Heavily influenced by hospitality and residential design aesthetics, today’s institutional spaces are looking a lot less institutional and a lot more sophisticated with the help of design.

“The most prevalent overall trend in institutional spaces is trying to make these spaces look less “institutional,” said Mike Sage, vice president of sales, Ecore. “Hospitality and nature-inspired aesthetics are becoming increasingly more desirable in places like schools and healthcare facilities.”

According to Mari Anne Randall, director of commercial marketing innovation, Dal-Tile Corporation, this overall trend is due to the demands and expectations of the end-users operating in institutional spaces. “Institutional buildings are becoming less rigid and institutional. Instead, designs are now more flexible and inviting. This is due to higher expectations from baby boomers and millennials, the end-users of these spaces, who have sophisticated tastes and value high-end finishes.”


As with any market, different trends are being seen throughout various segments of the education market. For K-12 education, spaces are veering toward a mobile design that enables quick classroom reconfiguration to optimize the learning space depending on the situational learning objectives, said Chad Bitner, director of product management and marketing, healthcare and education, Tarkett North America. “Consider the different formats that could be configured to better reach students during a science lab versus a reading lesson. There are more and more desk, chairs, tables and learning modules on wheels so that even a young child could help the classroom leader rearrange their environment to prepare for the next curriculum exploration.”

In higher education, recruitment and retention is the name of the game, and everything from curriculum to facility design is taken into consideration when creating these student-centric environments.

“Competition for students is fierce in higher education,” said Di Anna Borders, Mohawk’s director, design segment. “Universities are rolling out academic versions of glitz and glamour to attract prospective students.”

To stand out among the crowd in terms of design, today’s higher education facilities are incorporating key design features found in corporate spaces.

“In higher education, the major trend is to create collaborative spaces for students, teachers, tutors and friends to interact on the fly,” Bitner said. “These spaces help to prepare students for future professional environments where peer collaboration is critical to success. The other major trend is to find ways to engage students on campus. More universities are adding upgraded food, coffee, computer labs, student lounges, etc., to make students comfortable and confident that they are in the best learning environment possible for their individual needs.”

In addition to creating these comfortable and collaborative learning spaces, design is being used to facilitate a sense of school spirit and community.

“Colleges and universities are designing spaces that showcase their sense of community and their heritage,” said Bob Bethel, director of business development, education and healthcare for J&J Flooring Group. “This effort can go a long way towards student recruitment and retention—and it helps strengthen a school’s spirit among students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors.”


“Healthcare design is shifting to be more spa-like, taking inspiration from the hospitality segment,” said Randall. “Additionally, the use of Biophilic design, which draws inspiration from nature, is being used in healthcare settings to foster a calming environment and encourage healing.”

Influencing healthcare is evidence-based design (EBD), which is the process of basing decisions about the built environment on credible research to achieve the best possible outcomes. According to Borders, designers and end-users alike are using EBD to leverage with facility owners, and to ensure that in addition to having beautiful spaces, end-users’ bottom lines are being met.

“The healthcare market seems to be incorporating a number of elements from the hospitality segment,” said Bethel. “For example, we’re seeing a number of multi-use spaces designed within hospitals and senior living communities. From comfortable common areas with welcoming seating, decorative lighting and Wi-Fi to cafes and spas, healthcare is truly adapting to the required comforts and needs of the end-user.”

For acute care environments, safe-durable solutions with beautiful aesthetics that are visually inspired by nature to help their patients relax and feel at ease, according to Bitner. “Keeping people safe is the number one priority at acute care facilities. Spatial designs must intuitively direct people to where they need to go in a comfortable stress-free manner.”

Flooring Types 

“Institutions must walk the fine line of selecting flooring that is current and stylish now yet will hold its appeal for many years to come,” said Lindsey Waldrep, Crossville’s vice president of marketing.

In some cases, these types of spaces typically see up to 10 years or more of use, and for this reason, must carefully consider design, color, durability and performance. The amount and ease of maintenance is also a determining factor, as these areas are also high traffic, according to Borders.

With slip-resistance, durability, ease of maintenance and acoustical properties being just a few of the critical criteria required to be met in healthcare facilities, designers are turning to resilient flooring.

“Resilient floor coverings go hand-in-hand with institutional applications, so this is where you will find the top performing resilient categories: heterogeneous and homogeneous sheet vinyl, rubber flooring, commercial grade LVT and certain PVC-free sheet and tile goods,” Sage said.

A facility owner’s biggest challenge is operating cost and the maintenance and up-keep of the property to keep it looking like new.

“Products like LVT offer long-term savings to owners,” said Amanda O’Neil, Armstrong product manager. “On the front end, LVT may be initially more expensive than carpet, but because it is more durable, it can last twice as long. It potentially can stay down for 20 years versus soft surface that may need to be replaced every few years. It also is easier to repair and maintain, and offers a more stylish look. There is an increasing desire for quick and easy installation that minimizes amount of time space cannot be used. This is even more important in revenue-generating spaces like healthcare, retail or hospitality. A modular flooring installation like LVT is appealing for this reason.”

With tile, designers are achieving durability. “Some of the key benefits of tile—durability, easy maintenance, slip resistance—provide a solution for designers that addresses performance concerns,” Randall said. “Additionally, even though tile can initially seem like a more costly option when compared to other flooring categories, tile is proven to have the longest life cycle over any other material and thus provides a very favorable price/value relationship.”

According to Waldrep, in healthcare, the looks and performance of porcelain tile panels are significant and guiding a trend toward their use. “The heavy traffic and demands of hospital floors require very durable, simple to maintain materials, and tile fits the bill very well. We’ve seen our Laminam porcelain tile panel products used in tile-over-tile renovations that kept a maternity center’s downtime to a minimum yet dramatically updated the patient bathrooms with a more modern style. The looks and color palettes often lean toward simple and sophisticated—styles that will hold their appeal over time.”

In educational facilities, there is a switch from vinyl composition tile (VCT) to enhanced resilient tile (ERT), according to Borders, because of ease of maintenance and life cycle cost. Additionally, carpet tile is a good option, as replace-ability and cleanability are key.

In educational facilities, color is very popular, specifiers often bring school colors into flooring design to make spaces inviting and to convey that sense of spirit, Waldrep said.

Additionally, wood visuals are also being used more frequently in both educational and healthcare facilities to promote a sense of warmth and home. “Wood-look porcelain is a popular go-to,” Waldrep added. “Gauged porcelain tile panels are increasingly being specified because of their installation efficiencies (you can install over old tile or stone), as well as the range of expansive looks available.”

Combating Challenges 

Ensuring performance and achieving style all while adhering to a budget is a challenge designers are faced with more often than not.

“Every designer faces the same central challenge in specifying flooring for institutional spaces: finding a floor that delivers the performance requirements of the space while achieving the desired visual aesthetic and meeting tight budgets,” said Sage.

 Borders added, “Designers are tasked with very large jobs and sometimes very small budgets in this segment. Being able to find a floor that performs well and meets the aesthetic requirements within the prescribed budget can be challenging. It is crucial that we help ease that pain as much as possible with a well-rounded portfolio of products for all budgets.”

 Thankfully, manufactures are increasingly designing solutions that meet the visual and long-term performance needs while keeping budget in mind, Bitner said.

“The bar has been steadily rising over the last few years for flooring manufacturers developing products for institutional spaces,” Sage said. “While many core issues such as maintenance and durability have been addressed with advancements in flooring materials and surfaces, manufacturers have been challenged to address more contemporary issues such as noise control and ergonomics. Manufacturers that are serious about providing flooring solutions that address these very significant challenges are doing so with a new generation of technologies.”