Will Anderson: The Green House

Reclaimed flooring is never an easy option but the charm of old wood is well worth the effort
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I went bright orange this week. This was not, I hasten to add, the result of an over-hasty desire to acquire a fake tan before the summer peters out, but simply the inevitable outcome of the final flowering of my relationship with our bedroom floor.

Three years ago, long before we started building our rather ambitious eco-house in south London, I bought a shedload of salvaged Burmese teak parquet. The tongue-and-groove blocks came from a Victorian water-works in Chelsea, and a century's fag ash and dermatological efflorescence was packed in the grooves.

Cleaning these blocks has been an on-and-off labour of the intervening years (definitely more off than on), assisted by various friends and our nephew Stuart, who clearly thought we were bonkers; normal people would just buy a carpet.

We moved into Tree House five months ago, but the teak blocks stayed stubbornly in their builder's bags, lurking in a pile against the wall of the bedroom. Then, last week, I finally got up the energy to glue them all down, sand the floor and apply three coats of Auro oil and wax ( www.auro.co.uk).

If you have ever used a sanding machine, you will know just how noisy and filthy this job is. Throw in the hottest day of the year and the rich orange tones of teak dust, and my transformation into Jaffa-man was complete.

After all this grime, toil and sweat, it would be foolish of me to claim that this flooring option is a top green choice. And yet, and yet... the final result is completely stunning, its eco-credentials could not be higher and now I've had a shower I feel completely normal again.

Salvaged materials can be difficult to use because they don't come with the tidy specifications and instructions of new products. But if you are willing to work with the idiosyncrasies of old materials and fittings, you will enjoy the character they bring to your home for many years.

The more we keep durable materials in use after their first function, the more we reduce the environmental impact of new products. In many instances, not least teak parquet, you simply can't buy the product new without incurring serious environmental costs.

Fortunately, there are plenty of other green options for smooth floors. If you like the warmth of timber, look for suppliers who offer products with Forest Stewardship Council accreditation ( www.fsc-uk.org) or track down a local managed woodland.

Heavy materials such as stone and ceramics may not strictly come from renewable sources, but they are incredibly durable. Minimise your stone-miles by choosing local products over Indian sandstone or Chinese slate.

At the cheaper end of the market, you can choose from lino, rubber and cork. Linoleum, warm and soft, gives off the anti-bacterial vapour of linseed oil, so quite why four times as much of the similarly priced vinyl is sold is beyond me.

Perhaps sales would be different if consumers knew that vinyl flooring is made from carcinogenic ingredients in a highly energy-intensive process that leaves a trail of toxic waste. And you are unlikely to feel any sense of a relationship with a vinyl floor. Having cleaned, prepared, glued, sanded and oiled every tile of our new floor, my relationship with it is definitely intimate.

I recently discovered that my great-great-grandfather William Anderson was a Victorian teak importer based in Moulmein, Burma. So my relationship may in fact stretch all the way back to the forest where the teak was originally felled. Is that the breath of an elephant I feel on my back?


I am a huge fan of Kirkstone slate. It may be ripped out of a national park, but the quarry does an admirable job of covering the scars and the stone itself puts Italian marble to shame. From £80 per sqm (01539 433296; ) ( www.kirkstone.com)


Help save what's left of the rainforest by visiting ( www.rainforestfoundation uk.org). Or you could plant some more trees in regions where they are sorely needed, through ( www.treeaid.org.uk).