Monday, April 3, 2017


Wall-to-wall carpet advertisement dating from 1955
(note Ford Thunderbird at background).
Mid-century designers considered "wall-to-wall"
much more modern and sophisticated than
dowdy old hardwood.
During the 1960s, when wall-to-wall carpet really began taking hold in the housing industry, salespeople cleverly managed to portray it as a high-end option superior to hardwood flooring. By the end of that decade, "wall-to-wall" had become the very symbol of luxurious contemporary design, and buyers clamored for it.

In truth, however, the reason builders switched to wall-to-wall carpeting is rather less glamorous: it was by far the cheapest form of floor covering available, and unlike hardwood flooring, it required little if any subfloor preparation. A good carpet and pad could hide uneven subflooring, knotholes, plaster drips, you name it, and hence made the builder’s job that much easier.  

Today, wall-to-wall carpeting remains immensely popular with both builders and buyers. It’s still cheaper than resilient flooring, its nearest competitor, to say nothing of hardwood.   And the price of carpeting includes the pad as well as installation. Even today, a dreadful grade of carpeting can be had for as little as fifteen dollars per yard, with better quality grades costing only about triple that.  

Simple bordered/inset carpeting is
relatively inexpensive and has
a richer, more traditional look.
While its pedigree may be humble, wall-to-wall carpet does have some good things going for it. Besides its low cost and ability to cover a multitude of subflooring evils, it’s also warmer and quieter than other flooring types. Moreover, just because carpet is inexpensive doesn’t mean it has to look cheap.  Here are some tips that can help give an ordinary carpet installations some charisma:

•  One of the neatest carpeting tricks is also one of the least common: combining carpet colors. For example, the main carpet area can be accented by a border several shades darker, or even of a contrasting color. This simple and relatively inexpensive technique can add a great deal of interest to a routine space.

Wrapped bullnose step gives staircase
a more plush appearance.
(Photo courtesy
•  For an extra charge, carpet installers can wrap the exposed edges of stair treads, lending a more “upholstered” appearance suitable to some contemporary home styles (however, check with your installer first to see whether the carpet you’ve chosen will lend itself to this technique). Or, hardwood can be installed along just the edges of the staircase and carpeting laid in between, giving the appearance of a runner cascading down the stairs.

Incidentally, where floor carpeting meets a hardwood stair (or  vice versa), always terminate the carpet at the base of the stair riser, never at the top.  The idea is to have the stairs appear to “flow” out onto the floor.

Carpet/tile transition using a simple hemmed edge.
Basically, the simpler, the better. Avoid elaborate
thresholds, trims strips, etc. wherever possible.
•  Where carpet adjoins a hardwood, stone, or ceramic tile floor, have it hemmed back rather than covering the break with a metal trim strip.  The strip just attracts undue attention to the juncture, collects crud, and quickly gets scratched and ugly.  

•  Finally, in Modernist and Mediterranean style homes, one of my favorite techniques allows me to dispense with wooden baseboards, which I consider a useless anachronism in carpeted rooms. I have the gypsum wallboard finished to within 1/4-inch of the subfloor, omit the baseboard, and simply have the carpet installed directly against the wall. No awkwardly mitered baseboards, no cluttered appearance. Although I get groans of protest from purists, I find the clean, sharp delineation between carpet and wall to be much more pleasing. 

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