Friday, July 24, 2009

The Unexpected Floor Covering

Most of you have toured professionally designed model homes in your area. Designers turning out those models all seem to have something in common: they have been successful in integrating an element of surprise. What makes a room or a home memorable is the application of materials in a way you might never have thought of. Some of my most seasoned design associates cruise Home Depot in search of novel materials to adapt to home environments. Crazy? Maybe. But when you see the finished product, it appears more ingenious than crazy. The fact that they get requests to replicate what’s been done in the models is testament to the fact that this brand of “craziness” seems to have broad appeal.

If you are among an elite set of homeowners who definitely want something extremely unique for your floor coverings, read on--this article is for you. Before I tell you what this flooring material is, let me outline some of its features:

  • This resource is renewable and sustainable
  • No matter how much foot traffic it endures, or how long furniture stands on it, it retains its shape and elasticity
  • It’s a natural fire inhibitor
  • It insulates against heat and cold and maintains a warm floor temperature in your home
  • It has excellent acoustic properties, as it absorbs ambient sound
  • It is naturally anti-static
  • It has an inherent cushioning nature
  • Its properties prevent the cultivation of mold and resist dust mites and insects
  • This material is resistant to moisture penetration
  • It is an excellent choice of flooring for rooms used by children or the elderly
Have you been able to guess what flooring material this is? I will give you one more factoid: it became popular in the United States when renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright chose CORK flooring for many of his home designs. I kept you in suspense long enough, so there you have the answer.

Today’s cork floors offer selection, performance, and beauty and can be manufactured as tiles, planks, or even sheets in various thicknesses. The cork goes through a baking process that increases its durability, and is then sealed with polyurethane or wax. One very impressive fact to note is that there is practically no waste--from the harvesting of the raw material--to the finished floor, making it highly desirable as a “green” product. The bark is taken from a cork oak tree and harvested without any negative environmental impact. In fact, the bark actually re-grows and can be harvested again in nine to twelve years! So how do you account for different colorations if this is an all-natural product? It’s the amount of time the cork is baked (in specially designed ovens) that contributes to its light, medium, or dark coloration. The manufacturing process prior to baking is not so different from the manufacture of cork wine-stoppers.

Cork floors are, more or less, synonymous with comfort and gentleness underfoot. This might be your material of choice if you have toddlers and small children at home who seem to be always prone to falls. Homes for the elderly often incorporate cork as the flooring of choice for its unique level of comfort and warmth. If you stand for long periods of time, cork underfoot helps relieve back stress and leg fatigue. But, as adaptive to residential use as this material is, cork has been utilized in commercial settings for quite some time. Conference rooms, libraries, churches, and banks are just a sample of its unique applications. Dating back to the turn of the century, two famous installations included the First Congressional Church in Chicago and the old Toronto Stock Exchange.

Knowing the facts about cork flooring isn’t quite enough. Understandably, your next question will be, “how do I care for a cork floor?” Here are some of the recommendations, according to one of North America’s finest manufacturers of cork flooring, TORLYS Inc., a Canadian company known internationally for its European styling and design-driven collections:

  • Wipe away spills at once
  • Damp mop the floor occasionally
  • Vacuum and sweep regularly to clean dirt and grit that can cause abrasion to the floor
  • Place breathable mats and rugs at entrances to prevent dirt and debris from being tracked in
  • Use a mat in front of the kitchen stove and sink to prevent wear due to excessive use
  • Use felt pads under furniture legs to prevent scuffs
  • If the finish is appearing dull, have your floors recoated to protect the cork
  • As with any floor covering material, use window coverings to prevent excessive exposure to direct sunlight
What NOT to DO:
  • Don’t wet mop a cork floor. Avoid excessive moisture
  • Don’t use mats with rubber backings. (They trap moisture and affect the finish of the floor)
  • Don’t walk on cork floors with stiletto heels
  • Don’t drag heavy furniture across a cork floor. Better to lift and place to protect the floor
There you have a quick and easy “manual” on how to care for cork floors: fairly easy maintenance with a good measure of common sense. Given all the wonderful attributes you’ve just learned about this product, the most impressive of all still lies in the fact that it is one of the most environmentally responsible floor coverings available. That extends from the harvesting of the material to the lifespan of the product and its recyclability! One additional benefit to choosing a cork floor: yours will be one of a kind. Each batch of cork is unique and patterns encompass a wide range, from classic looks to burled designs.

