Title:
Modular Floor Covering With Framed Tiles With Individual Demounting of the Framing Modules
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
A modular floor covering includes tiles, and at least one series of framing modules (2) and elements for the detachable connection of the framing modules (2) to one another and/or to an underlayer which has been laid on the floor. The elements are of the type that permits individual demounting of each framing module (2) by displacement of the framing module (2) vertically in relation to the floor, without demounting either the adjacent framing modules or the adjacent tiles (1).



Inventors:
Grau, Jean-pierre (Lissac, FR)
Application Number:
11/918035
Publication Date:
02/26/2009
Filing Date:
04/06/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
E04B5/23
View Patent Images:
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Primary Examiner:
FERENCE, JAMES M
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
NIXON & VANDERHYE, PC (ARLINGTON, VA, US)
Claims:
1. 1-18. (canceled)

19. A modular floor covering comprising: tiles; at least one series of framing modules which are adapted to be capable of being positioned and connected in relation to one another so as to form a flat lattice for framing the said tiles which has frame spaces of dimensions which are at least substantially identical to those of the tiles, the said framing modules being rigid at least in the plane of the said lattice; means for detachable connection of the framing modules to one another and/or to an underlayer which is laid on the floor; wherein the means for detachable connection are adapted to bring about relative immobilisation of each framing module in relation to the associated connecting means and/or to the underlayer, at least in one longitudinal direction of the framing module, the said relative immobilisation being brought about by vertical displacement, in relation to the floor, of the said framing module at the time of connection; the means for detachable connection are of the type that permits individual demounting of each framing module by displacement of the said framing module vertically in relation to the floor, without demounting either the adjacent framing modules or the adjacent tiles.

20. A covering as claimed in claim 19; wherein the said means for detachable connection comprise, for each pair of adjacent framing modules which are connected to one another at a connecting point, at least one rigid connecting element made up of at least two connecting branches, at least one being adapted to fit into a corresponding receiving housing in one, the first, of the framing modules extending from the connecting point, at least one other connecting branch of the said rigid connecting element being adapted to fit into a corresponding receiving housing in the other, the second, of the framing modules extending from the connecting point; and in which, for each connecting element, at least one connecting branch is adapted to fit vertically into a lower receiving housing in the corresponding framing module, wherein, for each connecting element, at least one connecting branch, which is referred to as an “end branch” and is intended to be fitted vertically into a lower receiving housing, which is referred to as an “end housing” and is situated at a longitudinal end of a framing module, and the said end housing have paired shapes which are adapted to bring about, when the end branch is fitted into the end housing, relative immobilisation of the connecting element in relation to the framing module, at least in one longitudinal horizontal direction of the end branch.

21. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein the said means for detachable connection are adapted so that the said longitudinal horizontal direction of the said end branch corresponds to a longitudinal direction of the framing module.

22. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein the connecting branches of each connecting element and the corresponding housings for receiving the said connecting branches have paired shapes and dimensions which are adapted to bring about relative immobilisation of the connecting element in relation to each of the framing modules connected by the said connecting element in any horizontal direction.

23. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein the said paired shapes which bring about longitudinal horizontal immobilisation comprise vertical lateral faces which have shapes of regular surfaces with a vertical axis which are not entirely flat.

24. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein said covering comprises, for at least one connecting branch which is intended to be fitted vertically into a lower receiving housing, means for relative vertical automatic holding which are adapted: to bring about relative holding of the connecting branch in relation to the receiving housing in the vertical direction, merely by reason of the putting in place and relative connection of the framing modules and/or the laying of the floor covering; but to allow manual relative demounting, solely under the effect of displacement in the vertical direction, of the connecting branch in relation to the receiving housing.

25. A covering as claimed in claim 24, wherein the means for vertical automatic holding are chosen from among the following: means for magnetic fixing having permanent magnets; means for reversible high-speed fixing of the hook-and-loop type; bonding means; means for automatic mechanical locking.

26. A covering as claimed in claim 25, wherein, for at least one connecting branch which is intended to be fitted vertically into a lower receiving housing, the means for vertical automatic holding comprise means for the relative vertical automatic mechanical locking of at least one vertical lateral inner face of the lower receiving housing in relation to the connecting branch, the said means for relative vertical automatic mechanical locking being adapted to be automatically brought into the active locking position merely by reason of the putting in place and relative connection of the framing modules and/or the laying of the floor covering, and to be capable of being unlocked manually by simple displacement in the vertical direction of the framing module.

27. A covering as claimed in claim 26, wherein the means for relative vertical automatic mechanical locking are locking means with an elastic locking component or components.

28. A covering as claimed in claim 26, wherein at least one lower housing for receiving a connecting branch of this kind belonging to a rigid connecting element, which branch is intended to be fitted vertically into the said lower receiving housing, is delimited by a vertical lateral inner face formed by a lateral edge wall of the corresponding framing module, and wherein the said means for relative vertical automatic mechanical locking are adapted to lock the said vertical lateral inner face of the lower receiving housing in relation to the connecting branch.

29. A covering as claimed in claim 26, wherein the elastic locking components are of the type having paired embossed portions—especially a paired horizontal rib and groove (or paired horizontal ribs and grooves)—which cooperate elastically with one another.

30. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein each rigid connecting element is made up of a piece made of moulded synthetic material.

31. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein said covering comprises a single series of framing modules in the general shape of identical straight strips which are connected in twos at right angles, and wherein, for each pair of framing modules which are connected to one another, the longitudinal end of a first framing module is connected laterally in the median part of a second framing module, the longitudinal end of the first framing module having, on each side, a lower housing for receiving an end branch, the said lower receiving housings and end branches extending parallel to the longitudinal direction of the first framing module and orthogonally to that of the second framing module, each end branch extending in a manner projecting outwards in the transverse direction in relation to the lateral edge wall of the second framing module.

32. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein each lower housing for receiving a connecting branch which is intended to be fitted vertically into the said receiving housing extends mainly in a longitudinal direction of the strip of the framing module in which the said lower receiving housing is provided.

33. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein at least one rigid connecting element comprises two orthogonal connecting branches, the two lower housings for receiving the said two connecting branches being each delimited by a vertical inner face formed by a lateral edge wall of the corresponding framing module.

34. A covering as claimed in claim 20, wherein the said means for relative vertical automatic holding are adapted to bring about the relative fixing of an upper face of the connecting branch in relation to an opposite upper inner face of the receiving housing.

35. A covering as claimed in claim 19, wherein said covering comprises means for the detachable connection of each framing module to an underlayer which has been laid on the floor, and wherein the said means for detachable connection comprise at least one longitudinal beading strip which is integral with the framing module or the said underlayer, the said beading strip being adapted to be capable of being inserted vertically in a paired groove provided in a recessed manner in said underlayer or in said framing module respectively, the shapes and dimensions of the beading strip in relation to the paired groove being adapted so that the framing module is held rigidly in position longitudinally and vertically in relation to the underlayer when the beading strip is inserted in the groove, but so that said beading strip can be extracted from the groove by simple vertical displacement solely of the framing module in relation to the underlayer.

