks he’s losing his ability to find things in his house. That’s partly true, but a huge contributing factor is that he’s clinging to possessions which have become a tide of flotsam and jetsam shifting through his house. He needs to both improve storage and learn to let go of things that are now physically blocking his path.
As I have written elsewhere, I have been prompted to design my own plan for aging both because of the awareness of the difference in my husband’s age and my own (he’s a generation older than I am, and so he’s almost certain to go first), and by watching older relatives who have dealt well and not-so-well with the challenges of aging. My plan includes the launching of Comfort and Joy Interior Design, and also a move that should allow me to age in place. Last year, I moved to Valley Street to anticipate and accommodate social issues related to age. Among the advantages I gained in this “sustainability move” are the following:
I am not car-dependent; I can walk to the grocery store, the bank and the hardware store.
Socially, I have a good friend living just steps away, which means that I won’t be isolated when my mate dies.
I have room to grow my interior design business – an endeavor that will allow me to work as long as I want, making contribution to those around me.
I have a garden where I can putter to my heart’s content, tend my roses, and reaffirm my connection to the earth.
I have strong supportive relationships with several good friends who I see several times a week in the normal course of events. (I don’t have to make an appointment!)
It’s a beautiful house, and an attractive interior. Beauty feeds joy, and joy gives root to energy.
In closing, I’d like to recommend a couple other blogs and websites that you may find helpful if you, like me, are conscious of the need to design a plan for aging. (I seriously doubt that you would have read this far if that wasn’t the case!) So here are some recommendations:
Intuitive Movement. Author and teacher Stan Cohen is helping older adults to maintain their mobility by getting back in touch with their bodies, increasing their physical capabilities and living a more vital lifestyle through a combination of Martial Arts, everyday life activities, movement theory, meditation, fun, and traditional exercise. He’s also a wonderful writer and thinker.
“Poor Mr. Gordon! Last semester, some of my students stuck him down in the basement, and when I asked them why, they said, ‘Well, he’s going to be dead soon anyway!”
“Poor old Mr. Gordon” is a man in his 70’s who is losing his mobility due to Muscular Dystrophy (MS). He’s a fictional character — the “client” in a space planning problem for an evening class I’m taking. While Mr. Gordon is not real, his problems are, and they are shared by millions of people.
Heartless or Heedless?
I’m afraid that I see lots of evidence that too many practicing designers either lack knowledge or compassion when it comes to the issues of aging and disability. Just last week, I talked with a woman I will call “Sandra” who was very unhappy about having shelled out a pretty penny for not one, but three useless floor plans for her bathroom! The reason for Sandra’s bathroom redesign is that she really does have MS, and she would like to still be able to take baths as her mobility wanes.
Sandra already has a wheelchair accessible shower, but like me, she enjoys soaking in the bath. Although Sandra was quite explicit about her needs, none of the alternatives that came back from this interior designer (not a student, but an established, practicing designer) included the necessary grab bars or a space that would allow her to slide from her wheelchair to the side of the tub. That was the whole point of the redesign!
I find this heartbreaking, but unfortunately, not it’s surprising. Ed Walters, the instructor for my evening class, insists that all of his students read and use the accessibility specifications from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA.) From Ed’s preamble to our reading and space planning assignments, I gather that he’s gotten a lot of push-back from students. (That’s Ed I quoted at the beginning of this blog.)
Not only is Ed beginning his lectures by saying, “I know this is boring, I know that you don’t want to learn this, and I know you think this isn’t relevant to your career plans,” but he’s also taken to using reverse psychology on his students. On the website where files for the class are stored, there’s a folder labeled, “Top Secret. Do Not Open.” When I opened it, I found an article on the physical and emotional needs of older people who are aging in their own homes for as long as possible, and how to help them delay (or avoid) a move into assisted living!
I suspect that my fellow students’ age (or lack of it) might be part of the problem that Ed has encountered with the class. Most of the students are twenty or thirty-somethings, so (unlike Ed and me) they are fortunate enough to have little or no experience of disability.Yet!
Youth and Physical Ability:
Just Temporary Conditions!
Some years ago, an indomitable older woman named Lucille Lockhardt recruited my husband Mason to serve on a disability access committee for our church. Lucille was the disability activist who hounded the City of San Francisco into beginning to make curb cuts even before the passage of the ADA, and she was intent on installing ramps, lowering pay phones, and making toilet stalls accessible in the church. Mason politely declined her invitation on the grounds that he was “not disabled.”
Lucille, who was about four and half feet tall and walked, crab-wise, with two crutches, laughed at this. “What you are,” she retorted, “is temporarily abled.” Her words proved prophetic. Within about a year, Mason had back trouble that left him unable to navigate stairs or step off a curb! It was a consciousness-raising experience.
