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Let your floors glow deep and red

Red oxide flooring, unique to Kerala, is back in favour after falling from grace in the seventies.

PAINT YOUR FLOORS RED: Traditional red oxide floors are back in vogue. - Photo: Mahesh Harilal

The deep crimson hue of the red oxide flooring is something unique to Kerala. Many people from the northern India and abroad exclaim at the richness and velvety gloss of a well-made red oxide floor.

Cement floors enhanced with colours were the first step of modern flooring in Kerala. But, the technique of red oxide flooring had arrived here much before the advent of reinforced cement concrete roofing. Commonly found in the palaces and the houses of nobility of the early days, the red and black oxide floors had become associated with tradition in Kerala.

The best example of traditional red and black flooring is found in the 400-year-old Padmanabhapuram Palace in Thakkala. Though once the seat of the Travancore Royal House, this palace is at present in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu.

Flooring materials

However, with the arrival of the multitude of flooring materials, red oxide fell out of popularity in the Seventies. It became more or less a poor man's flooring. Mosaic was the in-thing of those days, later to be replaced by ceramic tiles and marbles.

But, these days, the oxide floors are seemingly making a comeback. "Though the oxide floors had fell out of popularity at a certain time, now more and more people start to prefer it," says Latha Raman, a Kochi-base architect. Ms. Raman and her husband G. Jaigopal, who run the firm, `Inspirations,' are strong supporters of the coloured flooring. The office space of Inspirations at Eroor has the floor done in red oxide. They have also used it in the Hotel Sarovaram in Kundannur mixed with other types of flooring like terracota tiles.

Architect Eugene Pandala also agrees on the virtues of the oxide floors. He points out that the technique of using coloured cement for flooring is found in other parts o India too, such as the Chettinad tiles. In Bangalore too, there were many old buildings made with oxide floors. Even carpet like patterns are embossed in the floor using different colours. He had found the coloured flooring in the old houses in Goa also.

The old technique for the coloured floor used egg white, a lot like the fresco method. However, the quality of the oxide flooring, whatever the colour, depends a lot on the craftsmanship. Only an expert craftsman can lay a perfect floor without cracks and that does not develop patches with time. The process is laborious and requires keen attention.


Interestingly, a small village in Thrissur district has generations of workers who have specialised in the oxide flooring work. Pavaratty, famous with the church of St. Joseph, is also known in the building circuit of Kerala for the `Pavaratty Finish,' the exquisite work of marble finish given to walls and flooring with white cement and pigments.

Says Sebi, an engineer hailing from Pavaratty and now based in Thiruvananthapuram: "The craftsmen in Pavaratty were taught the technique of `marble finish' by Italian priests who arrived about 80 - 90 years ago to supervise the construction of churches.

The local masons were worried by the white cement turning into black once it dried out. The Italians taught them how to polish the white cement without fading."

Later, the craftsmen improvised the technique by incorporating new pigments and designs. Now, the workers from Pavaratty can create wonderful designs that resemble streaks of marble or grains of wood on walls and floor using white cement and different types of pigments. But, their specialisation lies in the laying of oxide flooring.

"Local masons often pour the white cement group over the roughly laid concrete floor even before it dries out. So, the pigment is absorbed by the wet concrete and later, when the floor dries out, the sand particles in the mixture comes into the surface, leaving dirty patches," says Sebi.

His workers, on the other hand, apply the white cement-pigment mix only after the floor is dried out. The ratio of the mix is also important.

The biggest attraction of the oxide flooring is its economic viability. The average cost with the best quality cement and pigments comes to only about Rs. 13.50 per square foot, according to Mr. Sebi.


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