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The history of Armstrong Flooring’s Pattern #5352 — the best-selling resilient flooring pattern of the 20th Century

Armstrong flooring making linoleum“The Christmas pattern” … “the mysterious Mr. McClurg” … 42 million yards sold in the first 40 years …  These are hints at just a few of the things I learned about Armstrong Flooring’s famous 5352 pattern when I talked about its history with company designer Mark Zeamer. Mark played a key role in the company’s 2020 revival of this storied pattern. He has worked for the company for 44 years, and he did historical research to prepare the revival, so he also was the perfect person to ask: Was Armstrong Flooring pattern #5352 the best-selling resilient flooring of the 20th Century? His answer: A resounding: Yes! Above: An early photo — possibly from the 1930s — of a production line making #5352 linoleum, photo courtesy Armstrong Flooring.

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Designed in 1932 by the mysterious Mr. McClurg

5352 as shown in a 1935 catalog. Building Technology Heritage Library Collection

In my 2013 story about #5352, readers piped in that they had seen this flooring in use as early as 1935. Close! Mark Zeamer confirms that the pattern was original introduced in 1932 as an embossed inlaid linoleum. The company continued to sell 5352 as inlaid linoleum for some 40 years. And:

“For a long time only one color – red,” he said

Mark told me that there is a huge, framed piece of the original product in the company’s Lancaster, Pa., office hallway leading up to the second floor. (I will ask for a photo of the piece to add to this story — Mark is working remotely right now.)

The plaque next to it says the pattern was designed by a “Mr. McClurg.” Mark also found McClurg’s surname mentioned in an old pattern book. Mark said he tried to do more research on Mr. McClurg, but the trail quickly went cold. No first name could be found. Mark and team think he must not have been a lifelong employee. A mystery!

UPDATE: Very quickly after I posted this story on Facebook, reader Kim jumped into action and found our Mr. McClurg in the 1930 Census public record. She wrote: “I found John E. McClurg in the 1930 Census in Lancaster. He was 45 years old, born in New York, married to wife Edith. His occupation is listed as designer, linoleum plant.” Additional Census research indicates that by 1940, he was living up North as a carpet designer. Well done, Kim!

I have said before that #5352 must have been the best-selling resilient flooring design of the 20th Century. True, I asked Mark? “Absolutely – I have no doubt about that,” he said.

From 1932 to 1972 alone, the company says they sold more than 42 million yards of pattern #5352. And, production continued for another 28 years after that!

Prior to 1932: “Embossed Inlaid Designs — Unusual Texture Effects”

1931 embossed inlaid linoleum armstrong
No sign of 5352 in this 1931 brochure. But lookie these eye-catching inlaid linoleums! Building Technology Heritage Library MBJ Collection.

Sunday night I went through all the vintage Armstrong catalogs online in the Building Technology Heritage Library. Indeed, in 1931, there was no mention of #5352. You do see, though, that the idea of inlaid linoleum designed to look like a mosaic tile floor was well under way.

Mr. McClurg’s 1932 genius: “A continuous, smooth transgression of design”

What Mr. McClurg did so brilliantly, was to create a classic random block mosaic flooring pattern that mixed sizes and colors in a particularly pleasing, timeless way. The flooring also was embossed — pressed with a plate that depresses parts of the design to further mimic the texture of a real tile floor.

why embossed linoleum

armstrong 5352 embossed inlaid linoleum
Above: Hazel Dell Brown explains #5352 in 1944’s “Ideas for Old Rooms and New”. Building Technology Heritage Library Collection
armstrong linoleum 1935
An early image of 5352 in use, from Hazel Dell Brown’s 1935 “The story of five dream kitchens”. Building Technology Heritage Collection MBJ Collection

Regarding the design of 5352, Mark said, “I think it’s a fantastic pattern and like how it comes to the forefront then fades away then comes back to the forefront again.” 