Brain Over Brawn
The truth of the matter is that while none of us get out of this world alive, the fact that we’re all living longer means that most of us will, at some point, be living with disabilities.
I now have three disabilities that would, in the words of the ADA, qualify as “limiting major life activities.” Unlike a wheelchair that announces a person’s disability the moment they enter the room, my disabilities are largely invisible, as are the “accommodations” that enable me to deal with them.
However, I can’t read at all without glasses and sufficient light. I have a serious hearing impairment and use a hearing aid as well as phone amplifiers and a special alarm clock. (Those interested in design for the hearing impaired should read my post on “Def” Design in a Noisy World.) I suffer asthma and allergies, and as a result, I have leather furniture and wood floors. My disabilities have not made me dependent, made my home institutional-looking, nor do they prevent me from living an active life. (In fact, I’m sometimes a bit chagrined on those occasions when someone gets up to offer me a seat on the bus.)
However, not much more than five years ago, I was unable to walk up my back stairs without stopping to rest several times. The reason that I can now travel independently, gallop up the stairs two at a time, belly dance, and ice skate twice a week is that I have gained and applied some wisdom about managing my disabilities.
I seriously doubt that my fellow students realize that the reason I sit in the front row of our class has to do with my hearing; maybe they think I’m a teacher’s pet or just want to gaze on Ed Walter’s handsome face! The truth is that the classroom has a serious echo problem. That’s the result of an interior design failure, a designer who did follow the ADA access codes, but still didn’t address the audiological needs of the 10 percent of the public who have hearing loss. I need to sit directly in front of Ed because I need to hear his words before the echo, and to read his lips to augment my hearing aid.
A Lack of Awareness in Many Venues
I often encounter public buildings that do meet the letter of the law, but still fall short in spirit and practice, as does my classroom. In private buildings, the problems are often worse for multiple reasons: the access laws are looser, many people live in buildings that pre-date accessibility legislation, many older and disabled people don’t realize that there are solutions for their problems, and a majority of people never consult an interior designer or architect in any case.
Sadly, even people who do seek professional design help may not get what they need because many practicing interior designers have had neither formal training nor personal exposure to designing for disabilities and aging in place. (This, I suspect, explains how Sandra’s interior designer managed to come up with multiple designs that showed no response to Sandra’s obvious and expressed need for accessible bathroom design.)
Even though my fellow space planning students may not yet have developed much compassion for Mr. Gordon, their certificate program does at least require them to study ADA access codes. In this, they — and their future clients — are fortunate whether they know that or not at the moment.
Still, I often find myself cringing a bit when reading about “award-winning design” or listening to presentations about design “solutions.” Too much of what’s being lauded often has to do with young designers following seasonal trends or expressing their personality at the client’s expense. (The overuse of the word “I” and the under-use of the words “client needs” provides a tip-off.) If a designer is more interested in their industry’s fashion forecast than their client’s health forecast, then they may just think that the easiest way to solve the “design problem” is to stick poor old Mr. Gibson, or dad or grandma, into the basement!
Advice on Seeking Interior Design Help
What if you happen to be Mr. Gibson, figuratively speaking? My advice would be to ask your prospective interior designer some leading questions before plunking down any money. Here are three good questions:
Have you had any personal experience with disability? What kind of disability?
Do you have training and/or experience in designing for access, or “universal design”?
When I get older, losing my hair,
Many years from now,
Will you still be sending me a valentine
Birthday greetings bottle of wine?
If I’d been out till quarter to three
Would you lock the door?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
You’ll be older too,
And if you say the word,
I could stay with you.
I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?
When I retrofitted my own home with the goal of eliminating the habitat it was providing for dust mites, the microscopic vermin that are the true cause of dust allergies, one of the most important steps I took was to remove the carpeting from both bedrooms.
Indeed, the choice of flooring is key to multiple aspects of your home’s comfort. In addition to the impact it has on the beauty of your rooms (or lack thereof), it affects the ease with which you can move around. Your carpet can quiet noise transmission and it can also help with heating and cooling your rooms.
But carpet can put a major dent on your budget. It also has an environmental footprint that can dig pretty deep — some carpeting will persist as long as 500 years in a landfill!
This post is going to be the first of several that talk about the pros and cons of different kinds of flooring. In this series, I will be discussing not only carpeting – the topic of most of this post – but also linoleum, synthetic vinyl sheet flooring, vinyl composition tile (VCT) and some healthier alternatives to VCT, plus wood, engineered wood and bamboo, and various types of tile, terrazzo and stone.
Let’s start with a magic carpet ride!
To Carpet or Not to Carpet:
Now that is a Big Question!
Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not anti-carpet. Because of my particular health needs, I’m personally better off with hard flooring in my home, and it took a bit of time for me to get used to stepping out of bed or the shower onto a cold floor. I had to learn to put a throw rug next to the shower before I go in and to keep bedroom slippers beside my bed.
But I still remember fondly the gray and white berber-style wall-to-wall carpeting in my Eddy Street house – not to mention the ivory, brown and russet hand-made Berber rugs I brought back from a trip to Morocco. They were warm and springy, sound absorbent and really beautiful.
A well-chosen carpet, one picked with an eye to your lifestyle, health needs, budget, cleaning habits and personal style, can be one of the bright spots in your décor.
But as I have alluded, there’s a dark side to carpeting. Most conventional carpeting is made with a stiff backing; the fibers are glued and/or woven into the backing. That backing commonly contains around 130 chemicals, 30 of which are known to cause cancer!
In addition, the stain-resistant and moth-resistant coatings that go onto the top of the carpeting also contain chemicals. The carpet’s backing and coatings can include benzene, styrene, toluene, xylene, and formaldehyde, which get into our lungs and bodies by “off-gassing.” The chemicals vaporize from off of our rugs, and we then inhale them or absorb them through our skin. While the chemicals are not there in huge amounts, they nonetheless are there – and that’s a problem if you are chemical-sensitive.
For those who have “dust allergies”, there’s an additional problem: Carpeting and upholstery provide a great habitat for dust mites, microscopic creatures that like dark, warm places. Humans are not actually allergic to the dust mites, but rather to their lack of potty training. The nasty fact is that dust mites feast on bits of skin and hair that flake off of our bodies, and in return for providing them dinner, they pay us back by sh**ing on our furniture, in our beds and on our carpets! It’s actually the mite’s poo that makes it mighty hard to breathe.
Tips on Common Carpet Problems:
First, Choose the Right Fiber
If you don’t have health problems that mitigate your choices and want to carpet a room (or rooms), what kind of carpet should you choose? The answer to that depends a lot on your lifestyle. Below are some carpet-choosing tips that will help solve common problems.
Kids, dogs, cats and accidents – the most durable, cleanable and dirt-hiding carpets are nylon, specifically the newer formulation of nylon that the fine print identifies as 6.6 nylon. (Nylon is a man-made fiber and the number designations refer to their molecular structure.) Nylon is also advantageous in that it repels mildew. If you’re sometimes clumsy like me, you might also want to avoid carpets that contain olefin, particularly in any area where you might spill something oily. Olefin is a man-made fiber that is durable and inexpensive, but “oleophilic.” What that means is that this fiber loves oils and just eats them up! I had to replace the wall-to-wall carpeting in my dining room after knocking over a bottle of salad dressing. The carpeting contained olefin and three different professional carpet cleaning firms were unable to persuade the carpet to let go of the vegetable oil in that salad dressing!
Another good fiber choice is polyester. It wears well, is easy to clean and repels water-based stains. Polyester is man-made and has been engineered to look and feel like wool, but it is much less expensive. Polyester also wears well.In high-traffic rooms, a good solution may be the choose carpet tile rather than wall-to-wall carpet, because if “sh** happens” or other spills occur, you can simply pull up and replace the damaged sections of the carpet. (It’s a good idea to order 10% more carpet than you actually need for the initial installation if you plan to do this. That way, you’re not in danger of being later unable to match the carpet tile that is installed on your floor.) Carpet tile comes in lots of beautiful colors and patterns; look around when you’re in a hotel, auditorium or restaurant, and you’re very likely to see carpet tile.
Warmth, softness and durability – I would definitely recommend choosing wool or a wool blend! Most synthetic fibers have been created to mimic wool, a fiber that is naturally buoyant, and contains lanolin, a natural oil that sheds dirt. Wool is also reasonably easy to clean, provided it’s done correctly. (I unfortunately destroyed my ivory-colored tribal Berber rug in the process of trying to remove a stain left after my cat deposited a hairball on it.) For some good tips on caring for a true Moroccan Berber rug, I recommend the information on the Building Materials 365 website. Because wool traps pollutants in its fibers, wool carpeting acts as a natural air filter and helps to keep indoor air free of contaminants. Wool is also a good choice for moisture areas because it discourages the growth of bacterial growth. Except for the problem of dust mites living in it, it is non-allergenic.
Avoiding toxics – Again, wool is a good choice, as is silk. Cotton is usually a bit too soft for carpeting, and it can be hard to get stains out of even all-cotton throw rugs. Of course, every natural and every man-made fiber has strengths and weaknesses, and often the best choice is a blend that combines the advantages of multiple fibers. Most of the toxics in carpet come from the backing and/or the glue used to secure the fiber to the backing. You can avoid the chemicals by choosing a carpet in which the soft fibers – which might be a combination of wool and nylon or another synthetic – are woven through the backing. The backing can be made of jute, or a blend such as jute and nylon. Carpets constructed in this way cost a bit more, but they are extremely durable and tend to last because they avoid the problems that sometimes occur when the glue breaks down and begins to flake off the backing. There are two brands of carpeting that are made in this way, without glue and without toxics in the back itself. They are Nature’s Carpet and Earthweave.
