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From the mosaic floors of ancient Greece to the elaborate inlaid wood parquetry of Persian, Indian and Renaissance palaces, cultures have long viewed floors as canvases for remarkable works of art. These days, however, most households do not give them much thought.
In fact, it was the boredom of his day job – installing the same floors over and over again – while at art school in the 1990s that inspired artist Richard Woods to play with surfaces. “It seemed everyone in the world was having laminate or engineered timber floors installed,” says Woods. “I became interested in surfaces and developing them in . . . my own language.”
Most recently that has meant installing multiple pop art-inspired floors and walls in curator Jeffrey Deitch’s new home in Los Angeles, formerly Cary Grant’s house. Deitch’s party room is now covered with a glossy pattern of fake plywood boards in a variety of bright blue hues. “That room is off from the swimming pool and it was flooded with reflective blue light,” says Woods. “We thought we’d heighten that and make the floors and walls blue.” As with all his projects, Woods paints plywood or aluminium panels black, which are then block printed with a specific pattern. The pattern is commissioned by a client (for which Woods charges a flat rate of £32,000, not including labour). “It’s like a Sol LeWitt drawing,” says the London-based artist, who is now busy creating surfaces for his own home and studio in Hackney, London.
Of course there are less expensive and elaborate ways to decorate one’s floors. Inspired homeowners are experimenting with painting patterns on wood or cement surfaces, which is an effective way to transform a standard kitchen or living room into a dramatic stage.
Sunny Goode, an interior designer based in Richmond, Virginia, specialises in decorative surfaces. Her projects include transforming a drab floor of a covered porch with arabesque forms of mint green on light grey and using different tones of wood stain to create a stunning faux-inlay parquet on her own kitchen floor.
“The two most important things to take into consideration when painting a floor are colour and scale,” she says. “A small pattern on curtains or pillows that you can pick up and blow up on the floor will give [the space] a visual balance.”
“And if you get tired of it you can just paint over it,” says Goode. “It adds an extra layer of colour and texture to a room that is the difference between OK and spectacular.”
In the case of the Casa Mar suite in the exclusive Playa Vik hotel in José Ignacio, Uruguay, the idea to paint white wooden floors with rays of blue and grey radiating throughout the master bedroom was originally inspired by a painting, says billionaire investor Alexander Vik, the owner and designer of the hotel along with his wife, Carrie. Vik liked the effect so much that he applied a similar pattern throughout his home.
“I have an enormous painting by Keith Tyson and a few years ago I bought an apartment in New York City, which had boring oak floors,” he says. “We painted the floor throughout half the apartment in the style of the painting. Every time I walk into those rooms I am inspired.”
Vik adds that painted floors are also incredibly durable. Their technique is to paint three layers of colour and then add a few layers of protective paint. “We haven’t repainted the floor in New York for nine years and it’s perfectly fine,” he says.
Goode also says that even if decorative floors get a lot of traffic, such as the painted concrete floors she created for retail spaces and the porch floor of the Richmond Symphony House, the paint lasts several years.
“Farrow & Ball makes the most incredible floor paints,” she says. “My technique is to sand the floor, then use the Farrow & Ball primer covered by their floor paint. They have beautiful colours and, as the floors wear, it looks even better. They have a very pretty patina.”
Goode, who charges between $5 and $8 per sq ft for a two-colour pattern, says that investing in good paints and not using a sealer (which is often unnecessary and expensive) can save thousands of dollars. Another helpful investment is a self-adhesive stencil, which she designs for company Palette Paint.
Maryam Montague, the Marrakesh-based writer behind the blog My Marrakesh and author of Marrakesh By Design, has been collaborating with the stencil artist Melanie Royals, of the San Diego-based Royal Design Studio, for the past five years. The pair used Moroccan-inspired patterns on multiple surfaces of Montague’s home and guest house in Marrakesh, the Peacock Pavilions.
“Morocco is filled with patterns and there is a lot of stencilling,” says Montague. “But typically the stencilling is done on ceilings or furniture.”
Floors in Morocco are often covered with zellij or concrete tiles, but Montague didn’t want to embark on a complicated tiling project because it would raise the height of the floor. She also didn’t want to add decorative elements to all the floors, as she already had multiple patterns and tableaux painted on the walls.
She chose to add patterns to the floors of two rooms that were fairly minimalist compared with the other rooms. In her office, a light-filled rooftop space, she stencilled white calligraphy over a dark charcoal-painted floor. “Calligraphy is often used for decorative purposes in Moroccan design, but rarely on the floor. I like to shake things up a little,” says Montague. “I wrote a little tale about my husband and me, and Melanie Royals transformed it into a Modello-type stencil – a one-time stencil.”
For her daughter Skylar’s bedroom, Montague wanted to paint the floor with a lace pattern. “Melanie sent me several lace patterns to choose from – the pattern is now called Skylar’s Lace.” It is available on Royal Design Studio’s website for $149.
Montague decided that the stencil should be painted white over polished grey cement floors “to bring freshness and neutrality”. The first time round they used a coat of polyurethane to protect the floor. But over time it yellowed. So Montague repainted the floor grey and did it again herself in a weekend. She describes how to stencil in Marrakesh By Design. There is also an extensive step-by-step stencilling guide on Royal Design Studio’s website. “Skylar’s Lace is quite a big stencil and it’s repetitive. So it’s not that hard to do,” says Montague. “It’s easy to do touch-ups here and there if needed with the stencil. But I think the slightly worn look is very chic.”