WANT a different kind of carpet? Forget wool and synthetic fibres and go for natural flooring, such as seagrass, coir and jute, instead.
If looked after properly, this flooring is no harder to maintain than carpet and, unlike synthetic carpets, it doesn't attract dust, making it a good choice for allergy sufferers.
Natural flooring is made of plant fibres, but the plants are usually grown in Asia and other places thousands of miles away, so it's often not as environmentally friendly as it might seem.
Wool and cotton can be combined with other natural fibres to produce flooring offering the best of both worlds, but if you'd rather be a purist, these are the most popular types of natural flooring:
Coir is a good value and hard-wearing alternative to carpet. Made from coconut husks, it's coarse and durable and so perfect for areas that get lots of use, such as halls and stairs — its highly textured finish and strong fibres stand up well to wear and tear. Water stains coir, so don't use it in kitchens and bathrooms.
In contrast, jute is fine, soft and silky, making it ideal for rooms with light foot traffic, such as bedrooms. It's not recommended for use in bathrooms and kitchens (it can shrink after absorbing water), on stairs (it can be slippery and isn't particularly hard-wearing) and in areas of bright sunlight (it can fade). The most popular options are chunky tweeds and fine herringbone and tight boucle weaves, available in a wide range of natural shades.
Sisal is a strong, versatile, hard-wearing and anti-static natural fibre and can generally be used for flooring throughout the home, although it's not suitable for high-moisture rooms. It can be woven into a huge range of patterns, weaves and colours (it can be dyed, unlike most natural flooring), including metallics: shimmering strips of sisal make a stair or hall carpet extra special. Some of the most popular weaves are panama, herringbone, boucle and mini boucle.
Not, perhaps, what you'd expect a floorcovering to be made from, paper is actually a good all-rounder. The flooring is produced from the pulp of coniferous softwood trees, but the paper has to be virgin, rather than recycled, to give it strength. Resin is added at the spinning stage for extra strength, durability and versatility. While many paper floors are suitable for heavy domestic use, not all can be used on stairs, with castor chairs and sofas, or in kitchens and bathrooms.
Seagrass is not only hard-wearing and strong, it's also naturally stain resistant. There are often inconsistencies in its colour and weave, so don't buy it if you want a perfectly uniform look. It has a heavy texture — herringbone and chunky basket weaves are popular — and is suitable for most rooms in the home, except high-moisture ones.
While you should always follow the manufacturer's care instructions for the type of flooring you have, tips for maintaining natural flooring include using doormats by outside doors, vacuuming regularly, putting something underneath chairs and sofas on castors and immediately treating stains and spills in the recommended way.