When it comes to checking out the most on-trend interiors, there’s only one place to look: down. That’s because nowadays the hottest of homes, most hipster of hotels and brilliant of bars all have one thing in common: wow-factor floors. Or, as every other Instagram feed puts it: #ihavethisthingwithfloors.
Check out the uber-popular Instagram hashtag #ihavethingthingwithfloors and you’ll find that vintage or vintage-inspired floor coverings that tell a story are particularly popular on the most influential interiors feeds.
One man who knows all about our insatiable lust for well-worn floors is Lee Thornley, owner of Bert & May, a so-hot-right-now specialist supplier of handmade artisan tiles, based in London’s trendy East End since 2013.
Pre-Bert & May, Lee was setting up a reclaimed tile company in Andalusia when he discovered that such pre-loved materials were highly prized by interior designers and architects.
In 2010 this led to a new venture, working with a small Spanish family business to create artisan encaustic tiles using traditional handmade techniques. These tiles, with their vintage-inspired designs, were a huge hit, and so in 2013 Bert & May was born.
Only four years later, Bert & May’s tiles bring warmth, colour and pattern to some of the UK’s most prestigious hotels and sought-after homes (exclusive member’s club Soho House was Bert & May’s first big client; they requested 87 million tiles). And last month the brand announced its new range in association with The Conran Shop. But why does Lee think his vintage-style handmade tiles are such a hit?
“People are growing tired of mass-produced identikit products. We want to feel more connection with - and ownership of - our design choices,” Lee explains. “Every single one of our artisan encaustic tiles is hand-poured by our fourth-generation makers and cured out in the Spanish sunshine. Instead of bland perfection you get tiny variations that create interest and depth for the eye and a warmth for the soul.”
Five-star hotels’ are also increasingly aware of the allure of authenticity, and this is reflected in their choice of flooring. For example, Gleneagles’ bar and lounge was recently fitted with reclaimed mid-century French oak parquet. And with so many of us stealing style tips from hotels it’s no surprise that we’re seeking out floors with a story to tell for our own homes.
“A statement floor is a great way to get that boutique hotel look,” says interiors PR Simon Midgley. "I personally love parquet flooring. It reminds me of the school assembly but can also be totally modernised by using ceramic tiles and colourful combinations to create a pattern tailored to your preferences.”
But if you’re after the bespoke look underfoot, you don’t need to go to the hassle and expense of having your entire floor replaced. Because…rugs!
“We find there’s is a lot of interest in vibrant colours that can spruce up a space,” says Bert Rozeman of Larusi, a rug boutique that specializes in selling vintage Moroccan designs (see the first pic for examples of their rugs). “We sell lots of Moroccan Azillal rugs and have an amazing collection of colourful rag rugs called Boucherouite that are also very popular.”
As one of Larusi’s many erudite clients, world-famous interior designer Ilse Crawford, puts it: "Larusi rugs bring a layer of life to a space. They're earthy and expressive and tell the story of the people who made them.”
Of course, such authenticity can come with a hefty price tag, but being on a budget is no barrier to telling a floor story of your own.
“Reclaimed flooring is a sustainable and surprisingly inexpensive flooring solution,” enthuses Lucy St George, co-founder of hugely popular online interiors boutique Rockett St George. As well as hand-made encaustic tiles, her store sells reclaimed wood floor tiles (£125 per square metre), made using reclaimed teak from redundant buildings in India.
Keen to invest in a floor with an authentic story, but worry it’s a passing fad? Never fear – these floors are going nowhere; as Lucy assures us: “The rise in popularity for vintage and reclaimed flooring comes as no surprise to us, as vintage pieces, furniture and flooring never really goes out of style.”
A version of this feature appeared in the November issue of i-on, Scotland's largest lifestyle magazine, for whom I write a monthly interiors column