Any way you look at it, cork is making a name for itself, and that would be over and above what it has always done to top your favorite wine.

All information is from the World Floor Covering Association

Friday, July 17, 2009

How Area Rugs are Made Part 2
2. Knot
Most handmade rugs are woven by tying knots on the warp strands.
The type of knot used in weaving and the knot density are discussed next.
The two predominant types of knots are asymmetrical and symmetrical.

Asymmetrical (Persian or Senneh) Knot: there is none finer.

The asymmetrical knot is used in Iran, India, Turkey, Egypt and China.

To form this knot, yarn is wrapped around one warp strand and then passed under the neighboring warp strand and brought back to the surface.

With this type of knot a finer weave is created. A fine point worth noting.

Symmetrical (Turkish or Ghiorde) Knot: there’s beauty in symmetry.

The symmetrical knot is used in Turkey, the Caucasus and Iran by Turkish and Kurdish tribes.

To form this knot, yarn is passed over two neighboring warp strands.

Each end of the yarn is then wrapped behind one warp and brought back to the surface in the middle of the two warps, forming a beautiful symmetry.

If your decorating style is equal, even and matched, this is your knot.

Knot Density: thick with numbers and measurements.

Knot density refers to the number of knots per square inch (called KPSI) or square decimeter in a handmade rug.

Knot density is measured in the imperial system in square inches and in the metric system in square decimeters.

Every decimeter is equal to 10 centimeters and approximately 4 inches.
Knot density is measured by counting the number of knots per linear inch or decimeter along the warp and weft (visible on the backside of the rug) and multiplying the two numbers.

Since the two numbers are usually the same, one number can simply be squared.

KPSI, (knots per square inch), is sometimes used to indicate value.

The higher the number of knots per square inch, the higher the quality, and thus the price, of the rug.

3. Dyes

The process of changing the natural color of materials such as wool, silk and cotton is called dyeing.

There are two types of dyes: natural dyes and synthetic dyes.

Natural Dyes: plants, animals and minerals to dye for.

Until the late nineteenth century only natural dyes were used for coloring weaving yarns.

Natural dyes include plant dyes, animal dyes and mineral dyes.

Plant dyes come from roots, flowers, leaves, fruit, and the bark of plants.

Woad, a plant of the mustard family, and indigo, a bush from the pea family, are used for blue dye.

Yellow is produced from saffron, safflower, sumac, turmeric, onionskin, rhubarb, weld, and fustic.

Madder has been used since ancient times for reds. Redwood and Brazilwood are also used for reds.

Browns and blacks come from catechu dye, oak bark, oak galls, acorn husks, tea, and walnut husks.

Henna is used for orange.

For green, indigo, over-dyed with any of a variety of yellow dyes, is used.

Some animal sources of dyes include insects such as Cochineal, found on cacti in Mexico; Lac, a wild version of Cochineal, found in India and Iran; and Kermes, found on Oak trees near the Mediterranean.

All three produce a range of reds. Kermes was used in Europe, and Lac in Egypt and Persia until Cochineal, the cheapest of all three, gradually took their place.

Kermes, the most ancient of all three, has been used even before the 16th century. Can you believe that?

Mineral dyes come from ocher (yellow, brown, red), limestone or lime (white), manganese (black), cinnabar and lead oxide (red), azurite and lapis lazuli (blue), and malachite (green).

Dyers are able to get a variety of colors and shades from the same source depending on the type of material used, the characteristic of local water, and the use of different mordants.

Today, natural dyes are still used in some traditional dye-houses and villages where natural sources are readily accessible.

Synthetic Dyes: chemistry comes to the aid of consumer demand.

