Recently, I recommended linoleum as a good choice for a kitchen floor and the homeowner laughed at me! She had a tile floor that she had installed in recent years and thought it was much superior. Well. Everyone is entitled to their opinion about design choices, but here is my case for linoleum.
First, it’s linoleum I‘m talking about, not vinyl. Real linoleum is made from natural ingredients including linseed oil, cork dust, wood flour, tree resins, ground limestone, and pigments, pressed into a jute backing--a product originally patented by Frederick Walton in 1863. Cheaper vinyl flooring came along in 1947, is made from hydrocarbon products like natural gas or petroleum, came in lots of bright colors and patterns and linoleum appeared drab in comparison. Besides being made from non-renewable resources, vinyl offgasses volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which make many people ill.
But today, real linoleum is back as an eco-friendly flooring. Armstrong, the main U.S. manufacturer of vinyl flooring, bought the world’s second largest linoleum producer, Deutsche Linoleum Werke, and we can now buy green and buy American. Linoleum is also back as an interesting design element as it now comes in a number of fun colors. Some artistic types have created wonderful patterns and designs with the flooring and have added real excitement to the fairly boring world of flooring decisions.
Another feature is that linoleum is as appropriate for historic homes from the Victorian and Craftsman eras as it is for modern homes today. There is a book called Linoleum by Jane Powell which has great photos of interesting vintage and newer lino designs. You can look at some pages and also order a copy from Amazon.com. Check out the Wikipedia entry for linoleum and see one of the fun styles from the 50s.
True linoleum (also called Marmoleum, which is a brand name by Forbo) is not only made from renewable resources, but it is anti-static which makes it easy to clean. It is also antibacterial, hypoallergenic, and recyclable. It offgasses as well, but it is from the linseed oil, which is not pleasant to some, but many other people enjoy the fragrance.
But why linoleum instead of tile? It’s true that linoleum is not as impervious to water as tile is, so if you’re the type to leave standing water, or if you want to be able to power wash your floor down at night like in a commercial kitchen, lino is not for you. But if you are a serious home cook, you will enjoy the cushioning effect of linoleum which will be better for your feet, legs and back, and much less likely to destroy your china should you drop it on the floor.
Another advantage of linoleum is that it is easier to install or remove, and it is less expensive than quality ceramic tile. Linoleum costs about $7 to $10 per square foot installed, while ceramic tile can cost from $6 to $30 per square foot installed, and stone, granite and marble can cost even more. These costs vary wildly for custom designs, special preparation or underlayments of the sub floor. And the variety of styles and quality of tile varies hugely. Linoleum is only manufactured by a few companies, and they all produce the same high quality.
In my opinion, while some people might prefer ceramic tile over linoleum, linoleum is a more affordable, more neutral flooring. And if you are careful to pick a linoleum style and color that is consistent with the period and color scheme of your home, you will have a floor that will look stylish far longer than the ceramic tile that is currently in vogue.