The new indoor/outdoor carpets: Tough, durable and not just green anymore
Maybe it's the influence of TV home improvement shows or maybe it's a byproduct of the Internet's reach, but consumers now seem compelled to spruce up areas in their house that have received scarce attention in the past. And that has been good news for the often overlooked indoor/outdoor carpet segment.
The products today are a far cry from the "artificial grass" covering that still define the category in many minds. In fact, those involved in indoor/outdoor flooring stress that success in the category rests with the ability to produce outdoor products that are as highly styled as the items found indoors.
"The outdoor segment is growing, with an increase in upscale design and improved styling," says Chuck McClurg, Shaw's commercial carpet marketing manager. "As consumers continue to expand their indoor spaces to the outdoors, they are looking for a floor covering that complements the space and performs well in natural elements."
"Today's looms are faster, more flexible and provide large-scale design capabilities," he explains. "We are utilizing the newest structuring technology available to create our products."
Shaw's Inside Out collection, which includes needlepunch, tufted and turf entries, comprises three new styles that optimize these advances. The new carpets - Aesthetic Retreat, Axis and Southernland - offer small, medium and large-scale patterns for both residential and commercial use. The company has also launched the Terrace Indoor/Outdoor Rug Collection, comprising 24 products featuring intricate layers of patterns.
The carpets incorporate basic design characteristics needed in all indoor/outdoor materials: UV and moisture resistance, along with high durability and performance. Understandably, the real test for indoor/outdoor carpet is harsh weather. A quality product must keep from warping, staining or delaminating even in the toughest conditions.
"The main differences between indoor/outdoor carpeting versus carpeting used in the home are the addition of UV stabilizers into the fibers and secondary backings that protect the carpet from outdoor conditions," says Mike McAllister, Beaulieu of America's vp marketing.
Beaulieu of America's wide selection of indoor/outdoor products was created with these features in mind, he says. The designs take cues from another area of carpet built to be tough: commercial carpet looks. Also, in keeping with the company's approach to the market, there is a host of intricate patterns to choose from.
"When Beaulieu first got started in the business, most of the indoor/outdoor patterns were pile saxonies that looked like grass," McAllister recalls. "The biggest change over time has been the addition of patterns and constructions, and the additions of colors other than various shades of green."
He notes that many of the company's current indoor/outdoor products are influenced by Beaulieu's berbers and other high-end looks normally found inside the home.
"The PVC gives the look, from a distance, of a real sisal," he says. "People are using it in commercial and residential installations, in kitchens, bathrooms, porches and patios. Consumers are finding that they can have a natural look in places where normally a sisal couldn't go: outside."
High-end products such as Seasons virtually eliminate the worry that an outdoor carpet will degrade over time, Wessinger says. Consumers feel as though they have invested in a durable look.
"Consumers realize that if they want something nice outside that's going to stay nice outside, they're going to have to pay for it," he notes. "They want not only function out of their carpet, but form as well."
The focus on design and the emphasis on treating flooring as an aesthetic object is helping to propel the indoor/outdoor carpet segment, say those involved in the category. When done right, the outdoor areas adjacent to the home look like a seamless continuation of what is on the floor inside the house.
"Today's homeowner is looking to expand her interior space outdoors," says Shaw's McClurg. "Manufacturers continue to upgrade this category in both style and design. As the overall styling in this segment matures, the end-use applications will expand both residentially and commercially."
Sidebar: This is not your father's Astroturf...Hardly anyone calls it "Astroturf" anymore, and many in the business have never been fond of the term "artificial turf" because it sounds, well, phony. Most prefer the term "landscape turf." Still, whatever it is called, it is clear that the market for products made to resemble real grass is growing like a weed.
"It's gone from a $500,000 market to a $20 million market in the past three to four years," says Darby McCamy, vp sales and marketing of Evergreen Synthetic Turf, the parent company of Grass-Tex. His company's latest entry is the Mardi Grass collection, a landscape turf made using a polyethylene and nylon mix. Thanks to significant advances in chemical technology, the product looks just like natural grass, according to McCamy,
"The grass blade is polyethylene and the root zone is nylon," he explains. "Most people come in with this preconception that it's going to look fake. They are surprised at how good it looks."
The preconception stems from the product's origins. Developed in the late 1950's by Monsanto Industries, artificial turf gained wide recognition in 1966 when the Houston Astros began playing baseball in the Astrodome on a synthetic surface dubbed "Astroturf." The playing field and others like it were widely disparaged over the years as phony looking and generally unnatural.
Still, there have long been regional pockets where consumers show interest in grass-like outdoor turf. Perhaps not surprisingly, many hail from the Southwest. Apart from using it to patch bare spots on a lawn, it is seen as a means of conserving water in desert-like climates. Some creatively use the product to accent areas around their shrubbery, McCamy says. What's different now, he says, is that sales are also picking up in the Northeast and other areas where outdoor turf has never been a big seller.
"We're seeing it specified in landscaping in New York and Pennsylvania. Commercial builders are using it in common areas and on rooftops."
As technology continues to advance, consumers are less inclined to see the greenery adjacent to their house as an unnatural adornment. Rather than see it as a backyard of polyethylene and nylon, they are more inclined to see it as a lawn that requires virtually no maintenance.
"The more natural the product has become, the more people are attracted to it," McCamy says.
And no one will have to mow it.