There's another reason for linoleum's comeback: novelty. Dennis O'Brien, Armstrong's vice president of marketing for residential flooring, says, "I think what's old is new again. Just as the Volkswagen bug is back, so is linoleum." Of course, linoleum does have its drawbacks. Because it's porous, its appearance and continued resilience depend on regular maintenance. Walt Bamonto, owner of Merlin Flooring in Farmington, New York, advises that new floors be given one or two coats of acrylic sealer and a recoat once a year after that to keep them looking fresh. Also, newly laid linoleum floors have a pronounced linseed-oil scent. This dissipates in a matter of months but, during that time, certain people are bothered (sometimes because of an allergy) by the oil's fatty acids. Even so, retail stores, day-care centers, and hospitals remain prime buyers of the flooring because of its natural bactericidal qualities. In the view of interior designer Sue Walling of SW Design Inc. in Minneapolis, linoleum's many pluses outweigh its minuses, particularly in kitchens. "Ceramic tiles can be hard on your legs, and some people are nervous about having wood flooring around dishwashers," says Walling. "Linoleum is comfortable, you can get it wet, and you don't have to worry about dropping knives on it, the way you do with most vinyl." (To make a gash in linoleum disappear, fill it with a mix of wood glue and fine scrapings off a leftover piece.) Walling admits, however, that clients are often reluctant to go with linoleum, even though sheet linoleum costs about the same as vinyl sheet flooring — $3 to $4 per square foot installed — and remains a bargain compared to ceramic tile or wood. She thinks their reluctance stems from perceptions anchored to the past, which may explain why more than 90 percent of the material sold in the United States today winds up on commercial, not residential, floors. But those perceptions seem to be changing. According to Walling, "Once you show people what linoleum looks like and how it holds up, they really love it."

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