When Did Linoleum Get So Luxe?
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When Did Linoleum Get So Luxe?

Seduced by its versatility and velvety good looks, designers are putting the old-school staple to surprising use in cabinetry, flooring and furnishings—proving it’s not only sustainable but chic.

Wed, Nov 9, 2022 9:03amGrey Clock 4 min

FOR DECADES linoleum has been shorthand for downmarket and drab, the stuff of dingy, unrenovated kitchens and hospital corridors. But lately that bad rap is fading, thanks to creative, environmentally conscious designers who are approaching the material with fresh eyes. In the linoleum renaissance, the colours are rich and sophisticated, the patterns unexpected. In cabinetry and furnishings as well as underfoot, these new, elevated versions argue persuasively that the utilitarian workhorse can deliver practicality with panache.

Patented in the 1860s by English inventor Frederick Walton, “linoleum was actually quite fashionable and cutting edge when it was created,” explained Alexandra Lange, a design critic and author of five books on 20th century design including “Meet Me by the Fountain: An Inside History of the Mall.” That popularity, she added, endured for over a century. By the 1920s, companies like Armstrong Flooring (which no longer produces linoleum, but was a major player throughout the 20th century) offered hundreds of designs, a tempting menu of textures, hues and patterns that ranged from simple marble swirls to Persian “carpets.” But by the 1990s, attitudes—at least in America—shifted, leaving lino in limbo. “Around 2000, you started to see a fetishisation of luxury and ‘natural’ materials like stone and wood,” said Ms. Lange.

Despite its cut-rate reputation—and the way it is unfairly lumped together with plastic products like laminate counters and vinyl flooring—linoleum remains one of the “greenest” materials on the interiors market. Made from organic components like cork dust, linseed oil, and jute, it can be easily renewable and recyclable. Also, said Ms. Lange, lino is light and inherently soft—as low-impact on the body as it is on the planet.

Daniel Rabin and Annie Ritz of And And And Studio, a Los Angeles design firm, say environmental motives were among the reasons they began experimenting with linoleum as a cabinet veneer in 2018. “Because of the rules around VOCs, painting cabinets is almost a non-option in California these days—the paints that are truly hard-wearing just can’t be used,” explained Mr. Rabin. “[Coloured] lino performs almost the same way, while also hiding fingerprints and being super durable.”

At a midcentury home in Los Angeles’s Silver Lake neighbourhood the duo chose furniture-grade linoleum by Forbo—the Switzerland-based brand preferred by all the designers we spoke with—to clad both the kitchen cabinets and the walls running along a curving butler’s pantry and powder room. While many other so-called “modern” finishes lean hard and cold, “the haptic quality, the touch of [linoleum], is warm and soft and matte,” said Mr. Rabin. “It has this beautiful way of interacting with light and sound.”

In London, Malcolm Weir and Tom Jarvis of the kitchen workshop West & Reid have taken to using linoleum on everything from custom cabinetry to their own office desks. “As soon as clients touch it, they get it—especially if it’s a colour they like,” Mr. Jarvis said. As with luxury paint company Farrow & Ball, Forbo’s furniture linoleum comes in limited hues, but the narrow selection—including a pale pink and moody pistachio—tends to be sophisticated and cannily on-trend.

Reform, a kitchen design firm in Copenhagen, collaborates with international architects on a range of cabinets, drawers, and panels that pay homage to the traditions of Nordic modernism. In 2014, its first line, BASIS, included a lino option; eight years later, those linoleum cabinets remain the company’s best seller, said CEO and founder Jeppe Christensen. “It was not so big a leap for us because so many of the innovative midcentury Scandinavian makers who inspire us, like Arne Jacobsen, were creating wonderful things with linoleum in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Beata Heuman, the Swedish-born, London-based interior designer known for crafting playful, cosmopolitan interiors, also credits her affection for linoleum to her childhood in Scandinavia where, she said, it never really fell out of fashion. “There’s something really subtle and lovely about it—it’s a big part of my repertoire,” said Ms. Heuman.

In a hotel project currently underway in Paris, Ms. Heuman has run linoleum along the walls of a powder room in the manner of a dado panel. For past residential assignments, she has used lightly marbled sheets of linoleum flooring everywhere from tidy living rooms to family bathrooms. The material, she said, has a wonderful way of warming up the space and “bring[ing] luxe finishes back down to earth.”

In kitchens, lino squares remain classic. “Checkerboard can feel a little cliche, but we recently put pale cream and gray together and that felt really peaceful and serene,” Ms. Heuman explained, noting that the sometimes aggressive pattern assumes a gentler personality when executed in neutrals. For the mudroom of a family home in Notting Hill, the designer updated a mosaic linoleum she spied in a photo of an Art Deco-era New York City vestibule. “There are so many possibilities,” she said with a laugh. “Honestly, my total fantasy would be to partner with Forbo and design a range of linoleum for them.”

Linoleum is “really good at crossing the high-low line,” said Rustam Mehta of the New York firm GRT Architects. Indeed, for a current project—an ambitious, top-dollar reimagining of a Harlem townhouse—Mr. Mehta uses the material not just as a luxe, powder-pink drawer facing in the kitchen and dining rooms but also, in hunter green and deep red, to top two custom-millwork desks. “It evokes a classic leather writing surface,” he explained.

“We’re at this interesting place,” said Mr. Mehta. “It’s like subway tile or penny tile—people love to elevate these simple things. Americans know what linoleum is but might not know what it can be.”


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now

Companies are eager to hire strong players who use hybrid work schedules to schmooze clients on the course

Fri, Jun 14, 2024 5 min

Standout golfers who aren’t quite PGA Tour material now have somewhere else to play professionally: Corporate America.