In the mid-nineteenth century, as the demand for handmade rugs increased in the West, their production increased in the East.

The need for easy-to-use and less expensive dyes with a wider range of colors caused the development of synthetic dyes in Europe and especially in Germany.

Synthetic dyes were soon imported to Persia (Iran), Anatolia (Turkey) and other Eastern countries.

The first synthetic dye, Fuchsine (a magenta aniline), was developed in the 1850s.

Shortly after, other synthetic aniline dyes followed.

Synthetic aniline dyes made from coal tar were brilliant, inexpensive, and easy to use; however, they faded rapidly with exposure to light and water.

In 1903 Nasser-e-Din Shah, the Persian king of Qajar Dynasty, banned the use of aniline dyes in Persia (Iran).

Persian weavers discontinued the use of synthetic dyes until the modern synthetic chrome dyes were developed in the years between the First and Second World Wars.

Chrome dyes are colorfast, they retain their intensity despite exposure to light and water, and are produced in an infinite variety of attractive colors and shades.

Today, mostly chrome synthetic dyes are used for coloring weaving yarns.
Natural dyes are used in places where they are easily obtainable.

But one thing is certain. If you buy an area rug made from natural or synthetic dyes, you can be confident that it will only improve with time.

In fact, even rugs made with aniline dyes in the late 19th century are valuable today simply because of their age.

All information is taken from World Floor Covering Association.

How Area Rugs are Made Part 1

The construction of area rugs all comes down to two areas: man versus machine. If area rugs are indeed a flooring solution for the way you live, any rug you choose will be constructed by either human hands or factory machines.

And while modern technology enables us to mass produce area rugs in a wide spectrum of design, color and sizes, there are differences between machine made and handmade rugs. Differences you should be aware of.

Machine made rugs are less expensive and are not considered long term.

With factory made rugs you’ll have flexibility and variety; you can find the same design, or one close to it, in different sizes and different colors from different manufacturers.

Handmade (also called hand knotted) rugs are custom made, one-of-a-kind designs that incorporate creative (often brilliant) uses of color.
Plus, handmade rugs are often created with natural dyes that provide longevity to the colors. These rugs offer you built-in lasting power.

The bottom line is the bottom line. Handmade rugs are investments (often very valuable investments) that last a lifetime and then some.

Three elements tie any handmade rug together: weave, knot and dyes.

1. Weave
Weave refers to the technique used in making handmade rugs.
There are three major techniques: pile weave, flat weave and hand-tufted.

Pile Weave: knots to you.
Pile weave or knotted weave refers to the method of weaving used in most rugs.

In this technique the rug is woven by a creation of knots.
A short piece of yarn is tied around two neighboring warp strands creating a knot on the surface of the rug.

After each row of knots is created, one or more strands of weft are passed through a complete set of warp strands.

Then the knots and the weft strands are beaten with a comb securing the knots in place.

Even though all pile rugs are woven with knots, different weaving groups use different types of knots.

The weaving process begins at the bottom of the loom and moves upward as the horizontal rows of knots and wefts are added.

Every single knot is tied by hand. A rug can consist of 25 to over 1000 knots per square inch.

A skillful weaver is able to tie a knot in about ten seconds, meaning 6 knots per minute or 360 knots per hour.

That means it would take a skillful weaver 6,480 hours to weave a 9x12-foot rug with a density of 150 knots per square inch.

If we divide this number by 8-hour working days, it means it would take one weaver 810 days (approximately two and a half years) to weave such a rug. Can you think of a more painstaking job?

However, a rug as large as a 9x12 is usually woven in a workshop or master workshop setting by two or three weavers, so the above time can be reduced by half or third.

But can you imagine the time and labor if the knot density is even higher!
Handmade rugs are beautiful, functional and exceptional works of art created with great patience. And deep pride.

Flat Weave: knotless, yet boundless beauty.
Flat weave refers to a technique of weaving where no knots are used in the weave.

The warp strands are used as the foundation and the weft stands are used as both part of the foundation and in creating the patterns.

