When Did Linoleum Get So Luxe? | Kanebridge News
Kanebridge News
Share Button

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.”


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

Americans now think they need at least $1.25 million for retirement, a 20% increase from a year ago, according to a survey by Northwestern Mutual

Related Stories
Where Are Stocks, Bonds and Crypto Headed Next? Five Investors Look Into Crystal Ball
By CAITLIN MCCABE 30/01/2023
High-Earning Men Are Cutting Back on Their Working Hours
By Courtney Vinopal 27/01/2023
U.S. Economy Slows, but Europe’s Picks Up, Raising Hopes World Will Avoid Recession
By DAVID HARRISON 25/01/2023
Where Are Stocks, Bonds and Crypto Headed Next? Five Investors Look Into Crystal Ball

Equities are often seen as expensive after promising start to 2023

Mon, Jan 30, 2023 7 min

A new trading year kicked off just weeks ago. Already it bears little resemblance to the carnage of 2022.

After languishing throughout last year, growth stocks have zoomed higher. Tesla Inc. and Nvidia Corp., for example, have jumped more than 30%. The outlook for bonds is brightening after a historic rout. Even bitcoin has rallied, despite ongoing effects from the collapse of the crypto exchange FTX.

The rebound has been driven by renewed optimism about the global economic outlook. Investors have embraced signs that inflation has peaked in the U.S. and abroad. Many are hoping that next week the Federal Reserve will slow its pace of interest-rate increases yet again. China’s lifting of Covid-19 restrictions pleasantly surprised many traders who have welcomed the move as a sign that more growth is ahead.

Still, risks loom large. Many investors aren’t convinced that the rebound is sustainable. Some are worried about stretched stock valuations, or whether corporate earnings will face more pain down the road. Others are fretting that markets aren’t fully pricing in the possibility of a recession, or what might happen if the Fed continues to fight inflation longer than currently anticipated.

We asked five investors to share how they are positioning for that uncertainty and where they think markets could be headed next. Here is what they said:

‘Animal spirits’ could return

Cliff Asness, founder of AQR Capital Management, acknowledges that he wasn’t expecting the run in speculative stocks and digital currencies that has swept markets to kick off 2023.

Bitcoin prices have jumped around 40%. Some of the stocks that are the most heavily bet against on Wall Street are sitting on double-digit gains. Carvana Co. has soared nearly 64%, while MicroStrategy Inc. has surged more than 80%. Cathie Wood‘s ARK Innovation ETF has gained about 29%.

If the past few years have taught Mr. Asness anything, it is to be prepared for such run-ups to last much longer than expected. His lesson from the euphoria regarding risky trades in 2020 and 2021? Don’t count out the chance that the frenzy will return again, he said.

“It could be that there are still these crazy animal spirits out there,” Mr. Asness said.

Still, he said that hasn’t changed his conviction that cheaper stocks in the market, known as value stocks, are bound to keep soaring past their peers. There might be short spurts of outperformance for more-expensive slices of the market, as seen in January. But over the long term, he is sticking to his bet that value stocks will beat growth stocks. He is expecting a volatile, but profitable, stretch for the trade.

“I love the value trade,” Mr. Asness said. “We sing about it to our clients.”

—Gunjan Banerji

Keeping dollar’s moves in focus

For Richard Benson, co-chief investment officer of Millennium Global Investments Ltd., no single trade was more important last year than the blistering rise of the U.S. dollar.

Once a relatively placid area of markets following the 2008 financial crisis, currencies have found renewed focus from Wall Street and Main Street. Last year the dollar’s unrelenting rise dented multinational companies’ profits, exacerbated inflation for countries that import American goods and repeatedly surprised some traders who believed the greenback couldn’t keep rallying so fast.

The factors that spurred the dollar’s rise are now contributing to its fall. Ebbing inflation and expectations of slower interest-rate increases from the Fed have sent the dollar down 1.7% this year, as measured by the WSJ Dollar Index.

Mr. Benson is betting more pain for the dollar is ahead and sees the greenback weakening between 3% and 5% over the next three to six months.

“When the biggest central bank in the world is on the move, look at everything through their lens and don’t get distracted,” said Mr. Benson of the London-based currency fund manager, regarding the Fed.

This year Mr. Benson expects the dollar’s fall to ripple similarly far and wide across global economies and markets.

“I don’t see many people complaining about a weaker dollar” over the next few months, he said. “If the dollar is falling, that economic setup should also mean that tech stocks should do quite well.”

Mr. Benson said he expects the dollar’s fall to brighten the outlook for some emerging- market assets, and he is betting on China’s offshore yuan as the country’s economy reopens. He sees the euro strengthening versus the dollar if the eurozone’s economy continues to fare better than expected.

