At NeoCon, Amtico showcased selections from its Couture Collection of resilient flooring, a visually striking product that creates an otherworldy illusion of depth.

Armstrong's Perspectives vinyl tile and sheet flooring seeks combine the benefits of resilient flooring with visuals suggestive of metal, concrete and stone.
Of course it would be the hottest day of the week as I arrived in Chicago for the annual marathon tour of the Merchandise Mart known as NeoCon. But everything got off to a positive start, as I managed to find a parking spot just two short blocks from the Mart. Entering the building, I made a dash for the express elevators and quickly found myself eyeing some really fun and different products.

What words would I choose to describe this year's show? "Fashion forward," is one adjective that comes immediately to mind. The products and exhibits had more than a dash of "fun and whimsy" - in some cases, they were downright "edgy" - and I noticed a definite accent on "mixing and matching."

As with previous editions of the show, NeoCon this year maintained its primary focus on what's happening in furniture. Those of us in the floor covering business tend to start our design process with the largest surface, that usually being the floor. But contract designers like to start with the furniture - or "systems," as they are generally called.

Floor coverings in the spotlight

Totally new innovations were apparent in floor coverings. Metafloor, Lees Carpets' hybrid between a broadloom carpet and hard-surface flooring, was developed to have the durability to withstand heavy traffic (yes, even the ruts created by chair wheels), the acoustic properties of carpet and the inexpensiveness of maintenance characteristic of vinyl. In fact, Metafloor won the Best of NeoCon Gold Award.

Probably one of the most interesting floor covering displays was that of Mannington Commercial. A special showroom designed to dazzle the senses of sight, hearing and touch debuted a new collection of broadloom and modular carpet called Reflections. The line might best be described as a unique collection of corresponding linear and organic designs featuring layered color, pattern and texture. Reflections' designs echo the way we see design in nature, with patterns like Seashore, Rain, Treeline and Twigs.

Mannington's Elements design is a visual treat featuring all of the Reflections patterns united in a grid montage. Coordinating with these designs are two vinyl flooring options called Colorpoint and Solidpoint. Designed to combine sophisticated aesthetics with outstanding performance characteristics, both are made with recycled vinyl content of 10% or more.

Available in a wide spectrum of colors, and rated for heavy commercial traffic, Colorpoint and Solidpoint are especially suited to retail and healthcare projects. Their heavy commercial rating comes from an 85% limestone and vinyl composition that yields durability on par with that of vinyl composition tile (VCT). This outstanding grouping was one that the NeoCon judges overlooked.

Tarkett introduced a new product called Dignity that, the company claims, never requires wax or polish - EVER. With four colors each in oak and beech patterns, the product is a natural for healthcare environments. Also debuting were Coordinates, with seven new colors and 10 primary colors. The premium product is available in 12-foot-wide goods, or in 36-inch borders, to give designers multiple options in custom design.

Mannington Commercial's Reflections Collection of broadloom and modular carpet features corresponding linear and organic designs with layered color, pattern and texture.
Some of the real winners at this booth were products from parent companyTarkett Sommer. Beautiful designs in the company's Resilient Textiles Collection, a line of resilient commercial flooring with metallic components and non-directional carpet tiles, are available anywhere in the world except the United States. Alas - maybe next year the product will make its way to America's shores.

Also during NeoCon, Armstrong introduced Perspectives, a vinyl floor that features visuals influenced by metal, concrete and stone. After extensive research with specifiers, Armstrong Senior Designer Paul Pierce realized the need for designs that depicted vinyl for vinyl's sake.

"Architects and designers told us they wanted fresh new looks to choose from," he explained, "looks that are as vibrant and fashionable as other trend-setting interior finishes."

Perspectives features a variety of abstract visuals that offer ambiguity in design. It's not intended to directly replicate natural materials, but instead offer a visual flexibility that can be perceived and used in many ways. Twelve colors comprise the line. It is available in both 6-foot, 6-inch-wide sheet goods and 24-inch-square format. The striking looks of this product make it a natural for use in high-profile hospitality, retail and entertainment environments, although it would also work well in healthcare, office and educational applications. Another potential winner the judges missed!

The Mohawk Group has reorganized its commercial division brands to fit virtually every budget. Designers can choose woven classics from Karastan or the fashion-forward style of Durkan. When the bottom line rules, choose between the long-term, proven durability of Mohawk or the reliable value of Bigelow. All the products are coordinated to work together to take you, for example, from the corridor to the boardroom.

Crossville's Aurora Collection of porcelain stone, which was a finalist in the Workplace Awards category at NeoCon, is designed for interior and exterior use.
Amticointroduced a terrific collection called Couture.Iced Glass, Shell, Pressplate, Molten, andMicroprovide beautiful visual textures that can be mixed and matched. The depth of the designs offers a fresh and innovative look that can be used to create unique and exciting interiors.

Crossville Ceramics scooped up awards during the show for two new products. Its Cross-Grip non-slip porcelain stone tile won the Innovation Award from Buildings and Buildings Interiors magazines. The product, which was designed to reduce slips and falls in restaurants, was created at the request of the National Restaurant Association's risk managers.

Typically, quarry products with carborundum particles are used in the "back of the house" or kitchen areas. Crossville says the Cross-Grip surface will outperform these types of tiles, as its raised-point texture is an integral part of the porcelain tile itself. Abrasive particles in alternative products can wear down or even become detached, leaving a pit in the tile's surface. Intensive abrasion testing indicates that, even after heavy wear, the surface of the Cross-Grip tiles remains slip-resistant - resulting in fewer falls and ultimately less damages paid to injured parties. The good looks of Cross-Grip prompted White Castle restaurants to specify the product for use in the front areas of their branch locations.

Another beauty at the Crossville booth was the company's new Aurora tile, which was a finalist in the Workplace Awards category. Aurora is in its element whether outdoors or in. Like natural slate, the color varies from tile to tile to make the final installation quite unique. And porcelain stone does not need to be sealed like slate. Aurora is available in two different finishes - a slip-resistant outdoor surface and a smoother easy-to-clean indoor surface.

Other NeoCon highlights

In the way of education, Kaye Gosline of Solutia presented a stimulating color forecast called Gardens of Color. Contract colors have gone "back to the land" for inspiration in 2002. It's not the muddy earthtones of the past making a comeback, but rather the clear colors of the global garden. The emergence of blue and green has led the move to very organic neutrals that result in a clean, fresh-cut palette. The 2002 palette is divided into Meadow, Heartland, Herbal, and Zen categories.

As I joined the throngs of Chicago residents in the traffic rush home, I hardly worried about the heat, backups and accidents. The show was so innovative and stimulating that all I could think about was getting back to the studio to look for projects suited to the coolly innovative products unveiled at NeoCon.