A short pause today, to reflect upon and ogle the linoleum pattern that we believe was The Single Most Popular resilient floor pattern in midcentury American houses: Armstrong No. 5352. So far in my research, I have found No. 5352 in Armstrong catalogs as early as 1935 and reader Scott says that it was still being sold at Sears in the mid-1990s! That is quite a run!
Originally, Armstrong No. 5352 was available as real-deal “Embossed Inlaid Linoleum”. I am pretty sure that later in its life, it was available made from other materials such as vinyl/vinyl composites. I have been reading Jane Powell’s excellent book, Linoleum (affiliate link) and now am beginning to understand and study vintage linoleum more extensively. “Inlaid” means that workers actually sifted different color mixtures — up to 38 different colors per design! — onto the linoleum-sheet-in-progress. “Embossed” means that the entire piece was then pressed to create texture — in thes case of No. 5352, the divits suggesting grout. Incredible workmanship required for such a “humble” material. Let’s take a look at the complete process of making Embossed Inlaid linoleum and at additional historic images of Armstrong No. 5352–>
- WIDE COLOR RANGE: As many as 38 colors may be used in a single design of Embossed Inlaid. The use of mottled colors creates unusually rich effects. Armstrong’s Embossed Inlaid Linoleum patterns have long been famous for their wide color range and their subtle shading.
- DISTINCTIVE DESIGN: A finely granulated mix is sifted through stencils onto the backing material. The intricate stencil shapes reproduce every line of the artist’s design and make possible the beautiful patterns available…
- KEYED TO BACKING: An adhesive coat on the burlap or felt backing helps to bond the mix and backing securely together under the pressure and heat of the giant presses.
- DURABILITY: Under the repeated pressings, the granulated linoleum mix is formed into a dense, unified sheet. After the final pressing and long baking in the maturing stoves, Embossed Inlaid has the long-wearing quality for which Armstrong’s Linoleum is known.
- STREAMLINE EMBOSSING: The top face of this press has an embossing plate which depresses parts of the design, creating a textured effect…. The unique streamlining of Armstrong’s embossing assures ease of cleaning.
Precautionary Pam notes: I also want to relate that in her book, Powell says that while linoleum is known today for its use of renewable resources (cork, linseed oil, namely), heavy metals such as lead may have been used in the manufacturer of old linoleum. In particular, she points out that lead and other heavy metals such as cadmium and chromium may have been used in the pigments used for coloration. Resilient flooring may have contained other hazardous materials such as asbestos; check adhesives, too. So — Precautionary Pam repeats: Be sure to test the materials in your old houses for vintage nastiness like lead, asbestos and more — get with your own properly licensed professional to determine what’s in your house and its layers, so that you can make informed decisions about how to handle. For more info and links see our Be Safe / Renovate Safe page.
Armstrong 5352 — why was it so popular?
Back to Armstrong 5352: Why was it so popular? I will theorize that 5352 resonated for decades because so many American kitchens were “traditional” in overall character, year in and year out. This floor design — with its warm, essentially neutral colors — and with its evocation of timeless brick flooring — would have fit into many a kitchen.
Armstrong pointed to its versatility, describing it as a “Tile effect with a warm informal look. Good choice for a small room, hall, den, kitchen, living room, or dining room.”
I am pretty sure that 5352 lasted well into the 1970s, at a minimum — see the photo below, Jon & Trixi found it in their 1960s house, covered up. By then, the material likely changed to vinyl or some sort of vinyl composite; test this old stuff and adhesives underneath for vintage nastiness such as lead and asbestos, too, please.
These old linoleum floors — amazingly amazing.
I have two partial rolls down in the basement a friend gave me. It was left in HER basement when the original owners sold them the house. Not sure what I want to do with it though. It’s not enough to cover any floor we have. I just knew I WANTED IT!