The weft strands are simply passed (woven) through the warp strands.
These weavings are called flat weaves since no knots are used in the weaving process and the surface looks flat.

These rugs have a special beauty, quality and personality all their own. Search for one that matches yours.

Hand Tufted: glue, guns and good value.

A hand-tufted rug is created without tying knots into the foundation, but rather by pushing wool or acrylic yarn through a primary backing, creating a “tuft”.
Then, using a latex glue to hold the tufts in place, a rug maker will apply a secondary foundation, or “scrim”, which is then covered by a third and final cloth backing to protect your floor.

The final step involves shearing the tops of the looped tufts to create the pile.

The height of the pile is determined by how much yarn is cut off, and how far the initial loop was pushed up.

Hand-tufted rug makers use a tool called a “tufting gun” which holds the yarn to push through the primary backing that is stretched in place on a frame.

This method of rug making is less time consuming than hand-tying each knot, but still requires a high level of craftsmanship to efficiently and accurately portray the intricate designs.

The design is determined by transferring a pattern onto the primary foundation, this acts as a template showing the craftsman where to push through each colored tuft.

Hand-tufted rugs can be made faster than hand-knotted rugs, therefore they are generally less expensive than their hand-knotted counterparts.

The tufting method creates a highly durable and beautifully accurate handmade rug that will weather foot traffic for years to come.

If traffic is a concern of yours, this may be your weave of choice.
All information is taken from World Floor Covering Association.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ceramic/ Porcelain Cleaning and Care

Sweep but don’t “beat” ceramic tile.
It’s important to sweep a tile floor regularly. Dirt can adhere to the surface of tile, particularly styles with a textured surface.

Regular sweeping loosens and removes most of this dirt. So keep on sweeping.

Don’t forget those labor saving devices. Feel free to use a vacuum cleaner to sweep, but be sure to use one without a beater bar to avoid dulling and scratching the tiles.

However, the attachments that accompany vacuum cleaners are useful to collect dirt along edges or in between tiles.

Keep dirt in its place.
Be sure to use walk-off mats to minimize and contain dirt being tracked in at entryways. And shake them often, homeowner.

This reduces the amount of dirt being tracked across the tile floor, and reduces the wear to the finished surface.

Cleaning tips that really shine.
Ceramic tile floors should be damp-mopped regularly using the manufacturer’s recommended grout and tile cleaners.

For heavier soil, you can spot clean the floor with a sponge or clean cloth using the recommended cleaners.

Rinse well and wipe dry for more shine.
Textured tiles may require mild scrubbing with a soft brush or electric polisher/scrubber.

After cleaning with a mild detergent rinse thoroughly with clean, warm water to help remove any leftover residue.

If needed wipe dry with a clean towel to remove any film.

For soft water situations you may need to use an all-purpose cleaner.

Apply to the floor, let stand for 3 - 5 minutes, lightly scrub with a sponge, rinse well and you’re home free – dirt free too.

For heavier cleaning tasks there are cleaning products available from your local grocery store that can be used to remove soap scum, hard water deposits, and mildew stains.

You’ll want to consult the cleaning product’s instructions to make sure the product is compatible with your type of tile.

After cleaning, rinse well and wipe dry for optimum shine. And maximum pride.

No-Nos for those in the know.
Avoid using steel wool, scouring powders, or other abrasives that can scratch the finish of the tile.

Don’t use bleach or ammonia based cleaners, as these products can discolor your grout if used too often.

Also, do not clean glazed tile with oil-based cleaners.

Be fast on your feet. Try to clean up spills as quickly as possible so that the grout or tile doesn’t become stained.

While ceramic tile is considered very durable, it’s not indestructible and may crack or chip under extreme force.

Take the proper precautions when moving heavy objects across your tile floor. Get a small army to help you move that grand piano.

Cover furniture and table legs with protectors to guard your floor against damage.

Keep in mind that if a repair is necessary in the future, the replacement product may be a slightly different dye lot and/or texture than the initial installation.

However, the good news is that, with time and usage, the repair will blend in with the original product.

