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Date published: November 11 2015

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They are now as impressive as those from the past says Jason Cherrington

Decorative stone floors have been a feature of domestic interiors and public spaces for centuries. Stone has a unique ability to render every mood from the height of luxury to the vernacular and many iconic looks have evolved, from the intricate Graeco-Roman mosaics to the virtuosity of medieval Cosmati work and the eternal pairing of black and white marble into geometrics.

Although such a fundamental part of our European design heritage, in the 1960’s and 70’s stone floors lost ground to other materials, especially in the home, where terracottas, ceramics and manmades all made their bid for modernity.  For all its exceptional beauty and durability, stone was viewed as too cold, too hard to maintain and just plain old-fashioned.

It took until the 1990’s for stone to find its feet again, but at this point it became a keynote of minimalism.  Texture and inclusions were out:  The closer a stone floor could look to an almost synthetic uniformity, the better. Anything colourful or decorative was rejected in favour of the acres of smooth, white limestone central to the bare, architectural look.  One of the positive outcomes of this revival though, was that people realised that stone need no longer be cold (with the advent of modern underfloor heating) and could be easily maintained (with new generation sealants).

But designers, by definition, enjoy designing. And stone offers such an extraordinary palette of colour and texture that it was only a matter of time before decorative stone floors began to gain ground once more.  And now, alongside advances in the experience of living with stone, which can be warm underfoot and easily maintained, there have been significant advances in stone working technologies.

Looking back over centuries of decorative stonework, there’s an extraordinary tradition of craftsmanship.  From raw blocks hewn from the quarry to a finished floor, there are countless artisanal processes requiring everything from brute strength to the finest, most delicate understanding of what the final product will yield. Stonemasonry is an ancient craft and one of the most highly skilled. Designing complex patterns in stone is yet another art.  But both design and manufacture have now been given new horizons with the introduction of leading edge technologies, from CAD to water jet and CNC cutting.   

New technology allows the production of exceptional and extremely challenging commissions at commercially realistic prices, but the physical art of stonemasonry is in no way being diminished; hand crafting and finishing, which can involve countless hours of work, remain crucial to the final quality.

And so, the scene’s been set for today’s strong revival in decorative stone floors.  Technology has made manufacture easier. Stone has become more user friendly. Designers are exploring colour, texture and decoration once more, confidently mixing the traditional with the contemporary and emphasising the sheer luxury of natural materials.

Geometrics and trompe l’oeil designs are amongst today’s key trends. Classically, these would have been realised in contrasting marbles (think of Adam interiors) but today we are giving these designs new looks in native British stones, new and reclaimed. The subtlety of materials such as Blue Lias, Purbeck and Yorkstone bring authenticity and warmth to both domestic and commercial settings.

Lobbies and halls have always provided a perfect setting for patterned floors, but now the concept is being taken through into many other areas.  Custom designed stone floors  can also be extremely effective when used to subtly signal different ‘zones’ within open plan spaces, where the same materials, but laid in different patterns, can define particular areas.

Bathrooms are another area where decorative floors are firmly on trend. Marble is the key material here, especially the more dramatically veined species. Highly decorative, materials such as Arabescato lend themselves to a wide range of special effects such as vein cutting and book matching, giving new decorative potential not just for floors but also for coordinating wall cladding and vanity tops. It’s the look which has come to define luxury in the modern bathroom.

At the very top end of the luxury interiors market, wholly bespoke inlaid marble floors have also become increasingly popular ….and increasingly ornate. The delicacy and precision  with which countless colours of marble and semi-precious materials can be cut and combined to create intricate designs underlines just how relevant and vibrant stone craft remains today.

From the simplest to the most complex of designs, decorative stone floors have once again become as luxurious and impressive as anything history can show us.

Author: Jason Cherrington

Company: Lapicida

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