36. A covering as claimed in claim 35, wherein the underlayer is made up of a paving of underlayer tiles joined in twos along their adjacent edges that have a non-rectilinear contour, the shapes and dimensions of the underlayer tiles being adapted so that their joining edges extend under the said framing modules.

37. A covering as claimed in claim 21, wherein the connecting branches of each connecting element and the corresponding housings for receiving the said connecting branches have paired shapes and dimensions which are adapted to bring about relative immobilisation of the connecting element in relation to each of the framing modules connected by the said connecting element in any horizontal direction.

38. A covering as claimed in claim 27, wherein at least one lower housing for receiving a connecting branch of this kind belonging to a rigid connecting element, which branch is intended to be fitted vertically into the said lower receiving housing, is delimited by a vertical lateral inner face formed by a lateral edge wall of the corresponding framing module, and wherein the said means for relative vertical automatic mechanical locking are adapted to lock the said vertical lateral inner face of the lower receiving housing in relation to the connecting branch.

Description:

The invention relates to a modular floor covering with tiles and visible modules for framing the said tiles, the said framing modules contributing to the aesthetic appearance of the covering.

WO-03060256 describes a modular floor covering with framed tiles which makes it possible to combine framing modules of various types, such as slats made of wood or of stratified material or even metal slats, and tiles of all types—such as floor tiles made of terracotta, ceramics, etc.—or tiles made of moquette or other synthetic material such as PVC, or tiles made of natural fibres (coconut, sisal, rattan, etc.), or even tiles made of glass.

The floor covering described in this document includes means for the detachable connection of the framing modules to one another, which means are adapted to impose a relative orientation of the said framing modules and connect them rigidly, at least within the plane of the framing lattice formed by the said framing modules, and to make it possible, once the floor covering has been laid, to remove any one of the framing modules by handling only the said framing module and/or only the tiles and/or modules adjacent to it. In particular, the connecting means may be adapted to make it possible, once the covering has been laid, to separate a first framing module from the framing modules which are adjacent to it by displacement of the said first module in a vertical direction. However, it is first necessary to take out the facing tiles in order to be able to gain access to the screws for fitting the squares.

A known floor covering of this kind enables anyone to make up a unique floor covering, which is personalised according to his tastes, from elements which have been manufactured and marketed on an industrial scale. It makes it possible to use known tiles of standard dimensions, shapes and materials. It is ready to lay, and laying it is simple, rapid and automatic and does not require any sealing material of the glue or cement type, nor any tool, apart from a screwdriver and a saw with a view to cutting to the required dimensions an element which is intended to be laid at the border of a wall. Its maintenance and repair are simple and can be carried out by someone without any special ability or competence. It likewise allows subsequent aesthetic modifications to the covering by someone without any special ability or competence, at will and according to the way in which fashions or individual tastes evolve.

Moreover, this known floor covering can be manufactured on an industrial scale and at cost prices which are relatively low and compatible with marketing to the general public.

Yet within the various variants of embodiment of a known floor covering of this kind which are described by WO-03060256, it is necessary, as regards the connecting means, to provide a relatively large number of different parts and/or a relatively large number of machinings, a fact which puts a strain on the cost price of the said floor covering. Moreover, the putting of the floor covering in place still requires the use of tools for connecting the farming modules to one another. Moreover, the demounting of each framing module necessitates interfering with the adjacent facing tiles and/or the adjacent framing modules.

The general object of the invention is therefore to propose a floor covering such as has been mentioned above, but in which the means for connecting the framing modules to one another are improved, both in terms of cost price and of ease and speed of use, while at the same time obtaining high-quality, rigid connection which especially prevents any relative movement of the framing modules in relation to one another.

The object of the invention is, more particularly, to propose a floor covering of this kind which can be produced with the aid of framing modules which are all identical and can be manufactured from standard elements, which are available on the market in large quantities and at low prices, by means of the lowest possible number of machinings.

The object of the invention is also to propose a floor covering of this kind in which the demounting of one or more framing modules can likewise be carried out rapidly without a tool, in an extremely simple manner and without the risk of mistakes, by any non-specialised person.

Throughout what follows, the various pieces making up the covering according to the invention will be described as laid on the floor, in an absolute frame of reference defined by the floor and a direction orthogonal to the said floor, which is referred to as the “vertical direction”. A horizontal element or plane is an element or plane which is at least substantially parallel to the floor once the covering has been laid.

A “branch” designates an element having a main dimension, in the horizontal plane, which is very much greater than the others and which defines a longitudinal direction of the branch. This longitudinal direction may be straight or curved; the lateral faces or lateral edges of the branch may equally well be straight or curved or winding or broken up or indented, etc. At any point on the branch, it is possible to define a direction, transverse to the said branch, which is orthogonal to the longitudinal and vertical directions at the said point. A “lateral element” of a branch is an element which extends mainly in a plane orthogonal to its transverse direction.

The invention relates to a modular floor covering comprising:

tiles;

at least one series of framing modules which are adapted to be capable of being positioned and connected in relation to one another so as to form a flat lattice for framing the said tiles which has frame spaces of dimensions which are at least substantially identical to those of the tiles;

means for the detachable connection of the framing modules to one another and/or to an underlayer which is laid on the floor,

wherein the means for detachable connection are of the type that permits individual demounting of each framing module by displacement of the said framing module vertically in relation to the floor, without demounting either the adjacent framing modules or the adjacent tiles.

According to a first variant, the invention relates to a modular floor covering comprising:

tiles;

at least one series of framing modules which are adapted to be capable of being positioned and connected in relation to one another so as to form a flat lattice for framing the said tiles which has frame spaces of dimensions which are at least substantially identical to those of the tiles;

means for the detachable connection of the framing modules to one another which comprise, for each pair of adjacent framing modules which are connected to one another at a connecting point, at least one rigid connecting element made up of at least two connecting branches, at least one being adapted to fit into a corresponding receiving housing in one, the first, of the framing modules extending from the connecting point, at least one other connecting branch on the said rigid connecting element being adapted to fit into a corresponding receiving housing in the other, the second, of the framing modules extending from the connecting point; and in which, for each connecting element, at least one connecting branch is adapted to fit vertically into a lower receiving housing in the corresponding framing module,

wherein, for each connecting element, at least one connecting branch, which is referred to as an “end branch” and is intended to be fitted vertically into a lower receiving housing, which is referred to as an “end housing” and is situated at a longitudinal end of a framing module, and the said end housing have paired shapes which are adapted to bring about, when the end branch is fitted into the end housing, relative immobilisation of the connecting element in relation to the framing module, at least in one longitudinal horizontal direction of the end branch.