People who can smash 300-yard drives and sink birdie putts are sought-after hires in finance, consulting, sales and other industries, recruiters say. In the hybrid work era, the business golf outing is back in a big way.

Executive recruiter Shawn Cole says he gets so many requests to find ace golfers that he records candidates’ handicaps, an index based on average number of strokes over par, in the information packets he submits to clients. Golf alone can’t get you a plum job, he says—but not playing could cost you one.

“I know a guy that literally flies around the world in a private jet loaded with French wine, and he golfs and lands hundred-million-dollar deals,” Cole says.

Tee times and networking sessions have long gone hand-in-golf-glove. Despite criticism that doing business on the course undermines diversity, equity and inclusion efforts—and the fact that golf clubs haven’t always been open to women and minorities —people who mix golf and work say the outings are one of the last reprieves from 30-minute calendar blocks

Stars like Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie West helped expand participation in the sport. Still, just 22% of golfers are nonwhite and 26% are women, according to the National Golf Foundation.

To lure more people, clubs have relaxed rules against mobile-phone use on the course, embracing white-collar professionals who want to entertain clients on the links without disconnecting from the office. It’s no longer taboo to check email from your cart or take a quick call at the halfway turn.

With so much other business conducted virtually, shaking hands on the green and schmoozing over clubhouse beers is now seen as making an extra effort, not slacking off.

Americans played a record 531 million rounds last year. Weekday play has nearly doubled since 2019, with much of the action during business hours , according to research by Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom .

“It would’ve been scandalous in 2019 to be having multiple meetings a week on the golf course,” Bloom says. “In 2024, if you’re producing results, no one’s going to see anything wrong with it.”

A financial adviser at a major Wall Street bank who competes on the amateur circuit told me he completes 90% of his tasks by 10 a.m. because he manages long-term investment plans that change infrequently. The rest of his workday often involves golfing with clients and prospects. He’s a member of a private club with a multiyear waiting list, and people jump at the chance to join him on a course they normally can’t access.

There is an art to bringing in business this way. He never initiates shoptalk, telling his playing partners the round is about having fun and getting to know each other. They can’t resist asking about investment strategies by the back nine, he says.

Work hard, play hard

Matt Parziale golfed professionally on minor-league tours for several years, but when his dream of making the big time ended, he had to get a regular job. He became a firefighter, like his dad.

A few years later he won one of the biggest amateur tournaments in the country, earning spots in the 2018 Masters and U.S. Open, where he tied for first among non-pros.

The brush with celebrity brought introductions to business types that Parziale, 35 years old, says he wouldn’t have met otherwise. One connection led to a job with a large insurance broker. In 2022 he jumped to Deland, Gibson Insurance Associates in Wellesley, Mass., which recognised his golf game as a tool to help win large accounts.

He rescheduled our interview because he was hosting clients at a private club on Cape Cod, and squeezed me in the next morning, before teeing off with a business group in Newport, R.I.

A short time ago, Parziale couldn’t imagine making a living this way. Now he’s the norm in elite amateur golf circles.

“I look around at the guys at the events I play, and they all have these jobs ,” he says.

His boss, Chief Executive Chip Gibson, says Parziale is good at bringing in business because he puts as much effort into building relationships as honing his game. A golf outing is merely an opportunity to build trust that can eventually lead to a deal, and it’s a misconception that people who golf during work hours don’t work hard, he says.

Barry Allison’s single-digit handicap is an asset in his role as a management consultant at Accenture , where he specialises in travel and hospitality. He splits time between Washington, D.C., and The Villages, Fla., a golf mecca that boasts more than 50 courses.

It can be hard to get to know people in distributed work environments, he says. Go golfing and you’ll learn a lot about someone’s temperament—especially after a bad shot.

“If you see a guy snap a club over his knee, you don’t know what he’s going to snap next,” Allison says.

Special access

On a recent afternoon I was a lunch guest at Brae Burn Country Club, a private enclave outside Boston that was the site of U.S. Golf Association championships won by legends like Walter Hagen and Bobby Jones. I parked in the second lot because the first one was full—on a Wednesday.

My host was Cullen Onstott, managing director of the Onstott Group executive search firm and a former collegiate golfer at Fairfield University. He explained one reason companies prize excellent golfers is they can put well-practiced swings on autopilot and devote most of their attention to chitchat.

It’s hard to talk with potential customers about their needs and interests when you’re hunting for errant shots in the woods. It’s also challenging if you show off.

The first hole at Brae Burn is a 318-yard par 4 that slopes down, enabling big hitters like Onstott to reach the putting green in a single stroke. But to stay close to his playing partners and keep the conversation flowing, he sometimes hits a shorter shot.

Having an “in” at an exclusive club can make you a catch. Bo Burch, an executive recruiter in North Carolina, says clubs in his region tend to attract members according to their business sectors. One might be chock-full of real-estate investors while another has potential buyers of industrial manufacturing equipment.

Burch looks for candidates who are members of clubs that align with his clients’ industries, though he stresses that business acumen comes first when filling positions.

Tami McQueen, a former Division I tennis player and current chief marketing officer at Atlanta investment firm BIP Capital, signed up for private golf lessons this year. She had noticed colleagues were wearing polos with course logos and bringing their clubs to work. She wanted in.

McQueen joined business associates on the golf course for the first time in March at the PGA National Resort in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. She has lowered her handicap to a respectable 26 and says her new skill lends a professional edge.

“To be able to say, ‘I can play with you and we can have those business meetings on the course’ definitely opens a lot more doors,” she says.


This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

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