Before I had even taken two steps into my current apartment, I knew I needed to have it. No, it wasn’t because of the quality of appliances (they’re early-aughts models on their last legs), the closet space (minimal), or the amenities (nonexistent); it was the floors that got me. The parquet floors, to be exact. Hallmarks of pre-war buildings in the U.S., parquet floors are a decorative element beloved by the historically and aesthetically-minded alike. Here’s what you should know about them.

What exactly *is* parquet?

Parquet is the term for floors made of inlaid wood, arranged in a geometric pattern. The most common patterns are various riffs on square motifs, though more unconventional takes, like sunbursts or medallions, also count. The word “parquet” comes from the old French parchet, meaning a small compartment or enclosure.

It has royal origins, too: Parquet flooring was first used in the 1600s at Versailles, where it replaced marble floors that required more upkeep. After catching on in France, parquet gained popularity throughout Europe. Since its installation required technical skill and lots of time, the material became a sign of opulence in grand houses.

What makes it special?

Besides having its origins in France’s most famous château, Parquet is a decorative element that adds instant interest and texture to the floor. In addition to a main pattern, most parquet floors have a different decorative border, which makes the floorboards essentially serve as a built-in rug.

What does it look like?

Since it’s essentially a wood mosaic, parquet can come in virtually any pattern imaginable. Popular designs include herringbone, Versailles (named for the original), Chantilly (named for yet another French château), checkerboard, mosaic, and basket.

Where do I find it?

In both the United States and around the world, parquet is most common in pre-war (that is pre World War II) buildings. In the U.S., the material was especially popular during the so-called Gilded Age towards the end of the 19th century, when architects built ornate apartments and townhouses—often modeled after older European architecture.

As modernism gained popularity following World War II, ornamental details like parquet were often eschewed in favor of carpet, concrete, or more simple wood floors. One unlikely parquet floor that has stood the test of time? The Boston Celtics court, which was built in 1952 and became so famous that legend had it the team could discern how the ball would bounce off of any wood piece. Portions of the original floor remain in the court today.

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