The floor covering according to the invention therefore comprises, in this first variant, tiles, framing modules and rigid connecting elements. As a result of the invention, the simple putting of the end branch in place in the corresponding receiving housing gives rise to relative immobilisation in the longitudinal horizontal direction, and therefore to the holding of the framing module in relation to the connecting element in the said longitudinal horizontal direction.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the said means for detachable connection are adapted so that the said longitudinal horizontal direction of the said end branch (the shapes of which are paired with those of the corresponding end housing and adapted so as to bring about longitudinal horizontal immobilisation) corresponds to a longitudinal direction of the framing module. Moreover, advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the connecting branches of each connecting element and the corresponding housings for receiving the said connecting branches have paired shapes and dimensions which are adapted to bring about relative immobilisation of the connecting element in relation to each of the framing modules connected by the said connecting element in any horizontal direction, that is to say in the horizontal plane.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the said paired shapes (of the end branch and of the corresponding end housing) which bring about longitudinal horizontal immobilisation comprise vertical lateral faces which have shapes of regular surfaces with a vertical axis which are not entirely flat. In particular, the vertical lateral faces of the end branch and of the end housing are not entirely flat parallel to the longitudinal direction of the framing module, so that they bring about relative mechanical immobilisation of the end branch in relation to the end housing in the longitudinal direction of the framing module.

Furthermore, in accordance with another important aspect of the invention, a covering according to the invention comprises, for at least one connecting branch—especially an end branch—which is intended to be fitted vertically into a lower receiving housing—especially an end housing

means for relative vertical automatic holding which are adapted:

to bring about relative holding of the connecting branch in position in relation to the receiving housing in the vertical direction, merely by reason of the putting in place and relative connection of the framing modules and/or the laying of the floor covering;

but to allow manual relative demounting, solely under the effect of a displacement in the vertical direction, of the connecting branch in relation to the receiving housing.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the said means for vertical automatic holding are chosen from among the following: means for magnetic fixing having permanent magnets; means for reversible high-speed fixing of the hook-and-loop (Velcro®) type; bonding means—especially of the double-sided adhesive type, whether repositionable or not; means for automatic mechanical locking. More particularly, advantageously and in accordance with the invention, for at least one such connecting branch which is intended to be fitted vertically into a lower receiving housing, the means for vertical automatic holding comprise means for the relative vertical automatic mechanical locking of at least one vertical lateral inner face of the lower receiving housing in relation to the connecting branch, the said means for relative vertical automatic mechanical locking being adapted to be automatically brought into the active locking position merely by reason of the putting in place and relative connection of the framing modules and/or the laying of the floor covering, and to be capable of being unlocked manually by simple displacement of the framing module in the vertical direction (without demounting or displacement of the adjacent framing modules or of the adjacent tiles).

Thus, in a floor covering according to this first variant of the invention, the connection of the framing modules to one another is, at the same time, extremely simple and rapid, since all that is required is to fit each connecting branch into the corresponding receiving housing, and also extremely efficient and reliable as a result, on the one hand, of the horizontal immobilisation resulting from the said paired shapes of the connecting branches and corresponding receiving housings and, on the other hand, of the means for automatic holding—especially locking—, the whole arrangement holding the various framing modules in position in relation to one another after connection, without the possibility of relative movement. And the connection has great rigidity, especially as a result of each connecting branch having shapes and dimensions which are perfectly matched, apart from clearance, to those of the receiving housing into which it is fitted. Likewise, in a covering according to the invention, the means for the detachable connection of the framing modules to one another may be produced in a very simple, inexpensive manner while at the same time obtaining connection which is rigid, reliable, simple and rapid to implement.

Moreover, it is possible to remove any one of the modules in an extremely simple and rapid manner, manually and without a tool, without having to demount or even handle another module, including the modules which are adjacent to it (and to which it is directly connected), and even without having to demount the adjacent tile(s). It is thus possible to replace a framing module which has been damaged or is of outmoded aesthetic appearance, by demounting only the said framing module and without having to demount the rest of the covering, in particular without having to demount the latter completely.

The said means of vertical automatic holding—especially locking—may be produced in any forms which make it possible to activate them in a holding—especially locking—position when faces on the lower receiving housing and on the connecting branch, respectively, are brought into contact with, and opposite, one another.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the means for relative vertical automatic locking are locking means with an elastic locking component or components. These elastic locking components are adapted to be brought into engagement automatically merely when the framing module is put in place, that is to say when each connecting branch is inserted in the corresponding receiving housing.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, a lower receiving housing for a connecting branch of this kind belonging to a rigid connecting element, which branch is intended to be fitted vertically into the said lower receiving housing, is delimited by a vertical lateral inner face formed by a lateral edge wall of the corresponding framing module, and the said means for relative vertical automatic locking are adapted to lock the said vertical lateral inner face of the lower receiving housing in relation to the connecting branch.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the elastic locking components are of the type having paired embossed portions—especially a paired horizontal rib and groove (or paired horizontal ribs and grooves)—which cooperate elastically with one another. The paired embossed portions may have any shapes which are suitable for bringing about relative vertical locking by elastic engagement and for allowing unlocking solely under the effect of vertical displacement and as a result of elastic deformation. In one advantageous mode of embodiment, the said elastic locking components comprise at least one series of horizontal ribs which are integral with a vertical face of the connecting branch, and one series of horizontal grooves which are integral with the corresponding vertical face of the corresponding lower receiving housing. As a variant, ribs may be provided which are integral with the vertical faces of the receiving housing, while ribs are provided on the vertical phase of the connecting branch. The paired embossed portions may thus also form, at the same time, successive horizontal ribs and grooves. It is also possible to provide, for example, a single horizontal rib which is integral with a vertical face, the connecting branch cooperating with a single horizontal rib which is integral with the corresponding opposite vertical phase of the vertical face of the receiving housing. In order to permit their elastic relative cooperation, the paired embossed portions may themselves be elastic in flexion, that is to say capable of deforming in flexion in order to enable them to pass opposite each other when relative vertical locking or unlocking displacement occurs. As a variant or a combination, at least one of the opposed vertical faces may be elastically deformable, at least partially, in order to allow transverse displacement which enables the paired embossed portions to pass opposite each other. For example, the connecting branch may be provided with a central aperture which allows flexion of its lateral vertical face that carries the embossed locking portions.

A covering according to the invention is, moreover, advantageously characterised in that each rigid connecting element is made up of a piece made of moulded synthetic material. The manufacture of moulded rigid connecting elements of this kind is simple and inexpensive.

The said paired shapes which make it possible to bring about horizontal immobilisation may be made up, for example, of at least one shoulder which is formed between a portion of greater width, which extends in a laterally projecting manner over a vertical lateral face, and a portion of lesser width on a connecting branch, the said shoulder being adapted to bear against a paired shoulder formed between a clearance of greater width in the receiving housing and a portion of lesser width on said receiving housing.

Furthermore, a covering according to the invention is also advantageously characterised in that it comprises a single series of framing modules in the general shape of identical straight strips which are connected in twos at right angles, and in that, for each pair of framing modules which are connected to one another, the longitudinal end of a first framing module is connected laterally in the median part of a second framing module, the longitudinal end of the first framing module having, on each side, a lower housing for receiving an end branch, the said lower receiving housings and end branches extending parallel to the longitudinal direction of the first framing module and orthogonally to that of the second framing module, each end branch of the first framing module extending in a manner projecting outwards in the transverse direction in relation to the lateral edge wall of the second framing module. This results in a covering which is extremely inexpensive to manufacture, especially because all the modules are identical, and is extremely simple to lay, since all the modules are connected in twos in an identical manner by a single manoeuvre of relative engagement.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, each lower housing for receiving a connecting branch which is intended to be fitted vertically into the said receiving housing extends mainly in a longitudinal direction of the strip of the framing module in which the said lower receiving housing is provided.

