Linoleum Is Making One Surprisingly Chic Comeback

Just wait until you see this.

Ah, linoleum—the instantly recognizable material of your grandmother's not-renovated-since-the-'50s kitchen and the bane of renovators everywhere. Since its popularization as a cheap, durable material in the early 20th century, linoleum has gotten a bad rap: To most, it's little more than a sign that a gut renovation is in order. But, as some creative designers have found out, there's more to the material than that.

"Originally, we wanted to do a poured terrazzo, and it was just SO expensive," says designer Caroline Rafferty of her decision to swathe the floors of her new Palm Beach store, The Grand Tour, in the material. (NB: Over the past few years, linoleum-look flooring has largely come to mean polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, a safer update on the linoleums of the 19th and 20th centuries with the same durability as the original.)

Rafferty had seen her friend, the designer Kate Rheinstein Brodsky, turn to PVC in a room of her East Hampton house and immediately texted her asking about them. "She said, 'they're awesome,'" Rafferty recalls.

Plus, the flexibility of a tiled version allowed Rafferty to create something interesting and unique. "Being a design store, it felt like we had to have an element of design to the floor," she explains. "I really loved this idea of an offset pattern that was geometric and interesting. I knew we had to make the floors something pretty."

So, Rafferty turned to Armstrong, a flooring outfit with a wide range of PVC products. (Another favorite brand is Marmoleum—"they have a great one with neon flecks in it," Rafferty says.)

"We ended up doing the tiles from Armstrong," Rafferty says. "I was worried about the seams, but you can’t really tell."

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Courtesy of Caroline Rafferty

For the pattern, the designer drew inspiration from a floor design by Milan-based Dimore Studio—and then hired an installer to lay the tile according to her drawings. "We gave him the scale drawings, and he just cut the tiles to fit," the designer explains. "Any floor person can do it, really. It was fun." Plus, compared to the $60,000 to $100,000 price tag Rafferty was looking at for terrazzo, this was a veritable steal at around $4.50 per foot (a straight, non-cut pattern would be even less, around $2.50).

"It's great for high traffic and I don’t have to worry about spills," Rafferty says. She should know: "We had our ice maker leak during install, and it just dried right up," she recalls.

But for anyone with a stylish eye, the product's flexibility is its real selling point. "There’s so much you can do with it," Rafferty says. "It’s colorful, it’s fun. You can be really creative." The proof, as they say, is in the...linoleum.

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