RIGHT AT HOME: Artistry on the floor

  • A Turkish rug by maker STEPEVI artfully combines traditional rug making with new technology. (STEPEVI/via AP)

  • New Ravenna’s “Black Pool,” a hand-cut mosaic, is based on a painting by Gail Miller. (New Ravenna/via AP)

  • Drake/Anderson shows off one of its library designs in New York. (Marco Ricca/Drake/Anderson via AP)

  • Ornamenta’s Manifesto collection of porcelain tiles are screen printed with abstract images initially rendered free-hand on canvas. (Ornamenta/via AP)

There was a time when designers and decorators considered floor coverings to be background elements in a room. Rugs and tile were meant to be practical, not attention-getting.

That’s changed. Now, the floor is often one of the strongest elements in a space. Today’s wide range of artistic floor designs are often inspired by art and nature.

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“Painterly rugs with evocative strokes and striking color combinations are often the perfect foundation for many of our room designs,” says Jamie Drake, who runs the Drake/Anderson design firm in Manhattan with his colleague, Caleb Anderson. “These rugs help bring a room to life and, with their movement and color, accentuate the other design elements in the space.

“There’s something galvanizing” about having art underfoot, he says. “It envelops an interior in a way that wall-mounted artwork cannot.”

Stark Carpet has a Brueghel-esque floral rug called Botanique; the rich, deep hues of an Old Master’s palette are brought to life in softly loomed wool. Their Sapphire collection includes Ether, inspired by American artist Helen Frankenthaler’s Abstract Expressionist stain painting. And there’s Peppy, inspired by Willem de Kooning’s 1955 work “Police Gazette,” with various hand knots reflecting movement and drama via textural elements.

Flowers are the theme of artist Bari J. Ackerman’s collection for Grandin Road . Her exuberant contemporary paintings lead to stylish contemporary rugs, hand-hooked by artisans.

New York’s Doris Leslie Blau Gallery stocks a Dali-esque collection of wool rugs inspired by the freewheeling expressiveness of children’s artwork. Each rug is a composition of colorful swoops and swaths.

Turkish rug maker Stepevi pixellates bird-wing imagery, which is then loomed into a textural rug in a palette of seven hues. On another rug, blossoms are rendered in gold against a graphite background, suggesting dawn breaking. An embossing technique is applied during the tufting process to create a rich, tactile pile that highlights the pattern.

Glass and ceramic tiles are another good medium for floor art, with their smooth textures and a range of size possibilities from tiny mosaics to large slabs.

“Tile is super-durable, so regardless of design, floors will look beautiful and withstand wear and tear for many years,” says Alena Capra, a designer in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “Thin tile products can be installed over existing floor tiles, making it easier than ever to give floors a stylish makeover.”

Says Italian architect Paola Marella: “Technological progress has expanded the range of finishes available for ceramic tiles. For example, digital printing … has extended the confines of images beyond the individual piece. But screen-printed and hand-printed tiles retain their appeal.”

That appeal is especially apparent when the artist’s technique is obvious, as in Ornamenta’s Manifesto collection of porcelain tiles screen-printed with abstract images that were initially rendered free-hand on canvas.

New Ravenna features a Chinoiserie bird-on-branch pattern made of marcasite, mica, pewter and quartz glass. The design was by artist Sara Baldwin of Exmoor, Virginia. Also here is Manhattan artist Gail Miller’s moody “Black Pool” painting of deep eddying water and a storm-tossed sky, rendered in tiny, hand-cut mosaics.

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Settecento’s Animalier collection features python, cheetah and leopard-skin prints on large porcelain tiles. And Italian company Sicis offers intriguing mosaic collections patterned like realistic feathers or lizard skin.

If you like the look of tile but you rent or can’t otherwise use the real deal, consider Home Smith’s Beija Flor vinyl mats. They come printed with a range of patterns like encaustic, mosaic and geometrics; it’s flooring that looks like a master craftsman or artist spent hours working on it.