Bungalow Kitchen Floors

Small Home Gazette, Fall 2002
by John Finlayson, board member

Original bungalow kitchen floors in this area of the country were most commonly tongue-and-groove maple or oak with a shellac or varnish finish, or linoleum over hardwood, or just linoleum over sub flooring. Pine floors with a painted surface occurred in earlier houses, usually the early nineteen-teens or earlier. An even less common material was ceramic tile. Linoleum, however, became the predominant kitchen flooring well past the bungalow period.

Linoleum was produced in a riot of colors and patterns. It was used wall-to-wall; in fact, it sometimes ran up the wall a few inches to form a baseboard with an aluminum strip finishing the top edge. Since it came in sheets, linoleum was also cut and inlaid to create a variety of custom patterns and designs. It was also sized and used as an area “rug” for use on hardwood floors and was even printed to resemble a rug, complete with patterns or a medallion design in the center and a border around the edge.

Linoleum is a mix of ground cork, linseed oil, pine resin, wood flour and other natural ingredients on a jute backing. It wears very well–I’ve seen original installations still in use, though most of these specimens were well past their prime. One reason it’s so long-lasting is that, unlike vinyl flooring which has its pattern printed on the surface, linoleum designs go all the way through. A Dutch company with factories in Holland and Scotland still makes a limited variety of styles and designs, and now Armstrong flooring (www.armstrong.com) carries linoleum in a range of colors and patterns. For an interesting and useful article on linoleum, go on the Internet to: www.thisoldhouse.org and do a site search for “linoleum.” Another flooring option is vinyl which is now being made in some old patterns.

Oak hardwood floors were almost universal in living rooms and dining rooms in the Twin Cities area and could be found in other rooms of the house. Maple, which was considered a secondary wood, was also widely used. I frequently see oak in the living and dining rooms and maple in the balance of the rooms. Minnesota has long had a love affair with oak. To this day, we use more oak in our new construction than in any other part of the country. The pleasant result is that oak, a premium wood elsewhere, is the least expensive wood here-less expensive even than birch. Don’t rule out retrofitting oak in your kitchen.

You may have maple or oak on your kitchen floor and not know it as linoleum was so popular that many people covered hardwood with linoleum from the start, then replaced it with vinyl in later years. Check this out by looking up in the basement through the subfloor for the narrow 11/2-inch boards. Or, if your floor covering is due for replacement, pry the vinyl up at the dining room door or where the floor meets a stairway.

If, indeed, you do have hardwood floors, they might be covered with a thick, black residue of linoleum adhesive. I had this problem in our house and tried every stripper and solvent I owned but got nowhere. What does work, I finally discovered, is boiling water and a putty knife. Boil water in a teakettle; then pour it on a one- or two-foot area. Let it sit for just a few seconds; then scrape vigorously with the putty knife. It will probably not all come up on the first try so go back over it, mopping up the mess with paper towels. You may need to do two or three applications in each area, but repeat the process no more than three times, as the hot water may begin to soften the wood. Many thanks to Jane Powell, author of Bungalow Kitchens and Bungalow Bathrooms, for this tip.

Ceramic tile was used primarily in expensive homes and is uncommon in bungalows. These tiles were mainly one-inch, unglazed hexagonal or small squares; not the large one-foot square tiles found in modern homes. Remember, though, that ceramic can be tiring to walk or stand on for any length of time and is an unforgiving surface if you drop a dish.

Painted wood, finished hardwood or linoleum are all authentic kitchen floors for a bungalow and appropriately-patterned, low-gloss vinyl is an approximate option. If you can restore the existing flooring or replicate what was originally there, it will only enhance your bungalow.