Grounds for artistry

From ancient Jerusalem flagstones to Moorish mosaics... Rosalind Russell on the latest in couture flooring
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London-based flooring firms have been rummaging around in Jerusalem's redundant public buildings, courtyards and private houses to reclaim old flagstones. Polished by generations of soft-slippered feet, they've become the latest must-have floor tiles in the expensively interior-designed homes of England's green and pleasant land. Who wants lino when you can have history at your feet for pounds 310 a square metre, plus VAT? Paris Ceramics is just one of the companies offering the Jerusalem Stone.

Attica, which sells in London through Selfridges' new Floor Coverings Library, calls its version Biblical Stone. This costs pounds 260 a square metre, plus VAT. There are no restrictions on exporting the old stone as it doesn't come from protected areas and most is salvaged from demolition sites. It's all very Old Testament - and top-of-the-market house buyers love it. Designer floors can even tip the balance between choosing a new house over a period one, according to estate agents.

"High specification like attractive wood or stone flooring, used by builders, means new homes are now as popular as period homes," says Richard Thomas of Knight Frank. "There has been a dramatic erosion of the social stigma attached to buying a new house. They are a good investment because they are easier to re-sell."

Paris Ceramics - owned and run by Charlie Smallbone, the founder of Smallbone Kitchens - will design and make a one-off floor for clients with their own ideas and unlimited cash. One recent commission was to replicate the ceramic floor in the Pope's Bedroom, a room in the medieval Palace of the Popes in Avignon in France. Ceramic artist Alex Zdankowicz recreated the floor, working from photographs, and installed it in eight weeks, start to finish.

Zdankowicz also developed the Moorish Mosaic, based on a Moroccan antique design, which is made to order at pounds 450 a square metre. It's not even its most expensive. Basilica, based on 16th-century Italian roof tiles made for the Chapel of Bartolomeo Lombardini in the church of San Francisco at Forli (a section of which is in the V&A) is so complicated, Paris Ceramics declines to quote a price, except to the client.

There is, it has to be admitted, a certain amount of enviable swank in being able to point to your bathroom floor and admit it cost as much as a new Range Rover. One thirtysomething City broker spent more than pounds 20,000 on a kitchen floor made of quartzite glittering with discreet flecks of trace elements and coloured mineral deposits, brought from India. It hardly made a dent in his annual bonus, but it impressed his new American in- laws.

Cher and Bob Geldof are fans of Attica, whose limestone flooring, quarried in the north of England, has genuine fossil impressions of animal skeletons and shells. It costs pounds 160 per square metre, plus VAT. Not to be outdone, Paris Ceramics says a couple of its limestone floors - Cotswold stone and the French Vix Blue - date from the Jurassic period ... though Richard Attenborough's footprint has yet to be found in either.

Architects such as Brian Ma Siy list a wooden floor as a main architectural feature in a house. He installed a Junckers solid beech floor in his own loft apartment in a converted Victorian school. Junckers, whose clients have also included Richard Branson, Ruby Wax and the Queen, was originally founded to produce sleepers for the Danish National Railway but is now one of the names - like Neff, Aga or Bosch - which estate agents like to drop in house particulars.

The company has just launched a new wide-board oak floor, like those in period houses. It's supplied unfinished to allow for choice of treatments, including oiling, waxing or liming. The floor is laid using the quick clip system, which means it can be laid over an existing floor - even tiles - as long as it's dry and even. The 8mm range in solid beech, oak or ash is no thicker than a normal carpet, so there will be minimum changes to doorway and skirting board. Prices start at under pounds 38 per square metre.

For stockists of Junckers call 01376 517512; Paris Ceramics 0171-371 7778, or Harrogate 01423 523877; Attica 0171-738 1234

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