He also said, “It looks great coming down the line, there’s no tracking at all… there’s a continuous, smooth transgression of design.”

What’s tracking? Mark explained this means that no single design element sticks out over the other. The design is so good you don’t see the repeat.

As time progressed, inlaid linoleum was replaced by other flooring technologies

Armstrong-5352-linoleum
Reader Hannah received two rolls from a friend, who found them in her basement, and shared her treasure via on our Facebook page.

Mark told me, “The 5352 pattern lasted a long time in many different commodities, starting out in linoleum to Coronelle to felt-backed Imperial Solarian and then jumped to vinyl into the 1970’s. It was in the 70’s that it was revived as a Rotogravure printed product in Sheet Goods and Tile.”

Around this time was when the printed design started looking a little like pointillism – ummm, not as good as the earlier designs. Hey, it was the 70s — lots of stuff didn’t look as good. Circa 1975, there also was a Colonial Classic Designer Solarium that was stenciled. I forgot to ask, but my sense is that it looked better because of the production process.

armstrong 5352 linoleum
Armstrong Flooring today calls this the “purple red” 5352 colorway. I am guessing the photo is from the 1980s. Photo courtesy Armstrong Flooring.

“We sold Colonial Classic Designer Solarium almost up to year 2000,” Mark said. However, by 2000, at $35 per sq. yard, the customer base was getting smaller. In addition, Armstrong was tearing down an old part of the Lancaster, Pennsylvania plant that made the flooring. So, after 68 years of continuous production, the line was finally discontinued. Even so, Mark said, “When we dropped it, there was a lot of noise.” In particular, the pattern had remained popular in the Northeast.

armstrong 5351 - green
The other colors seem to have had different numbers — This 1955 green design was #5351. Building Technology Heritage Library MBJ Collection.
armstong pattern 5352 brown
Julie posted this photo of her brown 5352 on our Facebook page. I quite like it! Thanks, Julie, for permission to add this to our archive!
armstrong flooring 5252 yellow orange
Denise posted this photo of the vintage Armstrong Flooring #5352 in her kitchen on our Retro Renovation Facebook page. Thanks for permission to show it here, Denise! Such a happy colorway!
avocado kitchen floor
Jon and Trixi’s kitchen had the green 5352, plus an extra roll that came with the house. Photos by Glenn Suckow and Trixi Hunt

As decades passed, Armstrong also introduced the pattern in other colors. “Some people had it in brown,” Mark said. “We had avocado and harvest gold in late 60s. In the 70s, bright yellow and bright orange.”

Note, Armstrong told me that pattern has never really gone away – they still occasionally hear from distributors who have new old stock stashed away!

Armstrong 5352: “The Christmas Pattern”

Where to Use #5352 in 1940: Kitchens, bathrooms, entrance halls, living-rooms, dining rooms, sun porches, studies, recreation rooms, libraries, breakfast rooms, rear entries….small stores, beauty parlors, restaurants, clubhouses, hotel and apartment lobbies, barber shops, tourist cabins.” Building Technology Heritage Library MBJ Collection.

On our phone call, Mark also mentioned a fascinating company story about 5352: At Armstrong, employees know it as “The Christmas Pattern.”

The story is, that during the Great Depression, companies all over the U.S. were laying off employees – but not Armstrong. Yes, the success of pattern #5352 not only kept the factories running, it enabled the company to deliver Christmas bonuses even during those dire economic times. Hence: Nearly 90 years later, it’s still known internally as “The Christmas Pattern.”

The 2020 revival of 5352 — aka Heritage Brick

armstrong 5352 colonial classic coral
5352 is rolling out nationally 2020: Heritage Brick, in Coral
Armstong flooring 5352 reintroduced
Four colorways – chosen as trending today

And now: Armstrong Flooring pattern 5352 is now coming back as a player in the 21st Century. Yes, in what’s sure to be the biggest product news of the year here, Armstrong Flooring is reintroducing its famous #5352 pattern – now dubbed “Heritage Brick” – in four colorways. Armstrong Flooring is in the process of rolling out the revived design through flooring retailers and expects it to be more widely available as the year progresses. Watch this story for updates on the pattern’s availability nationwide — Armstrong Flooring has promised to keep us updated.

