What is it about Brit tastes in flooring?
Speaking as an expat Brit (well, as British as a half-portuguese, bit-of-french bloke, married to a swiss girl, and living in Switzerland, can be) the flooring differences between Britain and the rest of Europe are easy to see: southern europeans have polished tiled floors, upon which they place one or three beautifully woven turkish carpets; northern europeans have wooden parquet floors, upon which they place either yer beautifully woven turkish carpet, or if they're a bit racier, they go for the iranian or persian options; eastern europeans have survived the post-WWII years with lino or worse, but please believe me that as soon as they catch up economically, they'll go for the polished tiles or the wooden parquet, but they'd laugh and spit on the idea of putting down fitted carpets.
And the idea of skimming and varnishing the bare floor boards, as the trendier Brit is liable to do, looks to yer continental european eye like someone forgot to order the real flooring. "Poor lambs, can't even afford lino. Maybe next year, eh..."
Yer typical visitor to British shores find the flooring situation perplexing to the extreme. In fact the flooring situation, to foreign eyes, is trumped only by the ugly wall-mounted hot water radiators positioned just so underneath every window in the house; windows so ill-fitting that the radiator is doing a better job of heat up the exterior of the house than the interior.
One digresses, as one is wont to do.
Ok, so I'm exaggerating a bit for comic effect, but each and every one of yer knows there's a kernel of truth to the above, eh?
Now yer bog standard Huf Haus comes with the following: bathrooms, front door entrance area, and kitchen come with 'standard' ceramic floor tiles in a dozen different colours; the rest of the floors come with fitted carpets in a myriad of exciting hues. A British homemaker's dream come true then...
We're building a Huf Haus here, not a two and a half bedroom Barratt house. The rest of this post is not meant to be some sort of style guide, although one hopes the first few paragraphs might give one or two Brits something to think about, but one hopes the cultural background to the choices Claudia and I have made will be a little clearer.
First things first: the tiling. On our very first visit to Kindhausen (where the main Swiss Huf Haus show home's located) we fell in love with the Huf bathroom concept. That particular bathroom had lightish grey, washed effect tiles, so why would we want anything different? Well, we didn't as the photo above shows. We discussed a variety of options during our trip to Hartenfels, including bigger oblong-shaped tiles, and tiles with fancier surfaces, real stone tiles, etc etc. But in the end we realised that we'd be perfectly happy with the standard ceramic tile in the light grey, 'cos it was already a beautiful thing.
One thing to keep an eye on is the grouting colour. Golly, the details yer get dragged into, eh? Yer Huf Haus grout comes in three colours: white, black and grey. We went for grey, but believe me the overall effect of the tiles is surprisingly sensitive to the colour of the grouting, so choose carefully - Wake up at the back! This is important!
Well, that sorted out the bathroom flooring situation; and it didn't cost us one penny extra.
What we didn't need or want, however, were tiled floors in our entrance and kitchen areas. So, went for the delete option and received a 'credit' for them. Needless to say, we also didn't want carpets throughout, so we deleted them and banked the credit to spend on... what we really wanted.
Geographically, Switzerland is somewhere between southern and northern europe. A relevant point, when one is to consider whether we were to 'go parquet' or to floor tile the bloody lot of it to keep cool in the summer. Believe me the majority of this country is somewhat Germanic, and the houses have steep roofs for the snow. The western strip has a fair number of francophones (non-dialect, this being the french language after all), and the southern tip speaks italian and smoke vast quantities of cigarettes. There's a language called romatsch, a sort of degenerate latin (aren't they all, heh heh heh) that's spoken by a minority living somewhere in the alpine wilderness.
So, it doesn't take much imagination to realise that Frau Capucho was gonna want wooden parquet floors throughout, does it?
Now there's more to yer parquet flooring than meets the eye. Literally. What it ain't is a solid lump of whatever wood takes yer fancy. What it is is 3mm to 5mm of solid wood surface bonded to a 7mm to 5mm base of cheaper wood (Perhaps the unused inventory from a bankrupt match factory - looks like it). Anyways, yer parquet piece is about 1cm thick in total, and, depending on poshness, taste and, especially, cost, comes in two sizes: big pieces and small pieces. Dunno the exact measurements, but then you do need at least some scope for your own research.
