With a rich history and an ability to be adapted to suit contemporary or traditional rooms, in grand and more rustic designs, it is little wonder that a carefully pieced parquet floor is as desirable today as it was in seventeenth-century Versailles.
Beautiful Wood Floor In History
Parquetry elevates a beautiful wood floor into something exquisite. Achieved by arranging blocks of wood in a geometric pattern, parquet requires expert installation to attain spectacular results. Founding director of Broadleaf, Vanessa Garrett, explains: “Parquet floors catch the light and show off the grain of the timber beautifully. Although wood planks are great, I think they provide more of a background in an interior whereas a patterned parquet floor allows the timber to be the focus.” She adds that a parquet floor has an inherently luxurious association, perhaps because of its historical associations; in the seventeenth century, parquet was laid in panels as an alternative to marble and was particularly popular in France, especially Versailles. Its appeal spread to Britain where it was used in country estates and palaces, sometimes combined with marquetry panels that featured detailed patterns such as stars or sunbursts.
Today, parquet floors are a popular choice, not only because of its decorative allure but because it offers practicality, too. Peter Keane, director of The Natural Wood Floor Company, reveals that in addition to grand properties, parquet floor was a popular choice in government or administration buildings, schools and even factories. “It is very hard wearing and, in the case of factories, you can drill into it to mount machinery if required. Parquet is also very forgiving for repair work. If it were to get scratched it can be sanded down, or if there was an accident and damage was caused to a few blocks then a local repair can be undertaken by chiselling out the affected blocks and replacing them.” The installation of parquet is time-consuming and a skilled craft. “It is in the upper scale of floor fitting,” says Keane. “It is like a brick wall, inserting each piece individually.” Each block is glued in place, with some companies using blocks that have a tongue-and-groove edge to interlock.
Christian Guthrie, chief group technical analyst of Ebony and Co, explains the process for installing tongue and groove parquet. “Each block is independently bonded to the sub floor; the tongue and grooves are not bonded to each other as they would on a floating floor; this enables each piece to be able to move without having a cumulative effect on the boards next to it. On a floating floor, if one board shrank or moved half a millimetre, it could cause the whole floor to shrink or move, across all the boards. By independently bonding, the maximum gap would only be of the one board moving, so you get a much more solid feeling underfoot.” A parquet floor requires a smooth, level and dry sub-floor, and can be used in conjunction with under-floor heating. “Plank flooring can support itself on joists and be the only floor surface,” informs Garrett, “but parquet is made up of lots of little pieces so it won’t provide a load bearing surface and requires a sub floor of concrete, plywood or chipboard.
If you have existing floorboards you will need a layer of plywood to make it flat.” Keane elaborates: “If you apply parquet straight on existing floorboards the movement of the boards can result in a lightning strike effect with a series of gaps opening up in the parquet blocks.” Parquet floors can be laid in a wide range of different patterns, however, the most popular design is the traditional herringbone. “It is so classic and timeless, and the design most people associate with parquet flooring,” Garrett reveals. There are alternatives including double herringbone, which Garrett says resembles “tumbling blocks”, chic chevrons, basket weaves and also panel designs. The traditional Versailles panel is available from Victorian Woodworks and general manager, Steve Payne, explains that a benefit of this style is that the panels can be created off-site then installed by the fitter almost a square metre at a time rather than as individual blocks. Payne adds that the wood they use is reclaimed or antique, up to 300-years old, which is repurposed into flooring. “Our floors are bespoke so we can create anything the client wants, using different woods and creating different patterns.
We often work with interior designers who send their own drawings and designs which we create.” The bespoke nature of parquet flooring also lends itself well to awkward shapes and spaces. “Parquet is a fantastic solution for odd-shaped rooms,” enthuses Garrett, “L-shaped hallways, for example, can be a nightmare space in which to install tiles or planks because of having to turn the pattern, but a herringbone will just follow it round.” Peter Keane adds that his company once had a commission for a semioctagonal hallway with 12 doorways. “It was a fitter’s nightmare, but some enjoy the challenge, and the use of pattern enabled us to tackle this – the result looked incredible.” As well as selecting a pattern, clients might choose to have a border or ‘tramlines’. Keane notes these look particularly good around features such as fireplaces. Garrett explains the historical use of tramlines. “These were used in large country houses or palaces to designate which rooms were private and which were public.
Rooms where guests could enter would have tramlines running through the doorway, those areas that were private, or perhaps led to servants’ quarters, would have tramlines across the doorway.” She uses this practice when advising clients: “In some hallways you might have a downstairs toilet and also a coat cupboard, and often guests find themselves opening the coat cupboard. We advise that if you run the tramlines into the toilet but across the front of the other door, people have much less of a tendency to open the wrong door. It’s subtle but it does work.” Garrett adds that tramlines look most effective on a highly polished parquet floor, although she recognises a growing desire for a less formal approach to flooring. “Broadleaf’s vintage parquet [which has a natural finish] has a more accessible feel to it. You could put it in the living room of a farmhouse or country cottage without it looking out of kilter, whereas a highly polished traditional parquet floor suits a streamlined, contemporary setting or a period property with more formality.”
Guthrie also acknowledges this trend for a softer look. “A lot of clients want an ultramatt finish rather than a high shine gloss. This is a sealed board, normally oak, but has an unfinished look. There is a natural patina and lustre to the timber from the wax, but you retain the natural texture, with the open grain and knots.” These finishes tend to be unsanded, however the smooth finish requires sanding before priming and finishing with a wax, oil or lacquer. Guthrie advises that it is relatively easy to maintain: “The client can use the wax paste and a buffer, so it’s very straightforward.”
Parquet is a decorative and practical choice that looks set to continue to grow in popularity. “There is so much choice both at a designer, and accessible level,” says Garrett. “Parquet really shows off the timber and has an inherent elegance.