More particularly, at least one rigid connecting element comprises, advantageously and in accordance with the invention, two orthogonal connecting branches, the two lower housings for receiving the said two connecting branches each being delimited by a vertical inner face formed by a lateral edge wall of the corresponding framing module.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the floor covering comprises square facing tiles, with a size which is at least substantially equal to 50 cm or 40 cm or 30 cm (standard tiles). The framing modules comprise one or more strips each having a width (dimension in the transverse direction) which is at least substantially constant and is between 1 cm and 25 cm, preferably between 5 cm and 15 cm, and is, for example, substantially equal to 12.5 cm. Each tile and each framing module have a thickness in the vertical direction which is at least substantially constant and is between 10 and 25 mm, preferably between 15 and 20 mm.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, each framing module comprises a main core and, added on along each side of the said core, a rigid edge section forming the edge of the framing module. An added-on edge section of this kind makes it possible to produce the housings for receiving the connecting branches easily, and that just as much with framing modules made up of a core of solid material as for framing modules having a core made up of a metal section. It also makes it possible to form the lateral longitudinal upper arrises of the framing modules from wear-resistant material, and to personalise the aesthetic appearance of the edges of the framing modules in a simple and economical manner.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, each edge section is preferably made up of a material which is chosen from among the following: metallic materials, synthetic materials and wood. The main core is also made up, advantageously and in accordance with the invention, of a material which is chosen from among the following: metallic materials, synthetic materials, composite materials and wood. Among the synthetic materials which may advantageously be used, mention may be made, in particular, of PVC. The edge sections are preferably pieces which are derived from extrusion. The core may also be a profiled piece which is derived from extrusion, or a solid piece made, for example, of fibre-based and/or wood-based composite.

In order to install a floor covering according to the first variant of the invention, the framing modules are juxtaposed with, and connected to, one another in such a way as to produce a rigid lattice for the visible framing of tiles which defines frame spaces for receiving the said tiles. In particular, on each framing module affixed, rigid connecting elements are fitted beforehand by inserting a first branch of each connecting element in the corresponding receiving housing provided in the median part and/or at the longitudinal end of the framing module.

The invention thus extends to a method of laying a floor covering according to the invention. The invention therefore relates to a method which is characterised in that the various framing modules are put in place and connected in relation to one another by fitting each rigid connecting branch which is integral with a framing module into the receiving housing in another adjacent framing module, by which means relative immobilisation of the connecting element in relation to the framing module in which the said receiving housing is provided, is brought about, at least in one longitudinal horizontal direction of the connecting branch. Moreover, the said means for relative vertical automatic holding—especially locking—are automatically brought into the active position of relative vertical automatic holding—especially locking.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention:

each framing module to be laid is equipped beforehand with all the elements for connecting the said framing module to the other adjacent framing modules which are to be laid subsequently, with the exception of the elements for connecting the said framing module to be laid to each adjacent framing module which has been laid on the floor beforehand, already equipped with its connecting elements;

each framing module is put in place and connected by engaging the receiving housings in the said framing module over the connecting branches which have been connected beforehand to each adjacent framing module which has been laid on the floor beforehand, by which means each connecting branch is immobilised horizontally in relation to the corresponding receiving housing. In this variant, fitting is carried out by vertical displacement solely of the framing module to be put in place, in relation to the other framing modules which have already been laid beforehand.

As a variant, each framing module is, advantageously and in accordance with the invention, equipped beforehand in its median part and on each side with rigid connecting elements, in such a way that each of the said rigid connecting elements has a connecting branch projecting outwards in the transverse direction in relation to the lateral edge wall of the framing module, the said connecting branch being capable of being fitted into a receiving housing in the longitudinal end of another adjacent framing module when the latter is laid.

In a second variant, the invention relates to a modular floor covering comprising:

facing tiles;

at least one series of framing modules which are adapted to be capable of being positioned and connected in relation to one another so as to form a flat lattice for framing the said facing tiles which has frame spaces of dimensions which are at least substantially identical to those of the facing tiles;

wherein said floor covering comprises means for the detachable connection of each framing module to an underlayer which has been laid on the floor, and in that the said means for detachable connection comprise at least one longitudinal beading strip which is integral with the framing module or the said underlayer, the said beading strip being adapted to be capable of being inserted vertically in a paired groove provided in a recessed manner in said underlayer or in said framing module respectively, the shapes and dimensions of the beading strip in relation to the paired groove being adapted so that the framing module is held rigidly in position longitudinally and vertically in relation to the underlayer when the beading strip is inserted in the groove, but so that said beading strip can be extracted from the groove by simple vertical displacement solely of the framing module in relation to the underlayer.

Advantageously and in accordance with the invention, the underlayer is made up of a paving of underlayer tiles joined in twos along their adjacent edges that have a non-rectilinear contour, the shapes and dimensions of the underlayer tiles being adapted so that their joining edges extend under the said framing modules. The connection of the framing modules thus makes it possible to lock the underlayer tiles in place. In particular, advantageously and in accordance with the invention, since each framing module straddles the joining edges of at least two adjacent underlayer tiles, the said means for the detachable connection of the said framing module comprise at least two paired beading strips and grooves, one for each of the said adjacent underlayer tiles, for connecting the said framing module to each of the said underlayer tiles. For this reason, in particular, the covering according to the invention is compatible for laying on a floor which is irregular to a greater or lesser extent, the underlayer tiles being held in position in relation to one another via framing modules which thus prevent relative movements of said tiles, especially in the vertical direction. It should also be noted that the beading strips engaged in the grooves can be adapted to bring about relative immobilisation in the longitudinal direction of the framing modules, and not merely holding in the vertical direction.

According to one particularly advantageous mode of embodiment, the adjacent underlayer tiles have indented joining edges. The facing tiles of the covering which form its free upper surface and are framed by the framing modules may be integral with the underlayer tiles, or made up of a single piece with the latter, or bonded to the latter. As a variant, the facing tiles are simply laid on the underlayer tiles, between the framing modules which are connected onto said underlayer tiles by the longitudinal beading strips.

In any case, in a covering according to the invention (and this is the case in both variants), the means for connecting the framing modules are devoid of screws, nuts, bolts and rivets, and the connecting method can be carried out manually without a tool. The same applies to the demounting of a framing module. The means for connecting a covering according to the invention are adapted to make it possible, once the covering has been laid, to separate a single framing module from the framing modules which are adjacent to it, optionally after manually separating—especially unlocking—the means for automatically holding—especially locking—each connecting branch in relation to the corresponding receiving housing. It should be noted, in this regard, that the demounting of a framing module is carried out by relative displacement of said framing module solely in the vertical direction, so as to separate and take out each connecting branch which has been fitted in vertically, from the corresponding receiving housing in the said framing module. No other relative displacement is necessary in order to carry out demounting. In other words, demounting results solely from relative displacement solely in the vertical direction of the framing module. In particular, it is not necessary to demount or displace either the adjacent framing modules or even the adjacent facing tiles. For example, the framing module can be extracted vertically with the aid of ordinary suction cups.

