Flooring, by virtue of its sheer extent and visual effectuality is the most prominent component of an interior space. Flooring, unlike a wall finish or a ceiling, is a very tactile component. It is used for movement of people and goods, sleeping, resting, bathing, washing, storing, food preparation, and handling and processing of materials.
Floorings provide a horizontal surface –parallel to the gravity, for conducting tasks, placing facilities, amenities, utilities and other elements. Floors are required to absorb, filter or reflect the sound, air, light, heat, cold, dust, infections, moisture, radiations, etc. Some flooring systems, though play exactly an opposite role, i.e. to allow such elements to selectively pass through.
Like all other interior elements, flooring’s sensual aspects like colour, hue, etc. are of course important, but its tactile aspects like texture, feeling of warmth, cold, hardness or softness, etc., are even more important.
Floorings take-on a very prominent role: in sparsely furnished and lightly occupied rooms and corridors, rooms with high height ceilings, invisible ceilings, unimpressive or non interesting ceilings and in rooms with slopes or levels going upward (allowing larger floor area to be visible), rooms with slopes or levels going downwards (allowing a commanding bird eye view). Floorings sloping away or towards the viewer, do not permit perception of true colours or the visual textures. Floorings, which provide a pleasant experience and enhanced comfort, affect us more.
Floor finish of a flooring system is a tactile and sensorially affective aspect. It can be broadly classified as: hard or resilient, soft or scratch resistant, temporary or permanent, smooth or textured, dark or light coloured, hot or cold, opaque or transparent, absorbent or reflective, etc.
Colour of Flooring affects the spatial qualities of a built space. It primarily determines the level of brightness in a room.
● Dark floors cut off bottom up reflection of radiation, and so are ideal in Open to sky spaces like Chowks, on window sills and spaces in front of windows, doors, verandahs. However, dark floors absorb more radiant heat due to the low reflectivity and get very warm. Dark floors are not preferred in walk areas, balconies or on terraces of occupied rooms in tropical climates. A dark floor in water pool heightens the feeling of depth, but can increase the rate of water evaporation due to grater absorption of heat radiation. Very dark and shiny floors show off dust and require frequent cleaning. Dark colours sills in windows increase the radiant heat inside the rooms. Dark sills on cellar windows (or such low natural illumination areas) reduce the level of reflected component of natural light.
● Light-coloured floors substantially reduce the heat absorption, provided these are maintained clean. Light-coloured floors provide lightness and enhance the space size. White floors have a natural association with aseptic conditions, so are preferred in food preparation zones, health facilities and in sanctimonious areas (temples). White floors add to the space size or extent.
● Coloured floors are used for livening up monotonous or drab spaces (very large halls like departmental stores, plazas, courtyards). Coloured floors are used in industrial plants, schools, hospitals etc. to indicate routes and movement areas for goods, vehicles and people.
● Historically Flooring colour has been monochrome where good building stones were available. Earliest exotic colouring elements were mosaics of marble, ceramic and glass. Flooring colours have been exploited in sparsely occupied sections of the building such as corridors, passages, plazas. etc. West Asiatic architecture had monochrome flooring of building stone, and in some cases of terracotta units. Greeks used only white marbles. Greeks used mosaics to create images on the floor. Romans exploited the vast varieties of colourful marbles as inlay pieces, to create borders and central patterns. These pieces of variegated marbles were mainly sourced from debris of old buildings. Byzantine period also reused cut pieces of marbles of Roman columns. Byzantinian only intention was to create contrast and pattern definition, rather than a grand unitary or balanced colour scheme.
● In Gothic architecture the colour through the stained glass window was so strong in the interior space that flooring colour was almost subordinated. However, the quality of laying and finishing were becoming very refined. Granites were used sparingly, only as part of patterns. Where high colour effect was, required floors were covered with carpets, rugs and floor spreads.
● English mediaeval period saw the use alternatively placed light and dark shades of flooring materials to form diagonal checker board flooring. In Post Gothic period windows’ glass became light hued, interiors were much more illuminated, the interior elements were painted and often gilded. These required a highly polished (glossy- dazzling surface) and a balanced colour scheme with intricate patterning for flooring. Italian business houses, which began commissioning very large buildings had greater daring and allowed large scale use of exotic flooring materials (imported from far-off regions). Renaissance saw painters and sculptors becoming builders and architects, who were very adapt in use of colour. Marbles and stones were selected in terms of not only the colour but their veins or grain patterns. The grain directions were exploited by selection of the cut profile to accentuate the pattern.
● Till 19th century a variety of baked clay materials -terracotta were produced. These had a range of oxide based natural colours of the constituent clays and whites of kaolin. The surface was fragile, porous and difficult to clean. Gazing by salt spraying was very common to make the surfaces impervious. Glazed tiles in variety of colours, ‘slip’ embossed textures, hand-painted and screen-printed patterns, embellishing with glass pieces were produced. For all these the chief fuel was wood, restricting the large scale production. Post 19th C. the Industrial Revolution period there was greater understanding of raw materials and manufacturing processes. The scale of production was very large as the Ceramics began to be produced with mineral coal. Quality was far superior and the range of colours was very large. High pressure casting, continuous kilns and precision cutting equipment helped in perfectly flat and sized flooring products.
● 20th C saw use of graded raw materials, better compaction techniques and controlled vitrification allowing production of highly vitrified flooring slabs that were as good as the natural granite, but with a range of lighter shades including whites.
● Wood Flooring: Wood was a local flooring material for many years. However 14th C Europe imported exotic woods of Asiatic origin, later from African and American locations (North and Latin). Rare woods, appreciated for their wonderful colours, grains and hardness, were used conservatively. The woods were veneered thin to form a surfacing material and backed with boards of low-cost local woods, or used as inlay material.
In 20 th century low-cost wood veneers of extra ordinary thinness were available. These are often grain composed, colour stained, bleached, screen or roll printed and embossed. Laminated flooring units (of paper boards) are replacing the veneer-based wood floors. Low quality wood pieces and chips are re-composed and impregnated with resins to form composite wood floor boards.
Wood staining with water, oil or solvent soluble dyes is in use for several centuries as a primary and rejuvenating finish for wood floorings. High quality wood staining compounds based on dissoluble dyes helped overcoming the grain and colour equalization problem. Today many proprietary materials such as the melamine, polyurethane, silicone and epoxy-based floor stains are available. Wood bleaching to lighten its colour or of patches has been a craft, used for equalising the colour of wood floorings.