1: The Boudoir at the Winter Palace, St Petersburg displays
some of the finest parquetry ever created.
on flooring dates back at least to the Egyptians, who covered their
brick floors with stucco and painted them. Marquetry, the practice
of inlaying small pieces of wood into a sub-frame of simpler wood
to produce a pattern or picture, had been used to decorate furniture
for hundreds of years but it was not used to decorate flooring
material until the 16th century, when technological advances allowed
the technique to be applied on a much grander scale in conjunction
with 'parquetry', patterned floors of tightly fitting blocks of
block pattern Parquet de Versailles (see Figure 5) became the
standard flooring for the formal rooms of 17th century French chateaux,
while much more elaborate designs were developed for Russian mansions
and palaces. There, parquetry came to be seen as an extension
of architecture, often determining colour schemes.
The use of
parquetry flourished during the building of St Petersburg in the 18th
century. Manor houses and palaces were springing up all over the
new city, creating the demand for a greater range of interior
design options. At a time when architectural language was determined
by the desire to show off wealth, influence, taste and fashion,
the aristocracy imported craftsmen from far and wide to create
awesome buildings that would be admired, envied and imitated.
Homes became galleries for the masters. Every
detail of the building was as beautiful as the paintings, sculpture,
furniture and other furnishings within it.
2a & 2b (below right): The duke's bedroom at the Rundale Palace,
designed by Florentine architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli for
Russian Duke Ernst Johann Von Biron. By the 17th century, parquetry
had become the most popular flooring in Russian palaces and
architect Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli was one of many European
craftsmen brought to St Petersburg to design pleasure palaces
for the aristocracy. He designed the parquet floors of the imperial
palaces, including the Winter Palace which features one of the
most outstanding examples of marquetry flooring in the world.
Russian Duke Ernst Johann Von Biron commissioned Rastrelli to
build a 138-room mansion, the palace of Rundale, in what is now
Latvia. Sculptor Johann Michael Graff was brought in from Berlin,
and Italian masters Carlo Zucchi and Francesco Martini painted
the ceilings. Rastrelli's signature parquetry adorns the rooms,
with the most magnificent in the Duke's bedroom (see Figures 2a and 2b).
Over the centuries,
many of these treasures have been stripped or ruined, but outstanding
examples of parquetry and marquetry can still be found in St Petersburg,
including Menshikov Palace's Walnut Study, Ekaterninsky Palace
Museum's Grand Hall, and every room in the Chinese Palace Museum.
arrived in England in the 17th century with Queen Henrietta Maria.
The youngest daughter of King Henry IV of France, Henrietta Maria
married Charles I in 1627 and made Somerset House (then Denmark
House) her official residency in the late 1620s. Queen Henrietta
ordered a major reconstruction and redecoration of the Tudor house,
overseen by Inigo Jones, bringing a touch of the French Court
floors in English country houses and royal palaces had been created
from stone or plank. The parquetry flooring seen for the first
time in her fashionably decorated court was imitated across the
country but few examples have survived.
3 & 4: Line drawings of the Serlio and Palladio panels, two
of the earliest parquet designs from the 16th century.
was rebuilt in the 18th Century as Somerset House and most other
examples have been replaced with newer designs and materials or
have been lost through fire, decay, demolition or reconstruction.
House, in Richmond Upon Thames, built in 1610 and now a National
Trust property, boasts fine examples of parquetry from the 17th
century. The Great Hall contains a dais constructed from Parquet
de Versailles and the floors of the Queen's bed chamber and closet
are decorated entirely with parquetry.
too, in Northamptonshire, has escaped alteration in the last 300
years. Dubbed the English Versailles, thanks to the influence
of Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu, a former ambassador to Paris and
a devotee of French architecture, the monastic buildings and manor
house were converted into one of England's finest stately homes.
is resplendent with French decorative influences, including fine
parquetry in many of the state rooms. The grandeur has been lovingly
preserved and conserved, making Boughton House one of the finest
surviving examples of the cultural aspirations of the 17th century.
for parquetage continued well into the 18th century, with patterns
becoming more elaborate and more ambitious. The staircase hall
at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, and a half-landing from 22
Hanover Square (now displayed in the Victoria and Albert Museum)
show the intricacy of later designs.
the fashion for expansive marquetry was displaced as carpets were
popularised. Over the latter part of the 18th century, inlay started
to be used as a border for the carpet, prompting a wholesale revival
of parquetry in the larger houses. By 1837 it was firmly back
in fashion and by the end of the century parquetry was a part
of mainstream architecture, demonstrated in Blackpool's opulent
tower ballroom. Designed by renowned theatre architect Frank Matcham
during the Victorian entertainment boom, when it opened in 1899,
the style, elegance and exuberance of stately home architecture
finally became available to the general public.
parquetry and timber such a successful medium for flooring is
that, treated well, it lasts and lasts. However, problems can
5: Parquet de Versailles, based on the mid 16th century designs
of Sebastiano Serlio and Andrea Palladio, became the standard
flooring for formal rooms in French chateaux. The pattern
was adopted for the earliest parquetry to be used in English
stately homes after Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles
I, brought the fashion to Denmark House, where Somerset House
- water damage
- fire damage
- fading in sunlight
- loss of structural integrity due to failure of the substrate
- abrasion and wear.
the most significant enemies are fire and water.
