Restoring authentic-looking Victorian flooring to your period home

One of the key elements that defines the character of any home is its flooring. This is certainly true of Victorian flooring; the Victorian era gave us a wide range of flooring styles from the downright showy to the extremely plain. And whilst we often have a fairly uniform type of flooring throughout our homes today, Victorian styles were much more eclectic, with vastly differing styles in different parts of the home according to the function of the room and who would be using it. Areas in which guests were welcomed would be the most lavish, whilst the humble servants’ areas would be sparse and functional.


Many of the better Victorian houses had floorboards on show, usually of polished mahogany or oak if funds allowed. Where pine was used, it was almost always painted, stained, varnished or polished to look like hardwood. In bathrooms the floorboards were scrubbed with sand and limewater to give the floorboards an almost white appearance. These looks are easy to replicate with woodstain or varnish with an oak-hued or other light stain applied after the floorboards have been sanded clean.


Parquet was also still used in some of the best Victorian houses, and this should be preserved if you are lucky enough to have it. There are plenty of traditional parquet designs for sale if this is something you choose.


In the countryside, hard floors such as marble, limestone and slate were used in the grand houses; and flagstones and tiles in servants’ areas and farmhouses. You may be lucky enough to have the originals but if not there are many for sale, both reclaimed and new at a wide range of prices. One drawback is that reclaimed flagstones can be expensive and it’s often hard to find enough matching flagstones for larger areas, however Chinese-made reproduction flagstones are more readily available and accessible for most budgets.


Of course one of the most distinctly Victorian types of flooring are the mosaic patterned ceramic tiles and also encaustic tiles. These can be in simple chequerboard patterns with a decorative border or in complicated geometric patterns of 6 or more colours. These would have been used mainly in hallways and porches by the Victorians and less commonly in other rooms. Kitchens would have used cheaper simple red or black terracotta tiles on the floor, often straight on top of earth. Tiles are best maintained by cleaning thoroughly, sealing with linseed oil and then waxing. There are many patterns available in a large colour palette – for larger areas it’s expensive to use the complicated multi coloured patterns both from a purchase and also a fitting perspective as this is not a job for any odd-jobber. The tiles will only look good if fitted meticulously which is fiddly and time consuming and not for the fainthearted amateur. So if your area is large and your budget small, choose a 10x10cm or larger square pattern which can still be highly effective when used with an interesting border.


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