Furthermore, in the different variants of the invention, the means for the detachable connection of each framing module are adapted to bring about longitudinal horizontal relative immobilisation of the said framing module merely under the effect of vertical displacement, in relation to the floor, of the said framing module when it is connected.

The invention also relates to a floor covering and a method of laying the said covering, which are characterised in combination by all or some of the features mentioned hereinabove and hereinbelow.

Other aims, features and advantages of the invention will become apparent on reading the following description which refers to the appended drawings representing preferred modes of embodiment of the invention which are given solely by way of non-limitative examples, in which drawings:

FIG. 1 is a diagrammatic view from above of part of a floor covering according to the first variant of the invention, during the connecting of the framing modules in accordance with a first mode of embodiment of the connecting elements;

FIG. 2 is a diagrammatic view in perspective illustrating two framing modules with a solid core, belonging to a covering according to the first mode of embodiment of the invention, during connection;

FIG. 3 is an exploded diagrammatic view in perspective of a framing module with a solid core, belonging to a covering according to the first mode of embodiment of the invention;

FIGS. 4 and 5 are views, which are similar to FIGS. 2 and 3 respectively, of a floor covering which is in accordance with the first mode of embodiment of the invention but has framing modules with a profiled core;

FIG. 6 is a diagrammatic view in section along the line VI-VI in FIG. 8;

FIG. 7 is a diagrammatic view in section along the line VII-VII in FIG. 8;

FIG. 8 is a diagrammatic view in section along a horizontal plane VIII-VIII, illustrating the fitting of a connecting element according to the first mode of embodiment of the first variant of the invention, having framing modules with a solid core;

FIGS. 9 and 10 are diagrammatic views in perspective illustrating a connecting element according to a second mode of embodiment of the first variant of the invention;

FIG. 11 is a diagrammatic view from below of a framing module according to the second mode of embodiment of the invention;

FIG. 12 is a view in transverse section of the framing module in FIG. 11;

FIG. 13 is a diagrammatic view in perspective of a portion of floor covering according to a third mode of embodiment corresponding to the second variant of the invention, during fitting;

FIG. 14 is a diagrammatic three-quarter view in perspective from below of a framing module according to the third mode of embodiment of the invention; and

FIG. 15 is a diagrammatic view, in transverse vertical section, of a framing module according to the third mode of embodiment of the invention.

The floor covering according to the invention comprises facing tiles 1, framing modules 2 and, in the first variant of the invention, rigid, detachable-connection elements 3, 83 which permit the detachable rigid connection of the framing modules to one another, so as to form a rigid, flat lattice for framing facing tiles which has frame spaces with dimensions which are at least substantially identical to those of the said facing tiles. The general features of a floor covering of this kind are well-known in themselves, especially from WO-03060256, so that only those features which are specific to the invention are described below.

In the second variant of the invention, the covering comprises means 100, 101 for the detachable connection of each framing module 2 to an underlayer which has been laid on the floor.

The covering preferably comprises, in the modes of embodiment represented, a single series of framing modules, all having the general shape of identical straight strips which are connected in twos at right angles, the longitudinal end of a first framing module being connected laterally in an at least substantially median part of a second framing module.

Each framing module 2 comprises a main core 5, 6 in the form of a rectangular straight strip, which is rigid at least in a horizontal plane, mainly determines the general dimensions of the framing module, and has a rectangular upper flat face 7 which may optionally receive at least one facing layer 8 which forms the visible upper flat face 9 of said framing module 2.

The core 5, 6 is a piece which may be made up of a material chosen from among the following: metallic materials (especially aluminium or steel alloys), rigid synthetic materials (rigid materials based on polymers, especially PVC), composite materials (slats of agglomerated natural or synthetic particles and/or fibres, reconstituted wood, etc.), wood, etc. When the core 5, 6 itself has an upper flat face of satisfactory aesthetic appearance, the facing layer may be omitted. The core 5, 6 may be made up of an integrally-produced piece in the form of a sheet or an extruded section.

Each framing module 2 also comprises, along each of its longitudinal sides, a rigid edge section 9 forming the edge of the said framing module. Each rigid edge section 9 is either added on, preferably bonded or fixed in position by elastic-engagement components, along the corresponding lateral edge of the core 5, 6, or is made up of a single piece with said core 5, 6 (cf. second mode of embodiment, FIGS. 9 to 12). The rigid edge sections 9 are preferably made up of a material chosen from among the following: metallic materials (especially aluminium or steel alloys), rigid synthetic materials (rigid materials based on polymers, especially PVC), and wood. Each edge section 9 has a free outer vertical lateral edge wall 15 which constitutes the lateral edge wall of the framing module 2.

Each rigid connecting element 3, which is intended to rigidly link together and connect two framing modules 2, comprises at least two rigid connecting branches, one of which is adapted to fit into a corresponding receiving housing in a first framing module 2, while the other is adapted to fit into a corresponding receiving housing in the adjacent second framing module. Each connecting branch has peripheral vertical faces, including two opposed vertical lateral faces. Moreover, each connecting branch is longer than it is high, and longer than it is wide.

Each connecting branch 10, 11 is straight or has more or less winding shapes and/or projections, bosses, cavities, recesses, shoulders, ribs, ridges, etc. on its vertical lateral faces. The peripheral vertical faces of at least one connecting branch of each connecting element are adapted to permit the vertical fitting of the connecting branch into a receiving housing of paired shapes and dimensions in the corresponding framing module. Thus, the peripheral vertical faces of each connecting branch and of the receiving housing are, overall, regular surfaces which are cylindrical (in the purely mathematical meaning of the term) and have a vertical axis. Overall, each connecting branch 10, 11 preferably has the general shape of an elongated parallelepiped.

The shapes and dimensions of at least one vertically fitted-in connecting branch 10 of a connecting element are adapted to bring about horizontal immobilisation with the receiving housing which has paired shapes and dimensions and into which said branch is fitted, at least in the longitudinal direction of the said connecting branch 10. In order to obtain horizontal immobilisation of this kind, at least in the longitudinal direction, between a vertically fitted-in connecting branch and the corresponding receiving housing, in the examples of embodiment represented, the connecting branch 10 has a widened end portion 60 forming a shoulder 62 which extends vertically and transversely (that is to say, orthogonally to the longitudinal direction of the branch) in a manner projecting laterally in relation to a portion 61 of lesser width on the said connecting branch. Each receiving housing 12 in the framing module which is intended to receive a connecting branch 10 of this kind has, in the same way, a widened end portion forming a shoulder 65 which extends vertically and transversely in a manner projecting laterally in relation to a portion 64 of lesser width in the said receiving housing. The shapes and dimensions of the connecting branch 10 are paired with those of the corresponding receiving housing 12, so that the shoulder 62 on the connecting branch and the shoulder 65 in the receiving housing come into contact with one another and bring about mechanical immobilisation in the horizontal direction orthogonal to the said shoulders 62, 65, and in the direction of removal of the receiving housing in relation to the connecting branch. Moreover, the other vertical faces, which are in contact, of the connecting branch 10 and of the corresponding receiving housing 12 bring about relative mechanical immobilisation of the said connecting branch and receiving housing in the other horizontal directions.

