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Floor Show

Linoleum Rugs Provide Colorful and Portable Accents

October 11, 1998|BARBARA THORNBURG

When Clint Eastwood romanced Meryl Streep in "The Bridges of Madison County," he swept her right off her linoleum floor. That's because the film's set designer knew that the smooth, washable floor covering, being used extensively in battleships and factories, was also ubiquitous in home kitchens and bathrooms of the time. First produced in England in the middle of the last century, linoleum is the latest in a line of retro materials to be rediscovered and fashioned anew.

Designer Christopher Stearns began making contemporary linoleum "rugs" when he needed a floor covering for his West Hollywood apartment. "I didn't want to invest a lot of money in something that wasn't permanent," he explains. So many of his friends requested the colorful creations that last fall Stearns and his partner, M. Dwight Freeman, opened Westling Design, their showroom in Los Angeles. "They're especially appealing because renters can take them with them when they move," Stearns says of the rugs, which have sashayed out of the kitchen and bathroom into foyers, living rooms, bedrooms--even offices. "They're also good for people who just want to visually change their environment. You can easily move them from room to room for a new look."

To make the rugs, Stearns hand-cuts pieces of imported marbleized linoleum, then mounts them in different patterns, shapes and colors on vinyl backing. He finishes the edges with a sloped rubber border. A scuff-resistant coating is applied to protect the surface, and a thin foam pad is placed underneath to prevent slipping and add comfort. The rugs, in colors that range from subtle Shell, Papyrus White and Graphite to vibrant Mata Hari yellow and Maasai red, are also environmentally friendly. Susan Maness of Linoleum City in Hollywood, whose family has been in the business for the last 50 years, says: "Linoleum is made of natural materials--wood or cork flour, limestone, natural pigments, resins and jute. Bacteria doesn't grow on its smooth surface, and there's no off-gassing."

Stearns can create rugs of almost any shape or size (up to 16 feet, the width of the rolls of linoleum) to suit the decor of contemporary homes as well as traditional ones. For a kitchen in a Colonial-style home, for instance, he designed a rug with a Greek key border. A rug he made for an irregularly shaped contemporary children's room resembles a skewed tic-tac-toe board. And Stearns just completed a piece featuring polka dots randomly placed on an indigo field. As he puts it: "The rug designs are limited only by the imagination."

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