Shaw's new Flux System represents an innovative direction that should appeal to designers. The system allows the specifier to determine where the repeats should be in the design of the floor.

A deluge of interior designers, architects and facility managers headed for the NeoCon World’s Trade Fair at the Merchandise Mart greets anyone traveling in downtown Chicago during the third week of June. These folks spend three days combing more than 1 million square feet of exhibit space searching for what’s new in contract furnishings. Many of them have been making this pilgrimage for 35 years. The event covers the best-of-the-best in all that these professionals need to design premier interiors.

While I’ll be talking mostly about floor coverings, the big news at this show is always the furniture. This year, the category offered colorful and free-styled office systems. Upscale, executive furnishings incorporated metals with wood. And textiles offered more metallic finishes and accents. I mention this only because the trends in furniture also translate to the floor in some of the most exciting floor coverings that have ever been offered.

Durkan Commercial's Sunset Boulevard Collection gives you a flavor of the east and west, with the West Coast Family reflecting the earthy and natural tones of a desert vista.
The first stop on my NeoCon 2003 tour wasMannington Commercial.Always on the cutting edge, Mannington is “clicking” (the process used to cut the tiles) away at new carpet tiles. Designers need not worry about patterns, direction of design or size. It’s all been designed into the product and the results are incredible. The company even provides tools to design online -- you can try it for yourself on the Internet at

Carpet tiles were the hot ticket at this year’s show. Many manufacturers presented new offerings in this variety. Blue Ridge Commercial Carpet took it one step further in using 100% undyed sheep’s wool for their new Natural Collection. The three natural colors in the collection range from beige to dark gray and provide the ability to blend with nearly every color scheme.

At Shaw Contract, the William McDonough Portfolio, A Walk in the Garden, featured photographic images of McDonough’s stroll through a garden in China. And Milliken offered 32 colors in its Simply Inspired 36-inch modular carpets.

In the broadloom arena, Lees Carpet teamed up with students from North Carolina State University to produce the rbn (pronounced “urban”) carpet collection. The elements of bright lights, loud cars, constant motion, and change were the elements of city life that served as inspiration for the product. Its dense construction and 10 neutral colors make this collection ideal for high-visibility and signature areas of a facility.

Back at Shaw, the new Flux System program offers forward-thinking design, with various options of scale, pattern and color fitting together seamlessly to allow the carpet to act as a more powerful design tool. The carpet reflects gradients of shadow and light, but the designer can specify the length of the repeat element to best fit the space he or she needs to fill. Interestingly, Flux pioneers the concept of using multiple patterns together in a systematic manner to create unlimited variables of holistic design.

The head-turning East Coast shades of the Sunset Boulevard Collection are nearly neon bright.
AtPacificrest Mills,I took a tour ofBig Cities meet Small Towns.The trio of Richmond, Charleston and Wilmington are designed for flexibility. The series includes color and style options for bold urban effects or a subtle main-street approach. Pioneering the application of an innovative, proprietary space-dye/over-dye technology developed by Solutia, Pacificrest’s design team combines multiple colors with high- and low-luster yarns to create impressive dimension, texture and depth. Because of the refraction of light, each colorway features as many as 26 tonal effects.

Color, bold and bright, was the name of the game at the Bentley Prince Street booth. The Kings Road Collection was infused with 72 new colors (in addition to the 66 original colors), including six different shades of black. If you’ve ever tried to match black, you know the wisdom here! Otherwise, the place was alive with color, with most new lines offering 18 colorways of bold, pulsating color, much like the music being played.

At the Mohawk Commercial Carpet exhibit, the emphasis was again on color. They’ve teamed up with Pantone, the color folks, to put a universal language of color under your feet and into your hands. Every base yarn they use for Karastan Contract, Durkan Commercial and Durkan Patterned Carpet has been coded according to Pantone for the architecture and interiors color palette. That means you can match carpet to paint chips, laminates, fabrics, or anything else that uses the same universal language of color.

And speaking of color, the Durkan Commercial Sunset Boulevard Collection has color down to a tee. The West Coast family of colors reflects the tones of a desert vista -- earthy and natural -- while the East Coast shades are nearly neon bright and head turning. These high-intensity colorations are achieved by using Prismatic yarns, made possible by a process that allows piece dying of the background colors without dulling the bright pre-colored pattern accents.

Moving on to hard-surface flooring at NeoCon, one could hardly miss the new booth at Nora Rubber Flooring. Designed by Gensler’s retail and workplace studios, the booth emphasized the fact that Nora has the goods to impress! Large photos of flooring installations showed dynamic installations of the colorful rubber product.

Color was also important at the Forbo booth where the company launched its third Artoleum flooring collection. Inspired by the pointillist paintings of Seurat and Signac, the Passione Collection uses pure unmixed colors that are applied next to each other in dots and stripes. The same effect of stronger color that occurs in pointillist paintings occurs in Passione, where the colors are stronger -- by not being mixed!

Among the other additions to the Bentley King's Road palette were some lively neon colors.
Domco Tarkettlaunched several new lines. FromTarkett SommercomesPrimo Plus,a new homogeneous vinyl flooring option that provides high quality, medium-priced flooring. Sixteen colorways, with a non-directional design, make this product well suited for numerous locations including schools, health care facilities and retirement homes. TheAzrockline launched 10 new colors that pop, bringing bolder, more creative design possibilities to the specifier.

At Lonseal, the green streak continues to grow with their new LonEco Mesa line. “Green” refers to environmentally friendly products, and LonEco Mesa fits the bill on green and beautiful. It’s one of the first and finest embossed-surface eco-friendly floors on the market. Composed of 50 percent recycled vinyl and wood powder, LonEco emits one-tenth as many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as linoleum and 50 percent less than rubber surfaces. And these green benefits come without sacrificing any of the durability and utility for which Lonseal is known. The palette of five natural earthtones is right in step with the prevailing contemporary color trends.

Quartzite was the news at the Crossville Porcelain Stone/USA booth. This new stone look has all the properties of real quartzite because the color variation in each tile is random. The tiles blend beautifully with one another and make every installation unique -- a designer’s dream! With this porcelain product, you can have the beauty of nature without the costly maintenance of cleaning and sealing that Mother Nature’s product requires. Available in four-color families and a wide variety of sizes, starting at 3-by-3-inch format, the product is suitable for virtually any floor, wall or countertop.

Other categories of floor covering to note are cork and bamboo. While bamboo is relatively new to the U.S. market, cork had been around for centuries. The new cork products come in a variety styles, colors and finishes. This renewable product is truly the most natural of all products and will last for years.

So that, in a nutshell, is the news from the Windy City. Another NeoCon has come and gone. But as I headed home to Wisconsin, taking the breathtaking route along the shore of Lake Michigan, I could only guess that the designers and architects who attended this year’s show have to be excited to get back to their offices so that they can design a whole new world for us to work in!