My flat has no carpet. This pleased me from the start. I’ve had a variety of landlord carpet in my time as a tenant, including a thick synthetic shag that harboured yellowed and horny crescents of toenail, a stomach-churning discovery. It was best not to look too closely into the carpet’s jungle depths. My Japanese habit of not wearing shoes indoors was put aside in that particular (short-term) tenancy.
The least offensive style of landlord carpet is low, synthetic and usually pale beige or grey. Unless it’s newly laid, rental carpet feels like walking on someone else’s used towel.
Laminate flooring is the norm in boxy new developments, the kind with cheap, shiny bathroom and kitchen fittings. Laminate is cold and noisy and extrudes dust balls from god-knows-where.
Wooden flooring, by contrast, signals age, authenticity and warmth. It catches and absorbs the sun in a way that dead laminate doesn’t. I was very pleased to acquire a flat with exposed wooden floorboards rather than carpet or laminate. Along with the high ceilings, pretty tiled fireplace and pulley maid, it fit my personal aesthetic of university district shabby boho chic without being actually slum-like, i.e., previous owners had installed double glazing and central heating, and the boiler is of recent provenance.
My floorboards have large cracks between them. A wooden floor is dynamic: wood expands and shrinks and shifts over time. When I moved in, these cracks were filled with dust and fluff. On year in, the dust tank of my stick vacuum cleaner still fills with generations of dirt, grit, skin particles and hairs. The flat was built in 1900 so I could be sucking up the genetic traces of a century, including the toenails shards of long-dead people.
In some places, wider cracks have been filled with a beige putty. During my last vigorous vax, a whole strip of either mummified putty or ancient cork beneath the dining table lifted out of its slot and refused to lie nicely back down.
Here, my shabby boho chic aesthetic came up hard against my need for order. The liberated and now restless strip of manky cork/putty is not charming; it is a problem that needs to be fixed, and I’m not sure how. I got as far as looking up wood putty on the Screwfix website and then took fright at my own practical incompetence and its possible consequences.
(In another part of my brain, I’m aware of Ukrainians being bombed out of their cities and streaming across the border to Poland, along with Putin’s bullying allusions to ultimate solutions that bring back Cold War fears of nuclear extinction from my teenage years. How can I think about my floor in such times? But I do.)
My neighbour Torsten, in the middle flat on my landing, is very handy. He’s an industrial designer, so this is to be expected. He ripped out the impersonal white laminate kitchen installed not that long ago by the previous owners (who upgraded to Dennistoun) and put in wooden cupboards and benches of his own design, including a slab of marble for his pastry cooking. His dad came from Germany to help him lay a new laminate floor, because the old floor wasn’t done to his standards.
More recently, Torsten has paid to have the bathroom redone, overwriting improvements made by the Dennistoun upgraders. I asked to see Torsten’s new bathroom, having followed the drilling and hammering through our shared wall.
He has no bath. I was shocked.
I like to consider myself a unique individual (don’t we all?) but in some things I am bang on typical. A Sheffield friend who did up his own house put a bath in, not because he ever took one himself but because prospective women buyers ‘liked baths’, and this would help the resale, even though he had no plans to move. I was impressed by his cool detachment. At that stage, I’d lived in 40 or so rented flats in 30 years and couldn’t imagine moving on once I’d attained the high plateau of property ownership.
In the matter of baths, I conform entirely to real estate wisdom.
A Japanese friend, also in Sheffield, was relegated by the International Student Office to a tiny study-bedroom in overpriced high-rise corporate student accommodation. Her ensuite was a moulded plastic shower unit, a cousin of the classic Japanese ‘unit bath’. The mean British version did not include the bath. This friend so missed her baths that she bought a baby bath for herself and squatted in it.
That particular student housing company has since gone bust, as it deserved to.
My flat has a large, claw-foot bath. Whoever installed it didn’t get around to updating the old wooden flooring beneath it, which bears the outline of the previous bath, a standard flat-panelled unit. A Scottish tenement is full of ghostly reminders, not just toenail shards, that many inhabitants have preceded you and many will follow.
Bear has offered to patch up the offending floor crack with a strip of wood. That will do. I can live with imperfection. I have no plans to move, but I’ve already decided that the next owner can pay a professional to restore the floorboards to their full original and authentic glory. By then, it’ll be time for a new kitchen and bathroom too.