So, my refurbed utility/shower room is very nearly finished at long last. Apart from the new toilet and shower, and a new, but highly energy and water efficient, dishwasher (as the old one gave up the ghost and wasn't repairable) everything else has been reused, upcycled or reclaimed. The Belfast sink and the 1930s taps were bought online and in a salvage yard; 80-year-old pine boards were turned into work tops and shelving; the old carcass of a kitchen unit was refashioned to fit a spare glass kitchen cabinet door that I had knocking around; I finally found a use for a lovely old bathroom cabinet I bought at a car boot about 15 years ago; my Savoy towel rail found a new home and a free-standing toilet roll holder cum cigarette holder (yep really!), a random ebay purchase, found a new lease of life as I didn't have space for one on the wall.
The only thing left was the flooring. I had toyed with laying reclaimed timber or trying to find old tiles, but at a recent eco exhibition I got talking to a chap on a stand who was exhibiting linoleum floor coverings – yep, that old stalwart of granny's kitchen and parlours throughout early 20th century Britain, the humble 'lino' floor. I was first attracted to the stall because of its colourful display which on closer inspection turned out to be the full range of colours and textures of linoleum – the choice is vast; but I soon was also intrigued by the environmental credentials and sustainability of the product itself.
A staunchly British product in origin, it was first invented in the 1850s by Englishman, Frederick Walton, and conquered the world as the flooring of choice; indeed there was even a town in the States named after it – Linoleumville – when the company opened there. It's now owned by a Swedish company but there are, miraculously, still a number of factories in the UK actually making this product today!
It is totally biodegradable, and made from natural renewable materials. The key raw ingredient, linseed oil – hence the name – is obtained by pressing the oil of the flax plant, this is mixed with pine rosin, wood flour (didn't realise there was such a thing!); limestone and natural pigments to create the covering; then natural jute is used to create the backing sheet.
This product is brimming with environmental accreditation labels from across the world, and has an excellent rating in terms of it life cycle assessment for environmental impact. Its carbon footprint is lower than pretty much any other flooring product, except probably reclaimed floorboards.
Much maligned throughout the second half of the twentieth century as being old fashioned and something your grandma would like; linoleum, or Marmoleum to give it its trade name, is now making something of a comeback. It is trading heavily on its natural ingredient content; it's traditional British origins, the fact it is still made here and its low environmental impact. The colour range is amazing, with some funky bold shades such as lime green and bright orange. So there is something here for everyone.
For all of the above reasons, I decided to give it a go. One thing I can say, it ain't a cheap option, but as we are only covering a relatively small floor area we decided to take the plunge anyway. The fitters came this week, and it took half a day to lay, it is actually stuck down to the floor below it (that is a shame, as it means you cannot reclaim and re-use it; but as it is totally biodegradable I guess it's not as bad as something rotting slowly in landfill for hundreds of years). We are really pleased with it, it should be warm underfoot in winter (and even in cold summers!); its a doddle to clean and it's a great talking point with friends – who all remember it from their childhoods but hadn't crossed their minds to consider it as an environmentally friendly, sustainable flooring choice before now.
All I need now is a vintage toilet brush (only joking, I don't think that would be such a great idea), and the room is finally complete.