In a first mode of embodiment of the invention, each rigid connecting element 3 comprises two orthogonal connecting branches, namely a connecting branch which is referred to as the “end branch” 10, and a connecting branch which is referred to as the “edge branch” 11. The end branch 10 is linked rigidly at right angles in the median part of the edge branch 11, and extends on only one side of said edge branch 11. The rigid connecting element 3 is therefore in the general shape of a T. The end branch 10 is adapted to be capable of being inserted in a lower receiving housing 12 provided at the longitudinal end 14 of a framing module 2, on one side of the said longitudinal end 14. Each end receiving housing 12 is provided between the lateral edge wall 15 formed by the edge section 9, and the core 5, 6 of the framing module. The end branch 10 and the end housing 12 have paired shapes which are adapted to bring about relative immobilisation in the longitudinal horizontal direction as described above, at least in the direction which prevents the axial removal of the connecting branch 10 from the framing module.

The rigid connecting element 3 is advantageously made up of a piece made of moulded rigid synthetic material, for example polyamide, PVC or some other thermoplastic material.

In order to form the lower end receiving housing 12 and to permit the vertical insertion of the end branch 10 in the said receiving housing 12, the edge section 9 has a clearance 32 at the end of its tubular part, said clearance 32 extending over a length which corresponds to that of the receiving housing 12 and of the end branch 10. Thus, the end branch 10 can be introduced into the receiving housing 12 via the lower opening, which is left by the said clearance 32 and thus presented by the receiving housing 12, that is to say by a vertical movement from the bottom upwards of the end branch 10 and/or a vertical movement from the top downwards of the receiving housing 12.

In order to form the housing 13 for receiving the edge branch 11, the edge section 9 has a clearance 36 in its tubular part, said clearance 36 extending over a length which corresponds to that of the receiving housing 13 and of the edge branch 11. Thus, the edge branch 11 can be introduced into the receiving housing 13 via the lower opening, which is left by the said clearance 36 and thus presented by the receiving housing 13, that is to say by a vertical movement from the bottom upwards of the edge branch 11 and/or a vertical movement from the top downwards of the receiving housing 13. A slot 34 is provided through the edge wall 15, starting from its lower edge, for the passage of the end branch 10 which extends in a manner projecting orthogonally to the said edge wall 15. It should be noted that the said slot 34 immobilises the connecting element, in the longitudinal direction of the edge branch 11, in both directions, so that the said edge branch 11 does not have to be provided with a shoulder such as the shoulder 62 on the end branch 10. The same applies to the receiving housing 13. Moreover, in certain variants of embodiment, the housing 13 for receiving an edge branch 11 can be adapted to have vertical faces at its longitudinal ends and be matched in length, apart from clearance, to the length of said edge branch 11, in order to bring about relative horizontal immobilisation parallel to the longitudinal direction of the edge branch 11.

The width of the edge branch 11 corresponds, apart from clearance, to that of the receiving housing 13, that is to say to the distance which separates the inner face 24 of the edge wall 15 formed by the section 9 from the vertical wall 22 of the core 5, 6 which extends opposite the said inner face 24. Thus, when the edge branch 11 is inserted between the inner face 24 of the edge wall 15 and the vertical wall 22 of the core 5, 6 opposite, the vertical face 35 of the edge branch 11 comes into contact with said vertical wall 22 of the core 5, 6, and the vertical face 27 of the edge branch 11 comes into contact with the inner face 24 of the edge wall 15.

The fact that each receiving housing 12, 13 has a width which corresponds, apart from clearance, to that of the corresponding branch 10, 11, obtains relative immobilisation of the branch 10, 11 in relation to the corresponding framing module in any horizontal direction, particularly preventing any horizontal translation and also any rotation in an axis parallel to the plane of the vertical faces which are in contact.

In the mode of embodiment of the invention which is represented in FIGS. 6 to 8, the connecting element 3 is in the general shape of a T (with the said paired shapes bringing about horizontal immobilisation), and is made of a material which is magnetic (ferromagnetic or paramagnetic), that is to say is sensitive to permanent magnetisation. Small bars 4 made up of permanent magnets are bonded under the horizontal inner upper face of the receiving housings 12, 13 in such a way that the connecting element 3 is held in place vertically by the magnetised small bars 4 as soon as the latter come into contact with the horizontal upper face of said connecting element 3. When the means for vertical holding are thus of the magnetic type, demounting can be obtained manually by exerting a vertical relative force of a higher value than the force of magnetic attraction linking each connecting branch to its receiving housing.

According to other variants which are not represented, the magnetised small bars may be replaced by strips for reversible high-speed fixing operations, for example of the hook-and-loop (Velcro®) type, of which one strip is bonded under the inner upper face of the receiving housing, while the other is bonded to the upper face of the corresponding branch of the connecting element 3, or else by adhesive strips with a double adhesive face, or any other equivalent means for holding and/or locking the connecting element in relation to the receiving housings in the vertical direction. In these latter variants, the T-shaped connecting elements may be made of synthetic material and not of magnetic metallic material.

In the case of those modes of embodiment of the invention which have been represented, in which the core is made up of a section 5 made of metallic alloy, each rigid edge section 9 is preferably made up of a section made of tubular aluminium alloy which has a rectangular straight transverse section which may be manufactured by extrusion and machined to form housings 12, 13 for receiving the connecting branches of the connecting elements. In the case of those modes of embodiment of the invention which have been represented, in which the core is made up of a solid sheet 6, the lateral edges of the latter have clearances, and the edge section 9 is made up of a corner iron which likewise has clearances so as to form a lower opening permitting the insertion of the branches 10, 11 from the bottom upwards in the receiving housings 12, 13.

At each of its longitudinal ends 14, each framing module 2 has two end receiving housings 12, one on each side. Along each of its lateral edges, each framing module 2 also has, in the substantially median part, two edge receiving housings 13. The said two edge receiving housings 13 are spaced apart by a distance that corresponds to the distance which separates two end receiving housings 12 situated at the same longitudinal end 14 of an adjacent framing module 2. Each framing module 2 is thus able to receive eight connecting elements 3 for its orthogonal connection to four other adjacent framing modules, one on each side in the median part, and one at each of its longitudinal ends 14. For each pair of adjacent framing modules, connection is brought about by two connecting elements 3.

The laying of a floor covering according to the invention is extremely simple, since all that is required is to put in place and connect the various framing modules in relation to one another, orthogonally in twos, by vertically fitting each rigid connecting branch which is integral with a framing module into the lower receiving housing of another, adjacent framing module, by which means the means for automatic locking are automatically brought into the active locking position. More particularly, all that is required is to engage each receiving housing 12, 13 vertically from the top downwards over the corresponding connecting branch of a framing module which has been laid on the floor beforehand, until the means for automatic locking are activated.

