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.”


Consumers are going to gravitate toward applications powered by the buzzy new technology, analyst Michael Wolf predicts

Chris Dixon, a partner who led the charge, says he has a ‘very long-term horizon’

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Exterior Schemes | Dulux

Best for: Exterior walls

Available in 10 paint types, including Low-Sheen, Semi Gloss and Render Refresh, the Weathershield range has been specifically designed for Australian conditions with built-in UV, mould dirt and stain resistance. As the market lead, the Dulux range of colours stretches into the thousands,but  the company provides specific advice for popular exterior colour schemes.



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Best for: Interior walls

Created with Nanoguard Advanced Technology, the Taubmans Endure range is ideal for high traffic areas such as hallways and living areas thanks to its ability to withstand wear and tear. According to the manufacturer, it also protects against mould and mildew and is approved by the National Asthma Council Australia’s Sensitive Choice program.



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Best for: Exterior surfaces

As the name would suggest, the point of difference with this paint product is its ability to weather seasonal changes. Owned by the Dulux group, British Paints 4 Seasons is self priming on most surfaces, for a faster, more satisfying result. It comes with a 25-year guarantee against peeling, flaking and blistering as well as providing resistance to mould, fungus and algae.



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Best for: Interior walls

Haymes Paints was established in Ballarat in 1935 and the family-run business still offers an Australian owned and made product. Haymes Expressions® Low Sheen has been designed for easy washing – and stain removal –  and is ideal for wet areas, thanks to its seven-year mould and mildew protection guarantee. Haymes Paints also releases a yearly colour forecast to provide design professionals and homeowners with inspirational colour palettes.



Wattyl Solagard | Wattyl Australia

Best for: Exterior surfaces

A mainstay of the exterior paint market, Wattyl Solagard is known for its durability and colour fastness over an extended period of time. Suitable for painting over most exterior surfaces, including concrete, masonry, timber and galvanised iron, it is UV and dirt resistant. It is available in a wide range of colours to suit most house styles, including Coastal, Heritage and Modern.



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Best for: Specialty finishes

Now part of the Dulux Group, Porter’s Paints has built its reputation on its wide range of specialty finishes for exterior or interior use such as limewash, chalk paint, French wash and liquid iron. While some products require specific application processes, there are easy-to-follow video tutorials and step-by-step instructions to support customers interested in a unique finish. Aside from an enviable array of carefully crafted colours, Porter’s Paints are water based and low in VOCs.




More homeowners are becoming aware of the potential hazards associated with house paint, particularly when it comes to air quality. The main concern is Volatile Organic Compounds, or VOCs, which are released into the indoor environment and have been linked with eye irritations, breathing difficulties, as well as damage to kidneys, the liver and the central nervous system. From a product perspective, VOCs slow down the drying process, creating a wet edge on application so the user has more time to work with it.  More paint manufacturers are now offering low or zero VOC paints, but be aware that even those paints may still contain elements like ammonia and formaldehyde. Ventilate the space as much as possible, opening windows and doors as well as using fans and wear masks and gloves to minimise exposure to fumes while working.




Painting a home involves so many decisions, and choosing the right paint for the right job is tricky. Here we look at the top paint brands for the jobs at hand.

Exterior paints need strength to withstand the elements, they do this by adding additional and expensive, top quality resins so fading is less of an issue, and new technology that offers UV protection.  Who wants to repaint a house, right? After years of advancement, you can now achieve great results with acrylic exterior paint, which has the primer built in. Taubmans All Weather and Taubmans Sun Proof are great options here.

Exterior features such as fences and front doors are a chance to add extra zing to the design, and very often the best way to produce that effect is with a gloss or enamel paint. While there have been improvements in acrylic gloss products, purists and pros are still reaching for the oil based product – the finish is simply brighter and more reflective, and more to the point will last longer on high traffic spots such as doors. The lesser known Norglass brand offers a magnificent result, and comes in small cans, which is a bonus for feature trim jobs.

Interior walls cop the most passing traffic scuff and grime, especially if you are blessed with kids or pets. The ideal paint here is a washable, acrylic based paint that goes on smoothly, and wipes clean easily. A combination of huge colour range, and great coverage (meaning less coats to put on) is the Dulux Wash and Wear brand. You can actually feel the extra weight on the brush or roller, which is a good thing, but tougher on older hands, or newbies to the roller game.

Getting on top of ceilings is perhaps the most difficult of paint jobs; back breaking and neck stretching, it is a job with little pay off – but is critical to achieve a perfectly finished room. A dead matte finish is ideal, usually in white (but don’t let that stop you), and always acrylic. While you can use a cheaper matte paint, a purpose designed one will go on easier and offer better coverage – it’s designed to be a one stop wonder. British Paints Paint and Prime is reputed to have be a good ceiling paint that goes on thickly, and works particularly well with a long knap roller, reducing spray.

Houses have damp zones, and yes they need extra care because paint that doesn’t deflect the wet will get mould, mildew and then peel. The elasticity of acrylic paint is great here, and Berger Paints have a product, Kitchen and Bathroom Everlast which offers a five-year guarantee against mould and mildew. Best tip here is to, for once, not use a matte ceiling paint, but the soft or low sheen bathroom paint.

A secret of professional painters is the top paint brand Haymes. Haymes is perhaps a lesser known brand to the home decorator but it has been rated by Canstar as the top paint in Australia for the last six years. Haymes has been produced by the one family in Australia for generations, and commands respect from those who spend their lives up a ladder. They don’t need expensive ad campaigns, because those in the know don’t need reminding of this solid and impressive brand. Always consider checking out their products when starting a project.


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