The word parquet (pronounced par-KAY) comes from an old custom, which was to place wooden planks under thrones and other seats of honor, in order to visually separate these areas above the floor. This decorative flooring was known as the parc (park) or parquet (little park). The illusionistic 3D designs were made by hand cutting small pieces of various colored hardwoods into geometric shapes using squares, triangles, and lozenges (diamonds). Then pieces of contrasting colored wood were then laid, scraped, scrubbed with sand, stained and polished.
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According to “THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE” encyclopedia, as late as 1625 the ground floor of most European houses were still a beaten earth floor. Visitors were required to wipe their shoes on an entry mat to prevent this natural floor from getting muddy or dusty. If the homeowner could afford it, the second floor had wooden joists and plank flooring sometimes 2 feet wide of oak or elm.
Prior to the 1600’s, only the wealthy and the Royalty had floors that consisted of Marble slabs. The marble required constant washing which quickly lead to the rotting of the wooden joints underneath the marble slabs. It wasn’t until the Barouque Era (1625-1714) that wooden floors became elegant.
Thought still considered a novelty in the 1620s, Queen Marie de Medici of France installed an elaborate parquet floor in the Luxembourg Palace. Over the next few decades, parquet floors became THE fashionable flooring in fancy Parisian homes and upscale hotels, including the hôtel de Lauzun. By the time her daughter, English Queen Henrietta Maria installed parquet floors at Somerset House in 1661, the technique had become accepted as French style. A 1673 issue of the Mercure Galant, the most fashionable society magazine in Paris, explained to readers that “people of quality” were forgoing dusty carpets in favor of parquet.
Parquet floors didn’t really become prevalent, though, until Louis XIV had them installed at Versailles in the 1680s. He spent the previous two decades expanding and renovating the family hunting lodge in order to turn it into a seat of power equal with all the glories of France. Initially, marble floors were installed in all new areas, and replaced broken earthenware tiles in the bedrooms of the original hunting lodge. By the 1670s, some of the marble floors were leaking when washed, rotting the joists and floor supports The decision was made to replace most of the marble with wooden floors — a decision that must have had plenty to do with aesthetics as well as engineering, considering that it was so ‘on trend’.
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Parquet continued to be popular in grander homes through the 19th century. In the 1930s, the introduction of carpeting manufacturing made it possible for people to install carpet over wooden floors. It looked as though wood floors would become totally obsolete as carpeting seemed to be the floor covering of choice. But, the 1980s and 90s showed a renewed interest in wood flooring. This resurgence was due, in part, with better floor manufacturing techniques and more durable materials such as laminates. Today, Parquet floors are popular once again and are more affordable than ever before.
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