With this first preferred mode of embodiment, each framing module to be laid is equipped beforehand with all the elements 3 for connecting this framing module to the other, adjacent framing modules which are to be laid subsequently, that is to say, which have not already been laid on the floor beforehand. The receiving housings 12, 13 of the framing module to be laid which make it possible to connect the said framing module to be laid with those which have already been laid on the floor beforehand, must be left free to receive the branches 10, 11 of the rigid connecting elements with which the adjacent framing modules laid beforehand are already equipped.

It should be noted that the laying of the various framing modules is carried out solely by a vertical movement of the framing module from the top downwards, and that the positioning of said framing module is imposed, without any possible risk of error, by the other framing modules which have been laid on the floor beforehand.

With a floor covering according to the invention, it is also possible to separate a single framing module in order to change or repair it, and to do so by means of simple and rapid manoeuvring operations without having to demount the whole of the floor covering. In order to do this, all that is required is to lift the framing module to be demounted with a force which is sufficient to deactivate the said means for automatic locking.

Furthermore, each framing module 2 preferably has a lower insulating layer 52, for example made of foam, rubber or PVC, which can be counter-bonded under the framing module. In the case of framing modules 2 with a profiled core 5, the inner insulating layer can be produced, as represented in FIG. 5, by plain strips 53 bonded onto the lower portions of the profiled core defining the surface for supporting the framing module. As a variant which is not represented, or as a combination, this layer 52 or these strips 53 may be added on in a detachable manner by means of vertical lugs which are adapted to be capable of being inserted in paired apertures provided in the said lower portions of the profiled core.

It should be noted that it is possible, in a floor covering according to the invention, to use a single model of rigid connecting elements 3. In the first mode of embodiment, however, there is a left-hand version and a right-hand version for each model. There is nothing to prevent the provision of a single version for each model, with an end branch 10 which has a symmetry in relation to a median vertical plane. In all cases, the invention makes it possible to obtain a very high quality connection of the framing modules to one another in a very simple and inexpensive manner. Moreover, the said connection is locked automatically, but is easy to unlock and demount, especially for the purpose of changing or repairing a framing module. After connection, the framing modules form a rigid lattice defining frame spaces which receive the tiles. The framing modules 2 are rigid, at least in the plane of the lattice they form after connection, that is to say in the horizontal plane. However, there is nothing to prevent the possibility of said lattice having a certain flexibility in the other dimensions, for example in flexion in the vertical plane.

In the second mode of embodiment of the invention, each rigid connecting element 83 is in the general shape of an L, the end branch 10 and edge branch 11 being linked orthogonally to one another by one of their ends. The rigid connecting element 83 is made up of a piece made of moulded rigid synthetic material, for example polyamide, PVC or some other thermoplastic material. The vertical faces of each of the said branches each have a plurality of projecting horizontal ribs 84 which have a straight transverse section, for example in the shape of a V, and are adapted to be capable of cooperating with horizontal grooves 85 provided in the opposite inner vertical faces 22, 24 delimiting the receiving housings 12, 13 in the framing modules. The said ribs 84 and grooves 85 form means for vertically locking the connecting element in relation to each framing module.

The ribs 84 are preferably provided on each vertical face of each branch but, as a variant, there is nothing to prevent making provision for the ribs 84 to be provided on only one of the two vertical faces, the other vertical face of the branch being smooth, just like the vertical inner face of the corresponding receiving housing. The grooves 85 have a straight transverse section which is paired with that of the ribs 84. The said straight transverse section is adapted to permit the vertical fitting, at least of the end branch 10, into its corresponding receiving housing. In order to facilitate this vertical fitting-in by elastic deformation, and then the vertical locking, the straight transverse section of the ribs 84 and/or grooves 85 may be non-symmetrical, for example in the form of a triangle, a rectangle or a latch.

In order to facilitate the vertical fitting-in of the end branch 10, the latter is advantageously provided with a central vertical longitudinal aperture 86 which passes throughout its height and is of a width which is adapted to enable the two vertical faces of the said branch 10 to come closer to one another elastically during the vertical fitting-in operation, by allowing the ribs 84 to pass through vertically in front of the grooves 85, until the end branch 10 is in place in the corresponding receiving housing 12. Furthermore, the end branch 10 is also provided, as in the first mode of embodiment, with a widened portion 87 at its free end, the said widened portion 87 nevertheless extending in a manner projecting on each side of the end branch 10 so as to form two shoulders 88, one on each side. The said widened portion 87 is adapted to be capable of extending into slots 89 provided through the two opposite vertical walls 90 delimiting the receiving housing 12, in such a way as to bring about relative immobilisation of the end branch 10 in relation to the said housing 12 in the horizontal longitudinal direction of said end branch 10. In the mode of embodiment represented, the widened portion 87 is provided, on each side, with a clearance extending over its entire height and over a portion of its length, the said clearances facilitating the vertical fitting-in of the end branch 10 into the receiving housing 12.

The edge branch 11 is preferably introduced horizontally into the receiving housing 13 through a slot 91 provided in the lateral edge wall 15, said slot 91 having a length which is greater than, or equal to, that of the edge branch 11. After it has passed through the slot 91, the connecting element 83 is caused to slide horizontally in the direction of the edge branch 11 so that the latter is inserted inside the receiving housing 13, between the two opposite vertical walls which delimit the said housing 13, the horizontal ribs 84 sliding within the horizontal grooves 85. As a variant, which is not represented, there is nothing to prevent provision being likewise made for the edge branch 11 to be adapted to be capable of fitting vertically into the corresponding receiving housing 13, like the end branch 10. Moreover, in this mode of embodiment, it should be noted that the rigid edge section 9 is made up of a single piece with the core of the section, a fact which simplifies the manufacture of the said piece and reduces the cost. In the mode of embodiment represented in FIGS. 11 and 12, the section also comprises two median vertical walls, which essentially have the function of obtaining a reinforcement in flexion, and of increasing the inertia of the section.

In that case too, with this second mode of embodiment, it is possible to bring about demounting of each framing module independently of the other elements of the floor covering, solely by vertical displacement of the said framing module, which is carried out, for example, with the aid of suction cups which are stuck onto the upper free face of the framing module to be demounted. In particular, it is not necessary to take out the tiles adjacent to the framing module before demounting it.

As a variant, ribs may be provided which are integral with the vertical faces of the receiving housing, and grooves may be provided on the vertical faces of the connecting element. More generally, all that is required is for the opposite vertical faces to have paired embossed portions in any shapes which are suitable for forming means for relative vertical locking which can be locked and unlocked elastically.

