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Sustainable flooring made out of paper

Artistic decoupage method can imitate a variety of looks


by: PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: JONATHAN HOUSE - Lisa Raymer of Decoupage Floors shows her work at a clients house in Clackamas. When people replace their home flooring, one of the first steps is parking a Dumpster in front of their house.

But Texas transplant Lisa Raymer has come up with a creative way to make beautiful floors without tearing out the old one.

Raymer's technique is called decoupage, the art of cutting out designs or illustrations from paper or other media, mounting them and covering them with a clear protective layer. It’s remarkably similar to the Mod Podge glue crafting technique, but with a process she has refined over the last 23 years to be durable and beautiful enough for floors.

Under most conditions, she can apply decoupage over an existing floor, eliminating the need for time-consuming, costly and dirty removal of old surfaces. "It solves a lot of problems people have," she says.

Trained as a paper artist, Raymer can create painted paper floors that look practically indistinguishable from marble, tile, wood, granite or just about anything else.

Raymer created the method in 1990 when she opened an art import store in Texas. She needed a cheap and easy way to spruce up the floor, and figured she’d give decoupage a try to see if it would hold up until her business got going. The results were better than she imagined.

"I really nailed it straight off the bat. I couldn't believe it,” Raymer says. "The way I do it, there aren't any wrinkles or bubbles."

For years she had a part-time, referral-only business in Texas doing a wide range of projects for people who loved the look and texture of her decoupage floors and other surfaces.

Texas businessman Craig Kelly is a longtime customer who hired Raymer to do several rooms and offices, including one installed 13 years ago. "You can't destroy it,” he says. “We're very happy with it."

Eight years ago, Raymer started doing the work full-time. Last August, she moved to Portland for an escape from the Texas heat. She is quickly finding kindred spirits.

"I think this is really a Portland product," says homeowner Sharon Levin, one of Raymer’s local customers. "I think Portland is open to new ideas and environmentally friendly techniques."

Good for DIYers

Though the look is sophisticated, Raymer claims her methods are not only easy but teachable. She recently began producing instructional videos for purchase on her website, DecoupageInteriors.com.

She starts by smoothing the floor, often with a cement skim. Then she takes kraft paper that’s been custom-painted and dried in her studio, wets it with decoupage glue and places it. Once everything is in place and dry, she touches it up and blends some of the pieces together if needed. Finally, she sets the whole thing with easy-to-use sealant.

"Pour it on. Brush it out. End of discussion," Raymer says. All of the products are very flexible, she says. People can even start and stop the project according to their timeline.

Raymer says the supply list is simple and affordable, though she prefers a specific type of kraft paper that she also sells through her website. She buys the paper, which is certified sustainable, direct from the mill. Other types of paper and recycled papers are possible, but she says they carry a risk of falling apart during the decoupage process.

More flexible

Many flooring options, particularly sustainable ones, require a level surface, come in limited colors, and are tailored to square corners. However, decoupage has all the flexibility of paper: unlimited colors, accommodating to imperfections in the floor, and safe for pets and kids to be around during construction. Children can even join in on the process, she says.

Raymer uses a sealant rated low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for standard projects. For clients who request it, she can use a no-VOC product made from cow's whey that is just as durable. For industrial-strength projects or high-traffic areas like sinks, porches and showers, Raymer prefers to use a stronger sealant that is still low-VOC but requires a respirator.

All her floors are durable and ready to withstand years of normal use. Raymer says the floors can be easily spot-repaired if needed.

The end result is smooth and almost warm to the touch.

"The paper creates a radiance barrier," Raymer says, explaining how it reflects back body heat.

"It feels great underfoot," Levin says.

Raymer charges about $5 to $8 per square foot for floors and $15 to $18 a foot for countertops. She has a 200-square-foot minimum but is open to exceptions. "If it's an interesting project, I might do it."

For do-it-yourselfers, the typical cost is $1 to $1.50 per square foot, including supplies, instructional videos and special paper, a substantial savings from most flooring options.

"When you realize the possibilities of paper — you can have photos, phrases, you can rip it, square it — it's endless," Raymer says. "I know eventually people are going to come up with things I haven't even thought of yet."

Shasta Kearns Moore is a children's book author and blogger at OutrageousFortune.net.