Strolling around London is like changing planets from one street to the next.

Now you are in the East End, surrounded by artists and Bangladeshi restaurants. Then you cross the road and you find yourself among men of the City, wearing black suits and Rolex watches. Now you are on a Georgian terrace in Islington. A few meters more and you find yourself in the shadow of concrete skyscrapers. London’s hodgepodge is the result of a story of continuous changes. The great fire of 1666 destroyed almost all the medieval buildings. Since then, the city has experienced constant regeneration. This ever-changing landscape is reflected in the floors of the city. The paving of its restaurants, shops, churches, and flats form an enormous, heterogeneous and unpredictable patchwork. That’s why a group of London’s pavement connoisseurs were attracted by the work of Sebastian Erras, a German photographer who has portrayed the floors of Paris, Venice, and Barcelona. After they showed him some pictures of London’s floors, he could not resist making one more floors-addicted trip (by now the last one).
Bibendum
Bibendum
Stanhope Gardens
Stanhope Gardens
Peter Jones Store
Peter Jones Store
Nunhead Green
Nunhead Green
Bloomsburry Coffee House
Bloomsburry Coffee House
Nunhead Green
Nunhead Green

Kaleidoscopic colour

There is a place in London where I could really see the essence of the city – in fact, I could even walk on it. In the hall of a landmark 1911 building on Fulham Road, you find the giant mosaic of Bibendum, the famous Michelin man made of white tyres. A technique older than the Roman empire applied to the business of cars, the epitome of the modern age. This weird mixture of hoary tradition with the latest novelties stayed with me during my walk in London. But Bibendum is only one facet of a city in love with mosaics. Its most famous is the 1268 Cosmati pavement at Westminster Abbey: an intricate jewel measuring 24 feet by 10 inches square, formed by inlaid stones of coloured geometrical patterns: triangles, squares, circles, rectangles. All chosen for their brilliance, featuring onyx, purple porphyry, green serpentine, yellow limestone and opaque coloured glass. When the architect Gilbert Scott restored it in the late 19th century, he triggered a Victorian Cosmatesque revival that transformed the city into a kaleidoscope of mosaics.
Hispania
Hispania
Duck & Waffle
Duck & Waffle
Bar Pepito
Bar Pepito
Dishoom Shoreditch
Dishoom Shoreditch
Honey & Co.
Honey & Co.
Fabrique Bakery
Fabrique Bakery

All the world in one place

If one had to give an alien an overview of the human race, London’s assortment of humanity would be a good starting point. You can see it in the ridiculous diversity of its restaurants. Famous London foodie Leyla Kazim brought me around a few places that matched her passions for food and floors respectively. Our first stop was Honey & Co, with its Moorish tiled floor and Levantine menu. “It is the first solo project of Israeli husband and wife team Sarit Packer and Itamar Srulovich, and was 12 years in the making: a true labour of love”, Leyla told me. Then we went to Hispania, with its gorgeous Spanish foods and the splendour of a floor designed by Lorenzo Castillo, one of the top 50 interior designers in the world. Next stop was Dishoom, which Leyla described as inspired by “Irani cafés that could once be found across Bombay, opened by Zoroastrian immigrants in the 1930s”. Finally we could not miss the British cuisine of Duck & Waffle, located on the 40th floor of the Heron Tower (the UK’s highest eatery) and reached by an express elevator moving at five meters per second.
Aesop
Aesop
Cabana Islington
Cabana Islington
Sushisamba
Sushisamba
Rococo Chocolates
Rococo Chocolates
Sketch
Sketch
Kupp Cafe
Kupp Cafe

