There is an Instagram account called @IHaveThisThingWithFloors. I also have a thing with floors, and so, apparently, do more than 830,000 other people. This account is the antidote to the snaps that smug holidayers take of their feet on beaches, sand spilling over their toes. Smug feet all look the same and sand is beige. But I have this thing with floors: specifically, with tiles and flagstones.
Some of my recent favourites that fellow floor enthusiasts have posted on the app include a fuchsia baroque floor; a multicoloured ikat design; a tiled seascape decorating an indoor pool. In my flat, which is on the ground floor of a converted Victorian terrace, the traditional brown, blue, white mosaic diamond tiles of that period seep under the door from the main hallway. Every time I come home, I admire them. Well, I feed my cat, make a cup of tea and then I admire them.
Public loos – the few remaining – might not come top of most people’s list of admiration, but oh my god: the tiles! Floors and walls. The riches! Not far from where I live, there are well-maintained public toilets where the monochrome check floor is offset by deep green, sheening walls. There is a grade II-listed pub down the road. Formerly a hotel that opened in 1899 and cost a then-extravagant £30,000, it is in the French renaissance style and has a treat of a bathroom: white tiled floors with splashes of red, yellow, and blue – like Mondrian, but if Mondrian had gone a bit Jackson Pollock. Mondrian if Mondrian had been drinking in the pub.
There are the tiles that look like Magic Eye paintings or the bright, geometric tiling in bars with overpriced cocktails and dim light. The fan designs of hotel lobbies and old theatres. The burgundy tiles of the Marrakech souks. The ornate teal and gold tiling in Turkish bathhouses. The cold, crumbling floors of Russian dachas that babushkas pad across to make evening chai. The country kitchens with an Aga and a perfect terracotta floor. The basic designs of monasteries. Or the ostentatious, 1920s art deco designs underfoot in California, bursting with extravagant shapes and the promise of parties. Salvage yards and eBay listings feed my passion.
Tiled floors have been a thing for thousands of years, the ceramic sort at least. The Egyptians enjoyed a glass tile. But it’s the Industrial Revolution I have to thank for the boom in the type I have in my flat, when the potters of Victorian England were widespread and inexpensive. (Wealthier households went for the hand-painted Arts & Crafts option: think William Morris.) The mark of respect for a truly great tile is to walk all over it. Yes, I most definitely have a thing with floors.