In the third mode of embodiment which is represented in FIGS. 13 to 15 which correspond to the second variant of the invention, the covering comprises an underlayer made up of underlayer tiles 97 which are laid on the floor. These tiles 97 may be laid in a floating manner or, on the contrary, may be bonded onto the floor. They bring about paving of the floor. Each underlayer tile 97 has a shape that corresponds to that of the facing tiles 1, with a slightly larger format so as to extend as far as the median part of each framing module. The underlayer tiles 97 are joined in twos by their joining edges 98 which are non-rectilinear and of paired, indented shapes with symmetrical complementary toothing systems which fit into each other in the example represented. The joining edges 98 are therefore adapted to fit into each other in twos in order to bring about rigid connection of the underlayer tiles 97 to one another. The facing tiles 1 may be simply laid on the underlayer tiles 97 or bonded to the latter, or even made up of a single piece with the latter. Each underlayer tile 97 has a peripheral border 99 which extends horizontally beyond the peripheral edge of the facing tile 1. A groove 100 is provided in a recessed manner along each peripheral border 99 of each underlayer tile 97 so as to be capable of receiving a longitudinal beading strip 101 with a paired profile extending under the framing module 2 which is intended to cover the peripheral border 99, with overlapping of the joining edges 98 of the two underlayer tiles 97 subjacent to the said framing module 2. Thus, each framing module 2 comprises two longitudinal beading strips 101, namely one along each of its respective longitudinal edges, for connecting it to each groove 100 in a peripheral border 99 of an underlayer tile 97.

Each beading strip 101 is made up of a section made of synthetic material which is flexible in flexion and non-slippery, for example dual-material PVC, which has a straight transverse section in the general shape of an arrow having a vertical core and two small flanges which are flexible in flexion (flexible PVC) and which fold over elastically towards one another and towards the core when the beading strip 101 is inserted in the groove 100. That coefficient of static friction of the beading strip 101 in relation to the wall of the corresponding groove 100 which is obtained by means of the flexible PVC is such that, when the beading strip 101 is in place in the groove 100, the whole arrangement produces relative holding, both in the longitudinal direction and in the vertical direction. Likewise, the core of the beading strip 101 is sufficiently rigid in flexion (rigid PVC) to obtain lateral holding of the framing module 2 in relation to the groove 100. However, it is easy to understand that the beading strip 101 can be extracted vertically from the groove 100 as soon as a sufficiently great force of upward vertical extraction is exerted. Each beading strip 101 may be simply bonded under the framing module 2.

The method of fitting the covering according to the third mode of embodiment of the invention is extremely simple. All that is required is to connect the underlayer tiles 97 to one another by their joining edges 98. Then, all that is required is to put the framing modules 2 in place, with overlapping of the joining edges 98 of the adjacent tiles 97, by inserting the beading strips 101 in the corresponding grooves 100. The facing tiles 1 are then laid if appropriate (unless they have been bonded to the underlayer tiles 97 beforehand or even made up of a single piece with the latter). The demounting of a framing module 2 is extremely simple. All that is required is to stick a handle provided with suction cups onto the outer free horizontal face of said framing module 2, and to exert an upward vertical traction which is sufficient to extract the beading strips 101 from the grooves 100. It is not necessary to demount or displace either the adjacent facing tiles 1 or the adjacent framing modules or, of course, the underlayer tiles 97.

It should also be noted that, in this third mode of embodiment of the invention, the framing modules 2 are held in place in the vertical direction merely by reason of the putting in place and relative connection of the said framing modules, that is to say by simple engagement of the beading strips 101 in the grooves 100, bearing in mind, on the one hand, the shape of the straight transverse section of said beading strips 101 and, on the other hand, the fact that the constituent material of the said beading strips does not slide along the lateral vertical walls of the grooves 100. However, this mode of connection allows manual relative displacement solely by the displacement in the vertical direction of the framing module 2 to be demounted, without the displacement or demounting of the adjacent framing modules or adjacent tiles.

Furthermore, it should be noted that this third mode of embodiment allows thermal expansion of the framing modules in the lateral direction, even when the latter have a solid core (wood, particle panels, etc.). In actual fact, since the groove 100 is wider than the beading strip 101 which it receives, a clearance is possible in the transverse horizontal direction, which is the main direction of thermal expansion of slats with a solid core, especially one made of wood or of panels made of solid particles.

The second variant of the invention is compatible with all the possible forms of embodiment of the framing modules, whether in one or more pieces, made of synthetic material and/or having metal sections. It may form the subject of other modes of embodiment than the one which is represented in the drawings by way of an example. In particular, as a variant or a combination, there is nothing to prevent the provision of beading strips which are integral with the underlayer tiles 97 for the purpose of engaging in grooves which are provided in the lower faces of the framing modules.

The invention may form the subject of numerous other variants of embodiment compared to the preferred modes of embodiment described above and represented in the drawings. In particular, in the first variant of the invention, pads made of paramagnetic or ferromagnetic material may be bonded onto the faces of the lateral edge sections in order to hold and lock in place magnetised connecting elements. Conversely, the connecting elements may be made up of magnetic (paramagnetic or ferromagnetic) materials, and permanent magnets may be fixed, for example by bonding, onto the edge sections and/or onto the vertical faces of the core 5, 6 which form the housings for receiving the said connecting elements.

Likewise, there is nothing to prevent the provision, in combination, of locking means of the mechanical type and holding means of the magnetic or other type, for example elastic ribs which are themselves made up of permanent magnets.

As a variant or a combination, holding and/or locking components may also be envisaged, for example bosses with deformation which is elastic in compression, etc.

The shape of the connecting branches and of the receiving housings may likewise form the subject of various variants. In particular, the vertical faces which are immobilised horizontally and locked to one another by the means for automatic locking are not necessarily made up of portions which are continuous and flat, as represented, but may be discontinuous and provided with ribs, ridges, recesses, bosses, cavities, etc. The shape of the vertical faces of each end branch and that of each opposite vertical face on the corresponding receiving housing are paired with one another in such a way as to give rise to horizontal immobilisation while at the same time permitting the vertical fitting of the end branch into the receiving housing, said receiving housing capping said end branch. Thus, the said shapes are adapted to bring about relative immobilisation of each end branch which is fitted into the receiving housing, in such a way that said end branch can no longer be subsequently displaced in relation to said receiving housing when it is fitted into the latter. Such shapes are not necessary for the edge branches 11 of the T-shaped connecting elements 3, in the first and third modes of embodiment, which are immobilised horizontally by the lateral slot 34 and/or by transverse end walls in the edge receiving housing 13. There is nothing to prevent the additional provision of paired shapes of this kind for the edge branches 11 in order to reinforce the horizontal immobilisation.

Moreover, the method of fitting the connecting elements in relation to the framing modules may vary widely. The invention can also be applied to framing modules of various kinds and shapes. It can also be applied to floor coverings whose tiles may be of various kinds and shapes and may be connected and/or inserted in the frame spaces of the lattice formed by the various framing modules which are connected to one another in some way or other.

Furthermore, connecting elements of this kind in conformity with the invention may be used with floor coverings comprising a number of distinct series of different framing modules, as described, for example, by WO-03060256. The same applies to the second variant of the invention, with the aid of which it is possible to provide framing modules of different lengths. The two variants of the invention may likewise be combined, it being possible to connect the framing modules both to one another by connecting elements and onto an underlayer.