Tuesday, May 19, 2009

From the Archives - Linoleum Project

It was, if you will, the architectural equivalent of buying knock-off designer products: In order to save money on flooring, one of 97 Orchard's landlords lined some of the bedrooms and kitchens with felt-backed linoleum, a relatively cheap mixture of linseed oil and cork dust that replicated the patterns of carpet, tiles, and parquet squares. The material was first invented in 1860, but didn't boom in popularity until the Armstrong Cork Company, a major linoleum manufacturing firm, launched a massive marketing campaign in the 1920s.

During stabalization on 97 Orchard's 4th and 5th floors, we removed over 200 pieces of linoleum with 45 different patterns. After scouring research libraries around the city for original pattern books, such as the one pictured on the right, resident linoleum expert Melissa identified 21 of the patterns. The dates of those pieces Melissa was able to identify ranged from 1913 to 1939, though the earliest patterns were recycled throughout the next few decades. We suspect, in fact, that the first layer of linoleum was installed in 1924; in a mystery we're still trying to solve, multiple copies of newspaper pages from February 14, 16, and 17 of that year were used to line the wood floor underneath.

Pattern book images on the left match two of the pieces we removed from 97 Orchard. Tile-mimicking linoleum, as shown above, was found most frequently in the building, particularly kitchens. Floral, rug-like patterns were used in bedrooms.

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