Bigger pieces need a larger continuous surface of unblemished wood, which is why they cost more. But plenty of people prefer the look of the bigger pieces regardless. Tastes vary. The 5mm thick 'veneer' needs more posh wood material, so costs more... but leaves you the possibility to skim the wood once or twice over the years, as wear and tear, stiletto shoes and pogo sticks take their toll.
We went for the 5mm thick option, and (as luck would have it) preferred the look of the smaller pieces. Yer win some and yer lose some.
Question: would Sir and Madam prefer the more sophisticated finish of oiled parquet, or is your preference to slum it with the slightly cheaper, sealed finish that hardly deserves the removal of hob-nailed boots.
The right answer for us? Sealed parquet loses some of the lusture of the grain when compared to oiled, there's no doubt. But consider this: the sealed parquet is far more likely to survive the odd trampling of, well maybe not hob-nailed boots, but kid's dirty wellies. So we went for sealed, and ignored all elitist advice to the contrary. And saved a few quid to boot. Pun intended.
The next thing to consider is the laying pattern: standard plank (overlapping, like brickwork); herringbone (ziggy-zag, like yer old school's assembly hall); dutch pattern (sort of squared, would suit an old folks home); and finally ship's plank (long planks with dark calking betwixt to keep the sea water out).
Our house being somewhat above sea level, and not liking the other options, we went for the standard plank as the majority of you lot would.
That's all very well, but what about the type of wood?
Well, I'm sorry to say that almost everyone approaches the parquet question with a particular type of wood in mind. I know we did. And almost everyone's in for a rude awakening when they find that their preference is a disasterous idea due to any combination of the points below:
1. Parquet floors must above all be durable.
There's a hardness measure known as the Brinell Scale which is about as misleading as any scale I've ever come across. Cherry is rated at 30, while something like maple comes in at 35. So cherry must be about 85% as durable as maple, right? Pah! A cherry parquet floor will soon look like an ice-rink after a particularly busy weekend, while yer maple will stay fresh for years.
Red cherry was our first choice, by the way.
2. Some woods can be a bit... funny.
I've always loved the look and grain of beech, for example. But did you know that beech is notorious (in yer sophisticated parquet circles, yer understand) for bleaching when exposed to sunlight (think photo negative of a rug, for example) and, even worse, when exposed to heat. Not the sort of material to choose to put on top of underfloor heating elements, eh?
Beech is attractive, hard wearing and cheap cheap cheap, by the way. Buggah.
3. Almost all the nicer, durable parquets are expensive.
Ain't that the truth. It doesn't matter whether your thing is for light, reddish or darker woods, the end result is that almost anything suitable for you will turn out to be towards the upper end of the cost range.
What did we go for? We found an analogue for our first choice, American Red Cherry, in a tropical wood called Doussie. I hadn't heard of it either, but then I work in a bank. It's reddish, darkish (but not too dark!), durable (41 on the Brinell Scale!), and while expensive, it wasn't expensive.
The credits we got from those nice Huf Haus people in return for unwanted tiles and carpets went about half way paying for the Doussie parquet flooring throughout, including bedrooms, but I had to put my hand in the pocket for the rest. About 6,000 quid for the upgrade, and that's for one of the biggest 3-axis houses with, say, 180 square metres of parquet. A 4-axis or 5-axis house would be considerably more.
And then the sting in the tail: yer standard Huf Haus staircase comes in weapon's grade, specially treated beech wood. And each step's a solid block. Now yer know I like beech, but one thing beech ain't is... doussie. Therefore, we had to upgrade the stairs to match the parquet, which came to... another 6,000 quid. Ok, so we doubled up 'cos we have two staircases: one up to the bedrooms; and t'other down to the Keller.
So, 12 thousand quid in total for the doussie parquet upgrade throughout.
Yep, life's an expensive bitch.
Still, it'll be nice when it's done.
Last Friday's visit was specifically to see our new parquet. When we arrived the upstairs had been completed, apart from a few trimmings, and the two Huf Haus people were just beginning the downstairs. They should finish the lot, trimmings and all, this week.
Well, Claudia and I were simply bowled over with the doussie parquet. It's everything that we'd ever wanted (in the end, 'cos we twisted and turned a few times). As we'd continually reminded ourselves during the process, yer Huf Haus has so much natural daylight coming at yer, that you're not restricted by anything but your personal tastes and depth of pocket when it comes to the colour.
We got what we wanted; and more.