Wilsonart's Velocity commercial laminate flooring features 20 exotic wood, stone and abstract designs.

This hallway at WilTel corporate headquarters in Tulsa, Okla., features an installation of Interface Entropy modular carpet tile. Photo courtesy of HOK.
Design firms are seeing a surge in the popularity of carpet tile for the commercial segment. More customers are requesting it. More designers are incorporating it in their projects. Manufacturers are increasing the design options and flexibility of their products, thus making modular patterns an attractive alternative to fixed colors and patterns.

In a similar vein, many customers of commercial interiors are going for designs with natural, comforting feels and a bit of stylistic flair. For this reason, they're gravitating to broadloom styles, designer throw rugs, and linoleum and laminate floors. Also, products that offer a straight-from-nature aesthetic -- whether it be in color, texture or the sustainability of the material -- are emerging as favorites for today's commercial applications.

To glean firsthand insights on the current state of this market segment, NFT turned to professionals who largely owe their livelihoods to commercial interior design. Each is a member of a design team that earned top honors in the recently announced 2002 DuPont Antron Design Awards for innovative use of carpet in commercial environments.

Underscoring the increased preference for natural looks in commercial environments is this custom-stained installation of Oregon Lumber hardwood flooring in the reception areas of the St. Louis-based Husch & Eppenberger law firm. Photo courtesy of HOK.
Tom Polucci, senior associate for the St. Louis-based design firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK), is among the growing ranks of commercial interior designers who've noted an increase in requests for carpet tile and modular products.

"We're seeing a lot more carpet tile -- more than ever before," he says. "We're seeing carpet being used in environments it's not typically seen in. For instance, in classroom situations we can now use carpet tile, because the product is solution-dyed and woven in such a way that there isn't any issue with true cleanability. There isn't a fear of staining or wear, or of putting the product in high-traffic areas."

Polucci sees functionality as a major selling point for modular tile.

"Some manufacturers create carpet tiles that don't necessarily create a pattern, so the user has the ability to replace tile and not have to worry about matching," he says. "The tiles will blend automatically. It's a cost-effective approach."

According to Polucci, the popularity of carpet tile in commercial environments has been building for some time. In fact, the product has been incorporated into virtually every current commercial project HOK has undertaken.

"Carpet tile is our workhouse," he explains. "I can't imagine right now one project we're working on that is not using a modular carpet product in some way."

Iramis Sanchez, an interior designer for Boston-based C&R/Rizvi Inc., says that she is using more and more carpet tile and broadloom carpet these days in her designs. "I definitely think the trend for carpet has been increasing," she notes.

Sanchez attributes this increase partly to design appeal, but also to functionality. "Customers are realizing that carpet is easier to replace than some other types of flooring," she says.

Lonseal vinyl sheet flooring was used in WilTel's Internet cafe. Resilient flooring remains a popular and practical option for commercial environs. Photo courtesy of HOK.
"If there's a big spill or stain on it, it's an easy surface to clean, or to replace."

Natural-looking carpet has also become a big trend in corporate and commercial lobbies, Sanchez adds, while common areas are more likely to use carpet and even small amounts of hardwood.

"Another trend I'm seeing is the use of laminate floors," she says. "The colors and shades have been improving, and people have been looking for more natural designs."

She explains the increase in requests for natural-looking elements as being part of a larger trend in design that's based upon making people feel like they're at home.

"At home, there's comfort. People are spending so much time at the office that when they go in, they do not want to go into something cold. They want something that's comfortable," says Sanchez. "It makes them feel better."

Polucci agrees that the trend toward use of "more natural" materials is by now well-established. "I haven't seen commercial manufacturers display wool in a really long time and, just recently, I saw a wool carpet," he explains. "There is a definite push toward natural flooring."

Even synthetic floors -- at least those that convincingly emulate natural looks -- are seeing more use in commercial designs.

"There's an aesthetic appeal to natural-looking products," Polucci says. "We're getting a lot of customers specifying vinyl wood planks. It's extra bang for the buck."

Clive Wilkinson, president of Los Angeles-based Clive Wilkinson Architects, says that the aesthetic appeal of surfaces that appear to look natural (or careworn) is increasing. "There are certainly a lot of semi-antique patterns being reproduced in spurts, new carpet designs and artist-designed throw rugs that were not there 10 years ago," he says.

Wilkinson's firm tends to utilize natural materials -- including slates, natural stones and rubber -- in its designs.

"The look has been heavily toward nature," he says. "There is also a renewed interest in linoleum because it's sort of a natural product -- it's got linseed oil, a flax base. This product has been around for 50 years. What once may have seen utilitarian and boring to some is now something seen as luxurious.

"The acknowledgement of the product's contents has changed the perception of the material."

In fact, Wilkinson sees a growing awareness of green and sustainable products in commercial design. That awareness underpins a desire for environmentally friendly materials that seems unlikely to abate any time soon.

"Products are greener and more sustainable than ever before," he explains. "It's all part of a consciousness. Even when a product doesn't contain natural fiber, an aesthetic sense and awareness of sustainability is emerging."