So there you have it: Armstrong Flooring pattern #5352 in continuous production from 1932-2000 — that’s 68 years. And now, revived in 2020!

Thank you, Armstrong Flooring, Mark Zeamer, readers, and the Building Technology Heritage Library for helping make this story possible!

***

Precautionary Pam safety reminder: Be aware that there may hazards in old products, materials and their layers. Get with properly licensed professionals to assess what you are dealing with so that you can make informed decisions. For more info see our Be Safe/Renovate Safe page

  1. Shar says:

    So glad these great patterns are coming back. We bought a cabin with a great copper brownish 6? inch square tile look. Probably from the 60’s
    I was told it was a Solarium pattern. Had to replace rotted floor under the Solarium in a section so I carefully removed it and glued it back down. It was not just the cost but not being able to find a patterm I liked.

  2. Gail Merriam says:

    The enclosed front porch of the house I grew up in had this flooring, Even my grade school, built in the early sixties had the same pattern done in ceramic tile in the bathrooms. Thanks for this story.

    1. Pam Kueber says:

      No. Armstrong Flooring has promised to keep me updated, so I can do a follow-up story, as the rollout continues and things like samples are available. As I mention in the story, the product is not on the website yet.

  3. Todd Miller says:

    Thank you for two great posts!! Especially now that I’m self-isolating to avoid the COVID-19 virus, I treasure new posts to read to pass the time. Stay safe, everyone!

  4. Elizabeth from Texas says:

    This story is wonderful news! Not only is this pattern lovely, but that 1931 book of patterns—oh my those were gorgeous too, and I had never seen some of them!

  5. Leslie says:

    I was drooling over the old catalogue pages, especially the third pattern from the top on the far right. I enlarged it, but even so the print is tiny so I was reading it and thought, “Wow, it’s called Enchanted Island; how appropriate, with the beautiful soft pastel stones that you could find on a magical beach!” Then I squinted and read it again and realized that “Enchanted Island” was actually “Embossed Inlaid.” Ooopsies!

    But in any case: I want it! I want all of them!

    My current kitchen floor, which was there when I bought it, is big square vinyl tiles that are white with smears of brownish in what I suppose is meant to look sort of like marble but actually means that no matter how clean it is, it looks dirty.

    The tiles are very thick, and are on top of the old flooring which is marginally prettier; and it has to be that thick because the wooden flooring in the hall and dining room which match up at the doorways are at taht level, and replacing it with something thin would mean I’d trip every time I walked through a doorway.

      1. Leslie says:

        Oh, no, the Azrock Cortina Autumn Haze is nice. Mine – not so much. I think I have a couple of extra pieces in a box; I’ll have to see if they have a name on them.

        My cabinets are dark wood with light-cream knobs. The house was built in the 1950’s but I’m pretty sure the cabinets, or anyway the knobs, are a later “improvement.” Like the mauvish-flowered wallpaper. I’m thinking of replacing the knobs with glass ones, or *something* that I like and that wouldn’t be such a glaring contrast, but there are just so darn many of them; I think I counted 36 of them.

        Or I suppose I could paint the cabinets a nice apple green or something.

        What I really need is a house with about six kitchens, so that I could decorate one in 1920’s style and colors, one in 1930’s, etc. With maybe a nice throwback to Victorian and one to Colonial. So far I haven’t seen any houses whose architects have had the foresight to design this arrangement.

  6. Mary Elizabeth says:

    I’m pretty sure I had the vinyl tile version of this pattern in my 1978 condo. I loved the green that Jon and Trixie uncovered in their kitchen reno. How foresighted of the original owners to leave the extra footage with the house in case someone wanted to fix a worn area.

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