Types of Soft Floor Coverings:
The appeal of soft floor-coverings is their warmth and quiet. As well as conventional carpets and rugs, soft flooring includes ‘natural’ floorings made from a variety of grasses and vegetable fibres.
Warm and cosy underfoot, although ‘natural’ floorcoverings less so.
• Good insulation from cold and.
• Helps deaden sound.
Vulnerable to staining, even if treated.
Impractical in areas that get wet.
Sisal and seagrass can be slippery so must not be used on stairs.
Types of natural flooring
Grasses and vegetable fibres have been used for centuries as floor-coverings. Most are strong and hard-wearing, but they are, in the main, rather harsh or roughly textured, and are not really suitable for floors where children might be crawling, or where it is usual to walk around barefoot. As they can be slippery, don’t use them on stairs. Some do not take colour well and tend to fade, so the undyed form is often the best choice.
Natural floorings (apart from rush matting) are laid in a similar way to carpet, although some cannot be stretched. They may need to be laid over underfelt, although some of the latex-backed varieties can be stuck to the sub-floor. When used as a close-covered carpet, all need to be professionally laid.
Coir, or coconut fibre, was once only used for doormats. It is now woven into coarse but interestingly textured flooring that is sometimes dyed bright colours. It is usually supplied backed, but some narrow widths (for use in halls or corridors) are unbacked.
Hemp is soft underfoot, but not as strong as some natural floorings. It is woven into attractive herringbone, ribbed and chevron textures.
Jute looks similar to sisal and has a textured, ribbed weave. It is best used in areas of fairly light wear, such as bedrooms, and should be treated with a stain inhibitor.
Paper twine is twisted from strong, unbleached paper and made into rugs. It can be plain, or striped in interesting colour combinations, and the slightly luminous quality adds an extra textural dimension. Paper twine is usually laid loose on top of another flooring.
Rush matting is hand- or machine-plaited into strips, sewn together to form standard-size mats. ‘Medieval matting’ is custom-made, the strips sewn together to a specified size and bound with a small hand-woven strip. Rush matting has an interesting, heavy texture, but tends to shed fibres, creating a lot of dust.
Seagrass is a tough tropical grass spun and woven into coarse matting. It is usually left undyed, in a random mix of yellow, beige, green and a hint of russet. It is hard-wearing, but not suitable for wet areas. Extra loose-laid mats are recommended as protection from furniture castors and wear in front of sofas. If laid on stairs, the grain should run parallel to the tread.
Sisal is a whitish, stringy fibre, originally used for heavy-duty ropes and twine. It is woven into attractive herringbone, bouclé and ribbed patterns and comes in a range of colours; it can also be stencilled. Sisal can be used in most rooms, but is not recommended for kitchens or bathrooms. A sisal and coir blend gives a finer weave and texture that is less scratchy underfoot. Sisal can stretch (even with a backing) and may need occasional refitting (a light spray of water can help shrink it back into shape). Like rush matting, sisal is inclined to shed.