History of Stenciled Floors
Floors predated walls as the first surface in a house to be decorated. The practice is thought to have been widespread but subsequently lost through wear, repainting and fire. In the earliest years floors were hand painted. Over the span of 100 years, this fashion, which began in only the most affluent of seaport mansions and inns, spread into surrounding rural homes.
Colonists suffering their daily hardships, remembered fondly the beauty and comforts of their European homelands and were well aware of fashions abroad. A 1739 booklet published in England exhibited geometric and floral floor patterns popular there at that time. Enterprising young artisans were prepared to embellish many grand homes in the New World by this means. They also grained and sponged, painted overmantels, fireboards, tavern signs and walls.
Stenciling of floors was a way to simulate woven carpet, floorcloths and parquet floors without that expense. The whole was protected with varnish which, over time, mellowed to a rich yellow/brown causing the black, red, green and white paints to appear as the finest inlay of variegated woods set in background colors of yellow ochre, grey, Indian red, and green. We can create this look today by antiquing. The combination most often used, and no doubt most economical, was black on pumpkin pine, either natural or painted yellow ochre. During the Clipper Ship era, circa 1810-1870, the canvases from ripped sails were stenciled and used on floors for ornamentation, warmth and cleanliness.
Today in addition to traditional wood floors and canvas, stencils are being used on plywood, tiles, low loop industrial carpet, sisal, cement and the backside of vinyl floor coverings.