As the destruction
of Windsor Castle famously showed, if parquetry is lucky enough
to escape fire damage, the water used to rescue the building will
destroy it. Historic houses are also often victims of burst pipes
and examples which have failed due to excessive water damage are
common. Wood expands as it absorbs moisture and shrinks when it
dries out again, but it never goes back to its original form.
In addition, moisture pushes the strength of the old adhesives
(normally animal glues) to the limit, and in most cases failure
point of failure in a parquet floor can often be the hardest and
most time consuming part of repairing it. Simply knowing where
to start is the challenge: there could be errors throughout the
entire sub-floor, the glue may have split or there could be just
one point of failure which is causing the whole floor to buckle
or distort. More often than not, finding out what is wrong involves
dismantling large sections and piecing them back together again.
Testing one panel alone can take up to five hours.
failure will be down to a weak sub-floor. Those made of softwood
are more likely to expand and contract, which over time weakens
the glue. In such cases it is usually necessary to rebuild the
entire sub-floor with a high quality ply-wood. To provide the
sturdiest base for a parquet floor which will endure, the ply-wood should be cross-bonded and waterproof.
6: The Rose Room at Rundale Palace
be another problem, as prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light
will bleach the colour of the flooring. The red, green and yellow
dyes that were popular in the 18th and 19th centuries are particularly
the parquet floor in the foyer of Charles Dickens's former home
in Kent came to be restored, the entire floor had to be lifted
and reconstructed in the workshop. The floor had taken a battering
over the years when the building had been used as a school. Sunlight
had bleached some areas of the parquetry and many of the panels
had come loose and deteriorated as a result.
situations it may be necessary to control the amount of sunlight
falling on the floor though the judicious use of blinds and curtains.
Solar control films are also available which may be applied directly
to the glazing.
to restoring old flooring is precision: achieving a perfect grain
match and getting the new sections to the right colour. This can
only be done through a combination of the best of modern technology,
traditional techniques and, of course, the right choice of wood.
There is an
abundance of very good antique oak available in various European
countries from which to source old floorboards and timber joists
to recreate the missing panels or boards in historic floors.
that all new components for the restoration of original floors
fit perfectly, new components must be cut with considerable accuracy.
At Weldon this is achieved by using laser technology to achieve
working tolerances of 0.1mm: far better than could ever be achieved
with hand tools.
possible, original finishes are retained intact and the new components
are dyed and French polished to match using the same techniques
and materials as those used originally, building the coats up
to the same level. Finally, several coats of French polish are
usually applied across the whole floor to help integrate the original
and new components.
spend years in training and devote decades to understanding how
wood ages and how colours change with age. Achieving a colour
match with the Charles Dickens foyer floor took four weeks of
applying varnish coats, burnishing it off, and repeating the process
day after day.
7: The Royal Cipher in The Crimson Drawing Room at Windsor
Castle, which had to be recreated following the fire in 1994.
The good news
for new timber floors is that modern building technology is creating
more sympathetic indoor climatic conditions to protect them. By stabilising humidity, air
conditioning has been a real friend
to timber. As a hygroscopic material, timber is very susceptible
to movement when exposed to differing humidity levels.
to expand in the summer months as it absorbs moisture when humidity
is high, and contracts during the winter months when heating is
in operation and humidity levels are low. This expansion and contraction
is most notable across the width of a piece of wood and, in some
cases, the compound effect may add up to several inches of movement
across the width of a large room. The movement is accommodated
by gaps at the edges of the room where they are hidden by skirtings.
used in combination with traditional materials and techniques
have helped to enable some of the most magnificent timber floors
to be restored accurately, extending their lives by centuries.
However, perhaps the most important lesson to be borne in mind
is the need to protect historic parquet floors, so avoiding expensive
restoration jobs. In particular, keep water away and use natural
waxes and polishes to keep the blocks supple and the colour balanced.
8: A Weldon craftsman working on a new decorative panel in
wenge, teak, walnut and oak at Regents Park, London.
- Jane Fawcett,
Historic Floors: Their History and Conservation, Butterworth-Heinemann, Oxford, 1998
This article is reproduced from The
Building Conservation Directory, 2006
WELDON, after training and working as a cabinet maker, turned
his skills to making fine parquetry and marquetry floors.
He and Jules Weldon founded Weldon Flooring in 1989 and in
the 17 years since, the Lincolnshire firm of 29 specialist
craftspeople has restored or reconstructed wooden flooring
in some of the country's finest buildings.
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