Early plank style flooring
Many years ago, as late as 1625, most European houses did not have a wooden floor. Instead they had a beaten earth floor which of course created problems with water and dust, as you can imagine. Wooden floors were reserved for wealthier people and in those days consisted of joists with planks of elm or oak up to 600mm wide.
During the baroque era of 1625 – 1714, wooden floors became more elegant and included French parquetry and marquetry patterns which were made from hand cut pieces of hardwood laid in patterns of differing colours. They were then hand scraped, scrubbed with sand and polished. These of course were also reserved for the elite in society.
During 1607 – 1780 the North Americans started installing wooden floors due to an abundance of wood. These floors were generally not polished.
French parquet style flooring
By the early 19th century, tongue and groove methods started to be applied by the wealthier clients but the random width plank system, face nailed to the joists, remained more common in modest homes. It was also during these times, due to the advent of tongue and groove, that floors could be sanded and levelled and sealed using shellac. Shellac was all that was really available to carpenters to seal wood in those days. It is derived from insect secretions and after being scraped from the bark of trees and processed, exists in solid form. When mixed with alcohol, it becomes liquid and can be applied. It dries very quickly. As there were no modern tools to perform these tasks it was very labour intensive and only the elite could afford this new technology.
The American Victorian Era of 1840 – 1910 saw mass production of wooden floors and consisted largely of “wood carpeting” which were roughly 35mm x 7mm strips glued to a heavy cotton backing made of canvas. They came in rolls of about 1m wide and were installed by tacking down each board every 300mm or so. Nails were set below the surface and filled, sanded by hand and varnished largely with slow curing tung oils from China. This was not that durable in itself so floors were hot waxed and buffed to a shine with a floor brush. All by hand. I know what a job it can be to level a floor using tongue a groove boards with a large grinder or floor sander. I can only imagine the sweat and tears that went into producing a top quality floor in those days.
Modern day tongue and groove flooring
By the Edwardian era (1901 – 1914) tongue and groove flooring was the popular choice for domestic flooring. By the 1920’s and 1930’s wooden flooring was in competition with linoleum and cork floors which offered less maintenance. With the addition of alkyd resin, curing time and durability of finishes improved and emphasis was placed on hard solid durable floors. In the 30’s polyurethane was the choice for a no wax finish for floors which allowed wood to play a prominent role through the modern era of the 20’s to the 50’s. Wall to wall carpeting was still terribly expensive and a lot more expensive than wood.
With the housing boom at the end of World War II, came doom for the wooden flooring industry. Because the broadloom (wide and long carpets) cost could be included in the loan for veterans, solid wood floors were very quickly covered up with more expensive, and therefore more sought after, wall to wall carpets. So from the 50’s to about the 80’s hardwood flooring companies struggled to survive and had to adapt my installing carpets. Also ply wood was commonly used then below the carpets. As a result of this the labour paid to install floors decreased and of course the quality dropped as labour struggled to lay more flooring in a day just to survive. This resulted in poor quality floors being laid which made them unpopular. Parquet was then branded as cheap and common.
As we move along in time, and wooden flooring becomes more expensive than other types of flooring, because wood itself is becoming scarce, solid hardwood flooring starts, to my joy, becoming more popular and associated with the more elite end of society. Carpets are being ripped up to find Swiss parquet and parquet blocks, largely of teak which are being restored to their former beauty. A lot of new floors are being laid in solid hardwood too and are preferred over carpets or tiles. Tiles and carpets have had their day. Solid hardwood reigns, for now, but watch this space because the wheel turns and in a few decades I suppose wooden floors will lose their popularity as do all things with time.
For a quote on your solid hardwood flooring needs please contact us on 082 496 5444 or use the contact us form on this page.