Bamboo, which is actually a kind of grass, is another fine, natural choice. Bamboo is eco-friendly because the plant grows quickly and thus quickly replaces itself after it is harvested. Fiber area rugs are also biodegradable, which means they won’t sit around in landfills for centuries.
Rugs made of sisal, seagrass, mountain rugs, jute and coir, though usually too scratchy for some life styles, are also used in making natural rugs that are durable and attractive. Although the fibers themselves are natural and non-toxic, watch out for the backing materials. Find out whether the top of the carpet is glued to the backing, and whether that glue contains toxic chemicals. Also note that rugs made from natural fibers can be damaged by water, and they may need some cleaning. This means that they are not good choices for moist rooms or areas where spills are likely.
Mitigating noise – As Paul Simon lamented, “one man’s ceiling is another man’s floor” and that can cause some hard feelings. A good carpet and carpet pad beneath it can definitely help to cut the noise transmitted through floors into ceilings if you choose wisely.
When choosing your carpet, you should buy the best-quality you can afford and also make sure to buy a high quality carpet pad. Indeed, the carpet pad that goes under the carpet and above your sub-flooring is as important as the carpet itself. The carpet pad will support the carpet and insulate the floor, as well as cutting down on foot traffic noise. Your carpet pad should feel thick and resilient, but it shouldn’t be thicker than 7/16 inch, because in some cases, too much cushion can actually void a manufacturer’s warranty.
Moisture-laden rooms or floors – If you are installing room in a basement or a room with high humidity, you need to pay particular attention to what is beneath the pad and the carpet – the subfloor. If the relative humidity is level is over 60 percent, your carpet and/or walls can develop mildew. Moisture vapor will also migrate from one part of the room to another, particularly when different temperatures on various sides of a wall, floor, or ceiling, produce vapor pressure. That vapor, unless prevented by vapor retarders or barriers, can move through floors, walls, and ceilings. If this is a problem in your house, it’s a very good idea – one that will save you money in the long run – to ask a contractor to install a vapor barrier on the floor. Several different types of moisture blocking “substrates” are available in difference price ranges.
Bright sunlight, the need to avoid fading – If your carpet is going to sit where it receives sunlight for long periods of time, it’s a good idea to pay attention to how it was dyed. A carpet that is in front of large sliding glass door in direct sun is going to fade unless you to install some type of sun shade or sunscreen on your windows. However, some carpets will fade less than others. “Yarn dyed” and “solution dyed” carpet fibers are apt to hold their color better than fibers that receive their color through what’s called “continuous dying.” The difference is that, in solution-dyed polyester or nylon fiber, the color is part of the soup that is extruded to make the fiber. In yarn dying, the fibers are colored after the wool is spun, but before it is woven into the carpet. In “continuous dyeing,” the color is applied after the carpet is tufted, and there is experience to indicate that carpets colored that way are less colorfast.
Budget considerations – When determining how much you want to spent on your carpet, you should factor in not just the initial cost of the carpet, but also “lifetime costs” for cleaning and for how long the carpet will last before you want to replace it. Conventional mid-range and high-end carpets will last and look good for 12 to 15 years. But that durability comes at a price: Mid-range carpets range from $25 to $35 per yard, while high-end carpet typically costs upwards of $45 per yard. (For this reason, the lifetime costs of wood, bamboo or linoleum flooring can actually be less than carpeting.) Toxic-free eco-alternative carpets range widely in price from the inexpensive Cost Plus jute rug shown here (under $50 for a 3×5 foot rug) to over $100 per square foot for high end designer carpets such as the Alicia Keshishian and Aga John carpets shown above.To extend the life of your carpeting, you should also carefully consider where it’s placed, particularly if it’s light in tone or single-colored. Experts have found that it takes at least eight steps to knock grit and dirt off the bottom of your shoes, and that means wear and dirt on rugs placed near entrances. If you do want your carpet to last and look good, and you don’t want to ask your guests to take off their shoes at the door oriental-style, then you should consider using area rugs or placing tile in the transitional areas that lead from the outside to carpeted areas.
About some words that were said
There’s been some hard feelings here
And what is more
There’s been a bloody purple nose
And some bloody purple clothes
That were messing up the lobby floor
It’s just apartment house rules
So all you ‘partment fools
Remember: one man’s ceiling
Is another man’s floor
Remember: one man’s ceiling
Is another man’s floor