A marine flowering plant that yields a vegetal fibre used to make furniture, rugs and carpets. China is one of the largest commercial cultivators, growing crops in paddy fields that are flooded with seawater in the growing season.
The dried seagrasses are twisted into yarn, which is woven with an off-white jute weft that quickly ages and deepens in tone with the seagrass, in just a mater of months. Sometimes seagrass is woven with coloured wefts that can provide a fun touch.
The usual basket weave with a jute weft is still, in my experience, the best of the soft vegetal floorings for everyday use. It’s the most neutral and the least expensive, and the corn coloured tones that deepen with age most resemble waxed flooring. Other weaves such as a chunky basket weave or herringbone also look good but tend to be more expensive; seagrass with coloured wefts can provide a fun touch, and chunky basket and weaves also look good.
Colour: its natural, initial greenish hue mellows over time into the golden colour of a ripe cornfield. Of all soft flooring, seagrass most closely resembles beautifully aged floorboards, becoming a background that facilitates any and every style and design of rug, or even no rug.
Setting: in all stages of its colour development seagrass is the perfect foil for all decoration styles. It is as pleasing in a clean, contemporary space with open architecture as in an eclectic busy household, and in some respects is not dissimilar to the effect of the tatami mat–creating quiet spaces and meditation areas.
Carpet: wall-to-wall seagrass requires a competent and experienced fitter who really understands the material, because it’s not really carpet. Most fitters prefer to glue seagrass to the floor. We always lay it on felt underlay with gripper rods, a loose binding or bronze nailing around the edges. The seagrass beds itself into the felt and thus stays in position, producing a soft, warm and sound-deadening walk.
Joins: the usual standard width restrictions means that joins will at some stage be inevitable: they should always go with the length and be hand stitched together in situ. When you come to thresholds, always use light oak wood the full width of the threshold, or linen covered thresholds–never cheap metal, and if this isn’t possible ask your fitter to lay it without threshold joints.
Rugs: seagrass can be made into any size and shape of rug, by cutting down or hand-stitching seams–this added cost might put you off, but it is always worth it. Linen bindings look good in toning or contrasting tones, in leather, felt, flat wool embroideries, tapestries, anything goes.
Edges: seagrass looks effective with linen bindings around hearths, stairs, mat wells and on landings around the banisters. These must be hand stitched in situ to look good, from a 5 cm binding approx 1-1.5 cm on top and the rest folded under. Neutral or toning colours will blend in, contrasting ones will add interest: we’ve used contrast bindings to great acclaim, around the perimeters of rooms, and either side of the stairs to create a runner effect. Either use a narrow edging of 1- 1.5 cm, which looks especially good with uneven cottagy walls, or go for it with a full 5-6 cm. A strong formal edging looks really good if the walls are straight and the architecture classic.
Stairs: for thirty years we’ve fitted seagrass to heavy-use stairs in homes and business premises and have experienced no problems whatsoever, other than slight premature wear on the bottom step after 5-6 years, something that can easily be replaced. The key is that it must be well fitted to avoid material slippage. If you have any such concerns, stop the seagrass at the top and the bottom and fit a flat weave wool runner in stripes or a sympathetic geometric pattern.
Exterior doorways: seagrass will wear in front and back doorways, so plan the areas for replacement or use a heavier duty coir mat well. I wouldn’t recommend it for busy hallways, boot rooms or utility areas, which should rather be in an impervious stone that can be washed and scrubbed with water and take this more extreme sort of wear.
Bathrooms: seagrass is a suitable choice so long as the room is well aired. No soft flooring will last a lifetime in any bathroom, and in this respect seagrass will outlast carpet and be much warmer underfoot than tile. Lay it over with soft rugs for a touch of luxury. A bathroom with seagrass flooring, HEMP shower and window curtains is a good place to be, though the materials need to dry fully each time they are wetted.
Under floor heating: without latex backing, seagrass is perfect to lay over concrete and under floor heating. To get the longest wear it must be kept moist, sprayed and aired; it will feel most soft underfoot in combination with a felt underlay.
Practicality: I’ve used seagrass and other rush matting in my own dining rooms and children’s rooms–most dropped food, including sultanas and soft fruit, and sticky play materials will come out with a stiff brush. However, I wouldn’t use it in a kitchen.
Durability: its impermeable structure makes it hardwearing, durable and naturally stain resistant. I expect seagrass to last a lifetime, which is not something I would expect from any other soft flooring. Having said that, I will mention that after a few years in our first house, I noticed how seagrass can be affected by continuous pressure in a localised area, as it started to show signs of wear in front of an armchair and under office roller chairs. It is classified as medium domestic–light contract.
Maintenance: all seagrass flooring needs to be regularly sprinkled with water to prevent it drying out and becoming brittle. You’ll know this is happening if a fine dust appears on the surface.
Cleaning: regular vacuuming is necessary to remove surface dust. Like all natural materials, stone, slate and wood, seagrass needs to ‘walk up’ to age. To start with, all marks and spots will show, but as the material ages, the surface changes and stains are either absorbed into or repelled by the mature material.