J. Robert Bazemore's design for Brayton International's High Point, N.C., front desk incorporates 12-by-12-inch cork tile with a factory-applied finish. A sisal rug offsets the waiting area.

This installation at Storck USA's Chicago offices uses Atlas Carpet Mills carpet to offset the industrial loft space.
Recyclable materials, green products and sustainable floors have become the watchwords for most commercial interiors. With the U.S. Green Building Council and its LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification paving the way -- and with manufacturers making green products more readily available and cost effective -- commercial design firms are champing at the bit to incorporate environmentally friendly floors in their interior designs and, by extension, bring them into their clients' workplaces.

"It seems LEED is taking the lead on everything," says J. Robert Bazemore, owner of the Charlotte, N.C.-based design firm J. Robert Bazemore Inc. "There's a lot of conversation about the environment and how flooring is impacting it. Consumers and end users are becoming more savvy about it."

The hallway for Brayton International's offices, designed by J. Robert Bazemore, uses Bentley Prince Street modular carpet tile over a raised floor.
Bazemore says part of the reason that sustainability is getting more play these days is because manufacturers have brought down their costs on sustainable products, and that much of the available flooring options offer aesthetic value as well as environmental sustainability.

"You want stuff that is performance based but also aesthetically pleasing," Bazemore says. "I'm seeing a move toward a modular look, with larger-scale carpet tiles, more unique patterns, random striking, and random grids."

Aside from the popularity of carpet tile (and that other commercial mainstay, stained concrete), Bazemore is seeing a surge of interest in environmentally low-impact floors such as bamboo, cork and linoleum.

"Bamboo is just white hot right now," he says. "Cork, as well, is just a beautiful material. It ages really well."

OWP/P was able to save some of the original wood floors from the historic Daniel Burnham building for its own Chicago offices.
Not all clients have felt the urge to go green. Tom Zurowski, principal for Eastlake Studio in Chicago, says that his firm still has to bring the green issue to the table for most of its clients, but some of them are starting to see the long-term value in going green.

"In doing corporate interiors, I see a lot of discarded carpet and drywall. The landfill quantities are pretty scary. I can't imagine how that's affecting landfills these days," Zurowski says.

His firm still incorporates a lot of carpet into its designs, using colorways and textures as anchors for an overall palette, and branching out from there to complementary tones and styles.

"We like the styles that have different scales of the same pattern, or that use the same colorway," Zurowski says. "We also try to sneak some texture into the projects without the clients becoming too suspicious."

He says that double-stick installations -- where a pad is glued down, then carpet glued down on top of that -- is more common these days, partly because of comfort and also because of familiarity.

OWP/P used stained and polished concrete flooring and Shaw Contract carpet tile for the Kimball Showroom in Chicago.
"It takes a little bit more sophisticated of a client to request modular and carpet tile," Zurowski says. "It's a cost issue. We're seeing a lot more wood accents being incorporated into interiors to complement the carpet."

On the other hand, Chris Coldoff, director of interior design for Chicage and Phoenix-based OWP/P, says there is a trend in commercial interiors toward "less carpet in general."

OWP/P, which is part of the pilot program for the upcoming LEED-CI rating system (LEED for Commercial Interiors), is seeing more "carpet tile, linoleum floors, natural cork and stained concrete" in commercial installations.

"I think the two main issues with flooring are sustainability and durability," Coldoff says. "I'm seeing a lot more carpet tile instead of broadloom these days. I haven't specified broadloom on any sizeable job in the last two years. Carpet tile design and technology allows for greater sustainability and fewer adhesives. Also, many carpet tile products come with recycled-content backing."

Coldoff thinks that clients are gravitating toward sustainable flooring because they're better educated on its advantages -- a combination of "good PR and healthier environments for employees," he says.