Floor play

Nicky Churchill takes a look at the latest developments in floor-coverings where, just like the worlds of textiles and fashion, structure, texture and colour are very big this year.

With the increase in office refurbishments throughout the country, business in the carpet industry is picking up and manufacturers are using the opportunity to invest in new product development. Structure and texture have become all important and colour is making a comeback. Not quite as boldly as before perhaps, but nevertheless it is there.

Inspiration appears to be coming from the trend-setting industries of fashion and textiles and, as Linda Barron points out, “why shouldn’t floors be exciting too”. Barron is European colour consultant to nylon fibre manufacturer DuPont where, for a number of years, her role has been “about inspiring the flooring industry”.

Each year, she helps to develop a design concept to broaden the thinking of the carpet manufacturers. Barron admits that the carpet business “is not seen as a modern forward-looking industry – but that is happening now. The climate is such that we can create something exciting.”

DuPont’s concept this year is StructuReform which focuses on structure and texture rather than just colour. Six different themes have been created, each demonstrating a new aesthetic and manufacturing method: Bio-tec echoes the natural sisal look but has the performance advantages of polyamide fibres; Pure Synthetic in bright acid fruit tones reflects the trend for artificial and plastic finishes; and Soft Metallic in sophisticated dark shades is enlivened by metallic glints. The other three themes are Cyber Art, Folklore Pixels and Velvet Wave.

We are told the response from manufacturers has been positive so we should see these themes being woven into carpets fairly soon.

Carpet manufacturer Interface has also followed the structural theme and, through its relationship with DuPont, has introduced a new range of textural carpet tiles. Here colour banks of solution-dyed solid colours and space-dyed multicoloured effect yarns have been created, from which Interface is able to design and introduce new carpet styles very quickly. These are available on a worldwide basis with short lead times.

But the real difference is in the patterning, achieved through tufting techniques as opposed to printed design. The end result is a structural texture to the floor-covering. All styles are based around three tufting machines and new names like Rainforest, Northern Exposure and Caribbean help to evoke the “natural” feel. Interface is also encouraging designers to work with it to create their own colours, with minimum order quantities of 500m2.

The textured Sisal Trends collection is one of the latest ranges from manufacturer Milliken. Again, it follows the trend of the moment both in terms of structure and in the naming of its three designs – Terra, Nomadic and Vista. And, while sisal in the title may conjure up images of coir matting, this collection is one of Milliken’s Comfort Plus products, and benefits from a cushion backing and a 15-year wear guarantee.

Fashion is also evident in a new collection launched earlier this year by Collins & Aikman. Jhane Barnes is a US designer of men’s fashion, textiles and contract furnishings, and was approached by the company to be a guest designer.

Inspired by the mosaic patterning on ceramic tiles, Barnes has produced a collection that uses the modular carpet tile as a single element which when positioned together, combine to form larger patterns.

“What has always bothered me about carpet tiles are the seams”, says Barnes, so she has accentuated the tile itself and used different patterns to create an overall look. There are 42 elements in total, which designers can play about with using PreView, a CD-ROM interactive design tool. Once the design has been created, the program will generate an installation schematic and the material quantities needed for each mosaic.

Colour and texture are also starting to become more evident in the vinyl flooring market, after years of studded vinyl flooring and lookalike stone or terrazzo. Yes, it may be great for factory floors (hard-wearing and easy to clean), and perhaps even hospital wards, but it is not so good in the reception of a corporate headquarters where aesthetics is the key.

Amtico seems to be at the forefront of the thinking and is now using texture and colour to keep one step ahead. According to Linda Barron, who is also Amtico’s concept and colour consultant, “Amtico is positioning itself as a fashion floor, and texture is now a leading aesthetic aspect.” You can see this clearly in the latest ranges, which Barron has developed with the in-house team.

There’s a stone collection featuring limestone, concrete and sedimentary sandstone; a mosaic feature collection; and a metallics collection in three new patterns – treadplate, lunar and metallic woods. My particular favourite is the textured mosaic range, with its small pieces of vinyl “glued” together to look like the real thing, and the treadplate metallic which resembles sheet metal flooring and comes in a range of subdued but authentic-looking colours such as copper, bronze, silver, and lead.

“These are aimed at the younger specifiers,” says Barron. “The distressed metallic look gives an authentic, matt finish.” Though some designs may have been phased out, the Amtico range still remains vast.

“Everybody is producing larger ranges because you have to satisfy more and more sectors in the market,” she says.

And, in an age where lifestyle is becoming increasingly prevalent, choice and a competitive edge inevitably become more important.

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