A New Orleans Floorcloth

by jlevetjr

Maison Vitry, and 1850’s townhouse, is perhaps my favorite home in New Orleans.  It’s “elegantly decayed” state makes it extremely photogenic and has a history that is positively New Orleans.  I recently worked on a canvas floorcloth for the upstairs hall, and in doing this, I realized how few are aware of how common and intricate these floor coverings once were.  Here’s a little bit about their history and the steps we took to give Maison Vitry a new, hand-painted floorcloth!

Floorcloths are simply painted canvas floor coverings and have been used since the Renaissance.  They are easy to keep clean, protect wood flooring from damage, and help keep cold air from coming up through the floor.  By the middle to end of the 19th century, kamptulicon and, later, linoleum replaced their production.

Period image showing a floorcloth

Period image showing a floorcloth

Floorcloths were common in high traffic areas, and this is why the upper stair hall of the home was chosen.  The design and colors I chose are consistent to what Louise Vitry would have had in her home during the mid-19th century.

We received the floorcloth pre-cut and primed from Lisa Mair of Vermont.  Luckily, the home’s double parlor gave us enough room to fully stretch out the canvas and iron it flat before we got started.

After ironing, we covered the entire canvas in two coats of the base color, which was definitely the fastest part of the entire project!

Me, naively thinking the rest of the project will go as quickly as the base coat.....

Me, naively thinking the rest of the project will go as quickly as the base coat…..

I cut a series of stencils for each color of the design, and then continued on layering the pattern.

After a few weeks of evening painting, the floorcloth was finally finished!  We covered it in a few layers of polyurethane and moved it in place!

While it was definitely not a quick project, the new floorcloth looks right at home in the 1850’s townhouse!