“Cool Britannia” redux

The capital of “Cool Britannia” is again setting trends, especially in design. What works in London today will work in Argentina or China tomorrow. The spirit of Swinging London of the 60s, with its optimist and hedonist energy, has helped fuel today’s creativity. I could see it clearly while I sat and talked with design guru Geraldine Tan at Rococo Chocolates. “I’ve brought you here because it's my secret little courtyard haven in summer to sit and sip the best hot chocolate in town – and their sweets are delectable!” she said. Meanwhile, she showed me on her tablet some of the latest design gadgets for photographers. While we walked around the shops, I could not help but take pictures of some of the craziest floors I have ever seen.
The Drift
The Drift
Hudsonshoes Shoreditch
Hudsonshoes Shoreditch
Anthropology
Anthropology
Holiday Villa Hotel
Holiday Villa Hotel
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel
St. Pancras Renaissance Hotel
Leinster Gardens
Leinster Gardens

Sleeping (amid) beauty

Since this is my last floors photography trip, I decided I would treat myself to a night in a luxury hotel. I followed travel blogger Sarka Babicka’s advice and booked at the Saint Pancras. An amazing 1873 neo-Gothic building, with a superb iron-and-stone staircase by Gilbert Scott and ochre walls gold-stencilled with fleurs-de-lys. A remarkable place, but what I loved most was… Guess what? The floor. Sarka’s suggestion was especially apt. The paving was an elaborate mixture of tiles with mosaic bands. I could see the famous encaustic tiles, a baked and decorated earthenware tile that emulates Medieval floors. During the Victorian Gothic revival, they were mass produced to meet market demand. Sarka also brought me for brunch at The Drift. Upon entering the main dining room on the top floor, I realized why: I was mesmerised by the beautiful monochrome mosaic tiles that run from floor to ceiling around the bar. Instead of sitting down to order, we both started taking photos.
L'escargot
L'escargot
O'Dell's
O'Dell's
Electric House
Electric House
Côte Brasserie
Côte Brasserie
Primrose Bakery
Primrose Bakery
Hawker
Hawker

Inside v Outside

Some of the most amazing interiors I have seen in London are hidden behind anonymous facades and grey street fronts. Could it be that the restrained exterior of the English also hides a Romantic interior? Lifestyle influencer Tun Shin Chang brought me to Calvert Avenue, where you can feel like you’re in an earlier East London, with its red-bricked buildings. But this perception changes once you enter the street’s shops and cafes. Take O'Dell's, for example. “It’s one of the chic menswear and lifestyle shops”, he told me. “You can see it from the deco interior and also from its beautiful tiled floor”.
Bank of England
Bank of England
Tate Britain
Tate Britain
Bank of England
Bank of England
V&A Museum
V&A Museum
Royal College of Art
Royal College of Art
Leighton House Museum
Leighton House Museum

The Anrep imprint

The art of floors has a name and surname in London: Boris Anrep. This Russian artist working in the UK in the 19th century was so stoked by ancient Italian mosaics that making them became his passion. I felt every bit as turned on by his work when Gavin Webb brought me to the Bank of England, a sumptuous building that contains some of Anrep’s masterpieces. But Gavin also brought me to see what he called “a hidden gem of London”. The Leighton House was built as painter Sir Frederic Leighton’s studio in 1865. The artist wanted a mosaic decoration on its floors reminiscent of the Roman style. “The studio also contains a stunning Arab Hall, and a secret 'letterbox' to get large canvases to and from the upstairs studio without using the stairs”, he said. He also pointed out a little room with a fireplace where the artist's model could change dress without freezing.
St. James Park
St. James Park
The Oxford Arms
The Oxford Arms
Best Plan No Plan, Kensington
Best Plan No Plan, Kensington
Electric House
Electric House
The Peasant
The Peasant
The Warrington Hotel
The Warrington Hotel

The spirit of reinvention

Floors tell a lot about the spirit of a city. In London’s case they can also tell it with words: beautiful messages written in stones and mosaic tesserae. But what’s more important, floors create a unique atmosphere. Floors of ancient churches get the patina of centuries of daily use. Floors of modern restaurants are shiny and eye-catching. Floors of flats retain some of the private lives that have passed on top of them. What’s amazing about London is that you can see all this in one place. The spirit of London’s floors is that of a heterogeneous city, tied to its traditions but continuously reinventing itself.
License: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0
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