1920s wood floors

Updated April 17, 2017

The year 1920 stands at the beginning of the Art Deco, Bauhaus and Moderne trends in art and architecture. Earlier Arts and Crafts and Gothic Revival styles were also still exerting influence. These earlier movements had favoured a craftsman style and natural wood floors with rugs. In the 1920s, this concept was updated in polished parquet floors. These were more suited to the streamlined architecture and glossy surfaces of the age. Parquet could be laid in geometric designs or showcase a modernistic rug.

Parquet flooring

Parquet flooring is a system of small wooden boards which can be laid in a variety of patterns. Most common is the herringbone, but parquet could also be laid in basket weave or as a series of interlocking geometric shapes. Differences in wood tone and grain highlight these patterns. Contrasting woods can create borders and medallions. According to the Parquet House flooring company, the invention of tongue and groove joints at the turn of the century made parquet available and affordable to a wider section of society.

1920s interior design

Large expanses of parquet polished to a high sheen complemented the glass and chrome furniture favoured by Art Deco and Bauhaus. Home design was uncluttered and minimalist. The clean lines and shiny materials were a celebration of the modern machine age. Swiss-born designer Le Corbusier famously commented: “A house is a machine for living in". Strong colour schemes, geometric patterns and sleek lines were the vogue. Fashionable parquet flooring contrasted boldly with large rugs in geometric designs. A popular design feature was to use a strongly coloured circular rug at the centre of a polished parquet floor. Animal skin rugs added a touch of Hollywood glamour.

Care and cleaning

Old wooden floors rely on regular cleaning and polishing to maintain their lustre and colour. A 1920s parquet floor should be swept frequently to avoid the accumulation of grit or abrasive dust. Original lacquer or shellac finishes require wax polishing. Spills should be wiped up promptly. Water can cause serious damage. Water damage stains boards, dissolves adhesive and causes individual boards to lift and warp. This can produce sections of floor that are raised, with large air bubbles trapped beneath. These will feel spongy to walk on. Long exposure to strong, direct sunlight may also have damaged old floors. A chemical reaction of the varnish in sunlight causes discolouration and fading. This is particularly obvious where rugs and furniture have remained in one spot, preserving darker areas of floor beneath them.

The decline of wood flooring

Linoleum was the cutting-edge flooring material of the 1920s. Taken up enthusiastically by Bauhaus designers including Walter Gropius, linoleum was quick to lay and fashionably modern. Linoleum could be made to match any colour scheme or could imitate marble or granite. Though available in faux wood and faux parquet, lino was best suited to the bold colour contrasts and abstract geometric designs associated with fashionable modernity.

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About the Author

Based in the Isle of Man, Tamasin Wedgwood has been writing on historical topics since 2007. Her articles have appeared in "The International Journal of Heritage Studies," "Museum and Society" and "Bobbin and Shuttle" magazine. She has a Master of Arts (Distinction) in museum studies from Leicester University.