If the word linoleum conjures up memories of Mrs. Cleaver for you, you're probably not alone. But despite an image of an old fashioned product that is often incorrectly mistaken for uncoated vinyl, linoleum is starting to catch on big in the eyes of designers and homeowners, thanks for the most part to earth-friendly materials, durability, and design flexibility.

The basic makeup and manufacturing of linoleum hasn't changed much, including environmentally friendly natural materials such as cork and linseed oil. The new products are durable and offer a broader collection of colors, with a greater focus on using multiple hues to create borders, inlays, and other designs.

Armstrong, which built its business on linoleum until demand for the flooring material slowed down in the 1970s, launched its re-entry into the linoleum market, Marmorette, in January. "We're growing up in a generation that has no idea what genuine linoleum is," says Roger Oates, the company's vice president of residential flooring. "We saw this resurrection in the acceptance of linoleum in the commercial market first. One reason, it's green because of the raw materials used to make it. The second is the saturated colors and the design flexibility you can get out of it is unlimited."

Courtesy Armstrong

Forbo Industries has been offering linoleum commercially for some time and, in January, launched a residential program in response to increasing demand from residential installers.

But both manufacturers will face challenges with buyer perceptions. "Unfortunately, there are a lot of misperceptions from the past," says Piera Marotto, residential marketing manager for Forbo. "When [homeowners] think linoleum, they think of cheap vinyl. They're not aware of the differences between linoleum and vinyl."

But overall, linoleum represents most of the qualities that many buyers -- homeowners and remodelers alike -- are looking for: durability, flexibility, and choice, all at a price that's not out of reach. "As people become more and more aware of linoleum as a product and [its] durability, naturally the sales are increasing," Marotto says. "People can get more creative and not have the same pre-patterned flooring."