Manufacturers say carpet buyers these days are more open minded about home design options and have had their horizons broadened by influences ranging from the Internet to home makeover shows. Sometimes, they say, people just like to make a statement and standout in the crowd.
"Consumers do not want what everybody else has," says Vickie Gilstrap, vp of style & design for Mohawk. "They want something that makes a statement about who they are and what they like."
For many, carpet shopping for the home has become a real eye-opener. The latest residential designs are taking cues from the bold patterns that have been a staple of commercial carpets for years. Still, Gilstrap cautions that it is not simply a matter of placing commercial carpet in a home. The design direction often described as "resi-mercial" requires some important fine-tuning.
Patterns that are especially geometric or austere, for example, might work wonders in a corporate hallway, but they won't radiate warmth in a family room. Similarly, the solution-dyed colors in commercial carpets require a dense, pulled-down construction, a feel that would never play in the home, where softer is better.
"One of our most popular things right now is soft yarns," Gilstrap says. "Because of all the hard surfaces in the home, people are ready to embrace softer yarns. They want that cottony feel in the living room and the bedroom."
Trends in carpet are also being shaped by the growing popularity of hard surface flooring, says Annette Callari, merchandising specialist for Anso, the residential arm of Honeywell Nylon. Apart from the need to complement vinyl, tile of wood with a soft and inviting carpet surface, the growing presence of hard surfaces can encourage a homeowner to be a bit more daring. The thinking goes that if homeowners no longer have to worry about going wall-to-wall with the same look, they are free to open up and experiment with intricate patterns.
"There are carpets already on the scene, on a limited basis, that simulate the textures of granite and marble," Callari says. "Those carpets are around just to coordinate the hard and soft surfaces within the home. Hard surfaces are very popular, and carpet designs are responding to that."
Nevertheless, patterned carpets for the home present a special challenge to carpet makers. Callari says. The patterns, after all, have to be "more livable than they have ever been before," incorporating nature-inspired motifs, botanicals, linear shapes and geometrics in a way that is not only unobtrusive, but also inviting to the homeowner.
"The homeowner wants luxury," she says. "Color is way up there on the list of what they're looking for. So is the actual hand of the carpet - the way it feels. And finally, price. That's important to know. The buying decision is going to be based on the design elements first."
Kathy Young, director of creative services for Shaw, agrees that design elements unheard of only a few years ago figure prominently in the residential carpet segment. She adds that it is also well understood that women make the buying decisions for home furnishings.
"The female consumer is the one who is buying our product," she notes. "We need to understand her needs and treat her well. Value to her is not only a price - it's the full package of what this product is going to do for her home. Design is very important to her."
Technology also plays a major role in the popularity of patterned residential carpets, according to Paul Engle, vp of marketing for Royalty Carpet Mills. He credits the now widespread use of the level cut loop (LCL) tufting machine with providing carpet makers with unprecedented design capabilities.
"On older graphic machines, design capabilities were restricted," Engle says. "You couldn't make a flower, for example, or have a big, sweeping loop. Everything had to be diamonds, squares, grids or checks. With the LCL, we can put a signature in the carpet. We can put a likeness of a face in the carpet. We can put a Blockbuster Video or Florida Marlins logo in the carpet."
Despite design flexibility that can be used for residential carpet as well as commercial, the patterns on an LCL can only be completed in monotone or two-tone color. Engle stresses that such subtle designs work well in a home setting. "Consumers don't want so much color combination that it will restrict the overall design of the room, clashing with the furniture and everything else."
"These patterns work and they're easy to look at and easy to live on," he says. "That has been why this whole movement of residential patterns has exploded. It has really become a big hit for the industry."
Coming soon: Brighter colors, deeper palettes
As patterned carpets continue to expand the range of options available to consumers, designers have stayed busy cranking out new innovations. NFT spoke with several veterans of the carpet manufacturing and yarn supplier fields to find out what's next
‘Feminine luxury' According to Vickie Gilstrap, Mohawk's design guru, carpet makers arrive at many of their colorways by looking at what's new on the runway. While the flooring industry has always used fashion as a bellwether for flooring styles, the speed of the process has accelerated to the point where it is virtually instantaneous. "Fashion used to take about a year or two before it went into home furnishings," Gilstrap says, "but with the Internet, we're seeing fashion moving into the home faster and faster. Customers are seeking out a feeling of feminine luxury to embellish their homes." If current fashions are any indication, the vibrant colors seen in floors now will soon start cooling and "bluing over," she says.
‘Rich new colors' Annette Callari, Honeywell Nylon's advisor on color and design, is in the process of selecting colors for Anso's next round of carpet yarns. Her prediction? "Look for broadloom carpets to feature deep, rich colors," she says, including mid-tone chromatic browns, deep blues, and rich, fresh greens. "It's a huge, huge difference over last year."
‘Lifting the veil' Kathy Young, Shaw's director of creative services, says that colors are starting to lose their muted shades. "There's been a lifting of the grey veil that sat on some of these colors," she says. In their place, she sees mango reds, pink salsas and lavenders working their way into the mainstream. "People are looking to complement the greens in their homes, and those colors work well for that," she notes.
‘Deeper and warmer' The light whites and light beiges are falling back and "deeper, darker, richer, warmer" colors are taking the lead, says Paul Engle, vp of marketing for Royalty Carpet Mills. "Some grays and plums are coming back in as accents and variations," he notes. "We're seeing darker chocolates, medium milk chocolates and some deeper, rustier tones."