Monday, September 22, 2008

Wood Floors Pre-Date IKEA

I had a long lunch the other day with a European high-end carpet manufacturer who was bemoaning the almost universal vogue for wood flooring in Shanghai. ‘Damn that IKEA’ was his argument believing that the fondness by homeowners in Shanghai for blonde wood floors was all the fault of the eponymous Swedish ‘life in a box’ merchants – probably is.

But perhaps the roots of this wood-flooring fixation go deeper. In her excellent newish book Shanghai Style: Art and Design Between the Wars, Lynn Pan raises the intriguing question of whether the love of wood flooring is not more a question of first mover advantage rather than style.

The American Dollar shipping line (one of his many ships pictured) brought Philippines lauan and Oregon pine to Shanghai in the 1930s, advertised aggressively and became the flooring of choice for many public buildings and private residences. But given that Shanghai is far from a tropical climate why didn’t carpet gain adherents too? As Pan suggests, no reason particularly - had the likes of Axminster or Wilton moved as fast or as aggressively as Robert Dollar did Shanghai homes could look very different (at least if you were looking at your feet).

My frustrated lunch companion may be partially right to blame the horrendously bland current global IKEA fad but the Swedes may be doing no more than building on foundations laid by Dollar in the 30s.

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