Final advice: do caulk and consider sealing.
Once the tile has been laid and grouted, it’s your responsibility to maintain areas exposed to water by caulking.

Caulking will prevent expensive subsurface damage, as well as keep the tiled areas looking their best.

Depending on your lifestyle, sealing new tile and grout may be an option.

After the installation process is complete and the grout has had ample time to cure, sealing the grout and tile can provide protection from dirt and spills by slowing down the staining process.

Today there are also innovative grout colorants you should be aware of.

These products can transform the original color of grout and in some cases can act as a form of sealant. Please be aware that non-epoxy grout joints should be treated with a silicone sealer.

Regular care and maintenance will keep your ceramic tile looking new for years to come, and will keep your home a showcase for family and friends.

For more maintenance information specific to your ceramic tile flooring, remember to consult the ceramic tile’s manufacturer recommendations.

Vinyl Cleaning and Care

Care with consistency.
New vinyl floors are extremely durable and long lasting, but like any floor covering they still need regular maintenance to stay looking like new.
Taking consistent care of your vinyl floor is simple and can add years to its life.
Follow these general guidelines for vinyl flooring. For more detailed information always refer to the manufacturer's written floor care procedures.

Time and temp are important.
For the first 24 hours after your new vinyl floor is installed, protect all the seamed areas and don't walk on the seam sealer.
Keep the room at 68° F or greater for at least 2 days after installation to allow the adhesives to setup properly.
Do not roll heavy objects directly on to a newly installed vinyl floor for at least 5 days.
This can cause the vinyl and adhesive to become compressed, and once the adhesive sets up any compressed marks will become permanent.
Allow 5 days before thoroughly washing your floor. This will give time for the adhesive to cure.

Wait before applying weight.
Before moving heavy objects across your floor, hold on! Always lay plywood or underlayment sheets down to disperse the weight.
Before placing chairs or furniture on your new vinyl floor check the condition of all the casters or rollers before setting them on your floor. Replace any worn casters or rollers.
Protect your vinyl floor by covering the legs of furniture with felt protectors.

Clean-up on dirt.
Remove dust, sand and grit particles frequently by sweeping or vacuuming your vinyl floor.
Don’t use a vacuum with a beater bar as it may scratch your floor.
The attachments that come with your vacuum are useful to clean the edges or to get to hard to reach areas
When sweeping or vacuuming does not remove the dirt, mop the floor with clean warm water.
Rinse the floor thoroughly with fresh water. If water alone does not clean the surface, use cleaning products recommended by the manufacturer.
If you are unable to determine the manufacturer’s recommendations, use one tablespoon of liquid dish washing detergent to one quart of water.
Or use one tablespoon of clear ammonia to one quart of lukewarm water. Make sure you rinse the surface to avoid leaving behind a film.
Finally, think prevention. Place non-staining, walk-off mats or rugs at every outside entry to your room.
This will help keep sand and grit from being tracked on to your floor in the first place.
Just be sure to avoid using rubber-backed mats or rugs as they can damage and potentially discolor your floor.
Instead use mats or rugs made especially for vinyl floors and remember to treat them accordingly. Shake, shake, shake!

Oops! How to clean up spills.
For spots or spills, wipe them up immediately and use a clean cloth to wipe the cleaner onto the floor.
Make sure the floor’s manufacturer recommends the cleaner and that the product label indicates “self-cleaning,” meaning you will not get an accumulation of wax on your floor.
Rinse the spot or spill area thoroughly and wipe dry with a clean cloth.
Avoid using abrasive scrubbing tools as they will leave scratches.
Never use abrasive cleaners, soaps, paste waxes, or solvents on your vinyl floor.
Use the manufacturer’s recommended floor polish to restore your vinyl floor to its original gloss level.
If you purchased a PVC vinyl floor you should consider placing 2-3 coats of the manufacturer’s recommended floor polish on the floor immediately.
Any vinyl floor with a PVC wearlayer will show scuffs, scratches and other marks very easily. By adding the coats of floor polish you will make the floor easier to maintain.