—Caitlin McCabe

Stocks still appear overvalued

Even after the S&P 500 fell 15% from its record high reached in January 2022, U.S. stocks still look expensive, said Rupal Bhansali, chief investment officer of Ariel Investments, who oversees $6.7 billion in assets.

Of course, the market doesn’t appear as frothy as it did for much of 2020 and 2021, but she said she expects a steeper correction in prices ahead.

The broad stock-market gauge recently traded at 17.9 times its projected earnings over the next 12 months, according to FactSet. That is below the high of around 24 hit in late 2020, but above the historical average over the past 20 years of 15.7, FactSet data show.

“The old habit was buy the dip,” Ms. Bhansali said. “The new habit should be sell the rip.”

One reason Ms. Bhansali said the selloff might not be over yet? The market is still underestimating the Fed.

Investors repeatedly mispriced how fast the Fed would move in 2022, wrongly expecting the central bank to ease up on its rate increases. They were caught off guard by Fed Chair Jerome Powell‘s aggressive messages on interest rates. It stoked steep selloffs in the stock market, leading to the most turbulent year since the 2008 financial crisis. Now investors are making the same mistake again, Ms. Bhansali said.

Current stock valuations don’t reflect the big shift coming in central-bank policy, which she thinks will have to be more aggressive than many expect. Though broader measures of inflation have been falling, some slices, such as services inflation, have proved stickier. Ms. Bhansali is positioning for such areas as healthcare, which she thinks would be more insulated from a recession than the rest of the market, to outperform.

“The Fed is determined to win the war since they lost the battle,” Ms. Bhansali said.

—Gunjan Banerji

A better year for bonds seen

Gone are the days when tumbling bond yields left investors with few alternatives to stocks. Finally, bonds are back, according to Niall O’Sullivan of Neuberger Berman, an investment manager overseeing about $427 billion in client assets at the end of 2022.

After a turbulent year for the fixed-income market in 2022, bonds have kicked off the new year on a more promising note. The Bloomberg U.S. Aggregate Bond Index—composed largely of U.S. Treasurys, highly rated corporate bonds and mortgage-backed securities—climbed 3% so far this year on a total return basis through Thursday’s close. That is the index’s best start to a year since it began in 1989, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

Mr. O’Sullivan, the chief investment officer of multi asset strategies for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Neuberger Berman, said the single biggest conversation he is currently having with clients is how to increase fixed-income exposure.

“Strategically, the facts have changed. When you look at fixed income as an asset class…they’re now all providing yield, and possibly even more importantly, actual cash coupons of a meaningful size,” he said. “That is a very different world to the one we’ve been in for quite a long time.”

Mr. O’Sullivan said it is important to reconsider how much of an advantage stocks now hold over bonds, given what he believes are looming risks for the stock market. He predicts that inflation will be harder to wrangle than investors currently anticipate and that the Fed will hold its peak interest rate steady for longer than is currently expected. Even more worrying, he said, it will be harder for companies to continue passing on price increases to consumers, which means earnings could see bigger hits in the future.

“That is why we are wary on the equity side,” he said.

Among the products that Mr. O’Sullivan said he favours in the fixed-income space are higher-quality and shorter-term bonds. Still, he added, it is important for investors to find portfolio diversity outside bonds this year. For that, he said he views commodities as attractive, specifically metals such as copper, which could continue to benefit from China’s reopening.

—Caitlin McCabe


Find the fear, and find the value

Ramona Persaud, a portfolio manager at Fidelity Investments, said she can still identify bargains in a pricey market by looking in less-sanguine places. Find the fear, and find the value, she said.

“When fear really rises, you can buy some very well-run businesses,” she said.

Take Taiwan’s semiconductor companies. Concern over global trade and tensions with China have weighed on the shares of chip makers based on the island. But those fears have led many investors to overlook the competitive advantages those companies hold over rivals, she said.

“That is a good setup,” said Ms. Persaud, who considers herself a conservative value investor and manages more than $20 billion across several U.S. and Canadian funds.

The S&P 500 is trading above fair value, she said, which means “there just isn’t widespread opportunity,” and investors might be underestimating some of the risks that lie in waiting.

“That tells me the market is optimistic,” said Ms. Persaud. “That would be OK if the risks were not exogenous.”

Those challenges, whether rising interest rates and Fed policy or Russia’s war in Ukraine and concern over energy-security concerns in Europe, are complicated, and in many cases, interrelated.

It isn’t all bad news, she said. China ended its zero-Covid restrictions. A milder winter in Europe has blunted the effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices and helped the continent sidestep recession, and inflation is slowing.

“These are reasons the market is so happy,” she said.

—Justin Baer


The iconic bootmaker is now solely in local hands.

An influx of people could calm future volatility.

    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop