This section is from the book "The Principles And Practice Of Modern House-Construction", by G. Lister Sutcliffe. Also available from Amazon: How Your House Works: A Visual Guide to Understanding & Maintaining Your Home.
The practice of covering: all woodwork with paint, concealing the natural beauty of the grain, and perhaps substituting some vulgar imitation, is at once senseless and useless. The preservation of the wood, and facilities for keeping the surface clean, are equally attained by the use of varnish or polish, which heighten the colour and vein, and bring out the natural characters of such woods as oak, mahogany, walnut, rosewood, maple, and satin-wood; and even the common pitch pine, red deal, and white deal are, when so treated, by no means devoid of a beauty, which if desired may be enhanced or varied by staining. The only drawback is the frequent occurrence in the inferior kinds of timber of knots, which it cannot be denied are unsightly; but it is quite possible to select boards of sufficient size for most purposes free from these disfigurements, and there are many American woods of the greatest beauty, which can be obtained in any lengths free from the slightest flaw or defect, as anyone may observe in the interiors of the London tramcars. I do not deny that rich effects may be obtained by a judicious contrast of colours or shades in painting, but the blank white which shows up dirt, wears thin and bald by frequent use of soap, and in the sulphur-charged air of towns soon acquires a yellowish or brownish hue by the changes effected in the white-lead, is utterly tasteless, while graining is a mere sham, and, as such, a violation of the elementary principles of art.
Varnish over the natural shades of the wood does not show up every touch of the hands or clothing; it undergoes no chemical action, and is easily cleaned by a cloth with water alone, while new coats may he applied as often as may be necessary with little trouble.
5. FLOORS AND FL00R-C0VER1NGS.
The bare and ill-fitting boards until recently used for flooring in all but the very best class of houses, with their original inequalities exaggerated by subsequent shrinkage, necessitated the covering of the entire floor with carpets, fastened down, and removed but once or twice in the year. Such carpets become permeated by dirt, which accumulates beneath them, while the act of sweeping produces large quantities of dust, and is, indeed, almost the sole cause of flues, which are composed chiefly of the detached fibres of wool. On every ground of health, comfort, and appearance, it is desirable that the floors of all rooms alike should be made perfectly smooth and free from chinks, then stained and rendered as nearly non-absorbent as possible.
Varnish soon wears away, and sometimes assumes a dull whitish hue; far better (though somewhat more labour and expense are involved in the first application) is bees-wax melted with a little boiled linseed-oil and turpentine, and rubbed on with a flannel. While varnish requires a previous use of sue, the best preparation for wax is the repeated saturation of the boards with boiled linseed-oil, which, hardening, renders them almost impermeable. If the floor is old, and more or less charged with soap and grease, it should be well planed before any attempt at staining. The stain should be one that will soak deep into the wood, and I know of none better than a strong solution of perman ganate of potash, which has the advantage of not merely permeating, but of entering into a chemical combination with the structure of the wood. It costs about half a crown a pound, and, dissolved in water, will impart to common deal any shade from light-brown to black oak, according to the strength of the solution.
With such floors, loose squares of Turkey carpet, Persian or Kirghiz rugs, or imitations of the same. may be laid wherever needed, the Bides and less-frequented parts of the floor being left uncovered. Sweeping and scrubbing are alike unnecessary; the loose carpets and ruga are rolled up and taken out of doors to be shaken, while the boards need only to be wiped over with damp cloths. In bedrooms, the sanitary advantages of this arrangement are obvious, especially since on the earliest suspicion of infectious disease, the rugs can be removed without any trouble, and the cost of subsequent disinfection avoided.
Floorcloth and linoleum are alike washable, and do not give rise to dust, though it may accumulate beneath them unless they are glued down to the floor. Cork-carpet is a somewhat similar material, but more absorbent, and also less noisy.