IN a list of most popular flooring, carpet and wooden boards would almost certainly take the top two spots. But in a very close third, would come natural floorings like sisal, coir and jute.
They are easier to source and often cheaper than wooden floorboards; they are as easy to maintain as synthetic carpets, plus they have the added bonus of not attracting dust, making it a good choice for allergy sufferers.
Most natural flooring is eco-friendly too, made from easy-to-replenish plant fibres grown in Asia, South America and other far-flung places - although you have to consider ‘flooring miles’ for it to reach the UK.
So, if you’re tempted to ‘go natural’, here are the most popular floorings:
Coir is a good value and hardwearing alternative to carpet. Made from coconut husks, it is coarse and durable and perfect for floors that get lots of use, such as halls and stairs. Its highly textured finish and strong fibres stand up well to wear and tear, but water can mark coir, so it’s not a good idea to lay it in kitchens and bathrooms.
In contrast, jute is fine, soft and silky, making it suitable for rooms with light foot traffic, like bedrooms. It’s not recommended for use in bathrooms and kitchens (it can shrink after absorbing water), on stairs (it can be slippery and isn’t particularly hardwearing) and in areas of bright sunlight (it can fade). The most popular options are chunky tweeds and fine herringbone and tight boucle weaves, available in a wide range of natural shades.
Sisal is a strong, versatile, hardwearing and anti-static natural fibre and can be used in most rooms, although it’s not suitable for high-moisture ones. It can be woven into a huge range of patterns, weaves and colours (because it can be dyed, unlike most natural flooring), and can even become metallic: shimmering strips of sisal make a stair or hall carpet extra special. Some of the most popular weaves are Panama, herringbone, boucle and mini boucle.
Seagrass is not only hardwearing and strong, it’s also naturally stain resistant. There are often inconsistencies in its colour and weave, so don’t buy it if you want a perfectly uniform look. It has a heavy texture - herringbone and chunky basket weaves are popular - and is suitable for most rooms in the home, except high-moisture ones.
Not, perhaps, what you’d expect a floor covering to be made from, paper is actually a very good all-rounder. The flooring is produced from the pulp of coniferous softwood trees, but the paper has to be virgin, rather than recycled, to give it strength. Resin is added at the spinning stage for extra strength, durability and versatility. While many paper floors are suitable for heavy domestic use, not all can be used on stairs, under chairs and sofas with castors, and in kitchens and bathrooms.
Tips for maintaining all natural floorings include using doormats by external doors, vacuuming regularly, putting something underneath chairs and sofas on castors, and immediately treating stains and spills in the recommended way.
Some natural flooring has a latex backing, which helps to prevent dirt and dust building up underneath, and some can be treated with a stain inhibitor, which is obviously one of the easiest ways to keep it looking good for longer.