Nood Fashion's Spork carpet, shown at NeoCon, evidences how widely the commercial segment is evolving.

A sure way to determine the styling trends that will shape the world of commercial flooring in the coming winter months is to take a trip to Chicago in mid-summer. North America's largest commercial interior design show and conference, NeoCon, saw more than 1,200 companies vying for attention and more than 50,000 attendees from the design world flocking to see the latest tends. The objective is to ferret out the innovative products that will set the pace for office, healthcare, hospitality, retail and other non-residential environments. As we head into autumn and with the show long over, we are only now fully realizing the far-reaching impact of this year's gathering. In short, the contract industry is truly hitting its stride. There is a dazzling array of new options that are perking things up. And yes, flooring is a big part of the festivities.

Johnsonite introduced Cubis stair treads at NeoCon to complement the company's rubber flooring of the same name.
The 2006 edition of NeoCon was a welcome departure from recent years that saw the mega-trade show noticeably quieter in terms of products, people and festivities. But during my visit I did notice that the wait for an elevator rivaled the lines of Disney World. Excitement was in the air and the place was jumpin'! And no wonder, show organizers now tell me the attendance was up by more than 15 percent over 2005.

Appropriately enough, the ground floor of the Mart was graced with one of the more eye catching carpet entries. The entrance of Gensler's interactive exhibit "The Art of Interaction" was highlighted by tufted nylon flooring more comfortable than any faux grass I've ever stepped on. The product is Spork by Nood Fashion of Dalton, Ga., a relatively new company founded in 2005 by a veteran of the carpet business, Bo Barber. Its focus is on two priorities that are rewriting the rulebook in commercial flooring: Dazzing style and an increasingly strong embrace of environmentally friendly practices.

Theirs was the first of many unique products. A central eclipse of the display contained a touch-sensitive floor that creates a light boundary around each person entering. The greater the number of people entering, the more complex the framework became. On the exterior, each column was wrapped with a question about collaboration and visitors were invited to answer questions with a red Sharpie! I added my 2 cents worth and was off and running.

Probably the biggest buzz was not about flooring per se but design innovations that are expected to advance commercial projects. (This, of course, is great news for commercial flooring as new designs inspire change from the ground up.) Among the most notable was Herman Miller's grand innovation called the "anti-cubicle" office furniture system. Anyone who has spent time toiling in a cubicle will want to check out this one. And the fabrics can work beautifully in residential settings. That is a trend that has been occurring in the world of floor coverings as well.

Also turning heads, or at least making them cast their gaze downward, was Forbo Flooring's new The Comfort Program, a versatile collection of linoleum and vinyl acoustic/cushion flooring. In this program Marmoleum Decible, Quartz Decible and Eternal Wood Decibel combine to create a complete solution for various acoustic and cushion flooring needs. In addition to impact sound reduction-an increasing important aspect of commercial design, The Comfort Program provides cushioned comfort under foot.

Meanwhile, Rhythm in Weave, a new product collection from Mohawk Commercial, is bringing the look of authentic high-end style sisal weaves to the workplace. The two patterns in this group include Fresh Tapestry and Inspired Sisal in 13 color-ways of natural hues. The rhythm of the loom as it weaves is reflected in their balanced patterns. Their compatibility when paired in an installation is a given.

Always a leader in environmental products, Pacificrest introduced Venice and Monaco for corporate suites, corridors and commercial environs. Made in California, they are designed to contribute to the total building materials requirements for rapidly renewable materials in LEED guidelines.

Also new norament luxor and norament metro are two of several new rubber flooring products introduced by nora Rubber Flooring at NeoCon. Natural stone was the inspiration behind luxor's new designer-oriented, high-performance product line. This unique flooring product offers the natural look and high style of terrazzo while having all the maintenance features that nora rubber flooring products bring to design. Sixteen standard colors offer the designer more options than Mother Nature ever offered. norament metro takes on the look of solid concrete slabs and lends itself to design trends in contemporary architecture and retail design. nora also promises a noraplan environcare introduction later this year.

Johnsonite took steps to new heights with the introduction of Cubis and Bamboo stair treads that coordinate with floor tiles by the same names. This creates a system that balances life safety with the visual appeal of the space. May be just the thing for the latest project I'm working on: a four-story, high-end condo for independent senior living. Products like this can create aesthetic stairwell management. They get another A in my book for design perfection.

Small Stripes and Big Stripes are the latest additions to Plynyl, Chilewich's vinyl floor covering. The tiles have a woven vinyl face using bi-colored yarns that add dimension and help camouflage dirt and stains.

At Milliken Carpet, Color Vibe is a new carpet tile that allows designers to customize by selecting from standard patterns and then adding an accent color. The 36-inch modular tiles are made from WearOn nylon and include the ComfortPlus cushion backing. Giving the designer the ability to customize a standard product insures that more installations can now have a special flair.

Armstrong offered a variety of new products, from their hardwood, luxury vinyl tiles and linoleum product lines. The Artesian Classics Color-Wash line, from Robbins, is a real winner. Available in four species, the products are first washed with a black stain, sanded, then stained in a different color, and finished. The process enhances the texture and character of the wood grain. Another winner is Hartco's Century Farm line.

In the luxury vinyl tile line, look for the Natural Creations, EarthCuts and Mystix products. These products offer the beauty of hardwood, stone, pattern, texture and color that allow creativity with mixing and matching this coordinated trio. The Living Colors of Linoleum is offered in 89 colors. Now you have unlimited color along with the natural choice for sustainable design. Armstrong too has a product launch this fall with the Rave line of composition tile in 10 mouth-watering colors!

An ingenious product that is of note was The Floor-Mounted, Electrical Raceway System from Connetrac. The system allows users to adhere their own carpet to the exposed raceway cover, so that the innovative, floor-mounted raceways truly integrate with the floor covering in offices, schools, hospitals, libraries and beyond. At last, a product that really makes life a breeze.

And then I found a real coup. There comes a time when you realize that all the years you've spent in the industry have paid off. I found a new product line that is being launched this summer, but not shown at NeoCon. The product is called fused floor from Parterre. WOW! This product line of vinyl-fused flooring is a collection of planks and tiles that will wake up any installation. There are 6" x 36" planks in six species, 12" x 12" tiles with optical illusion, 18" x 18" tiles with metallic texture and 12" x 24" tiles that replicate metals of all kinds. Roche FitzGerald is the design mastermind behind this collection, as well as the rest of the Parterre line. My hats off to you Roche! It's a beauty. I can see the Planks in my living/dining area, the Urban charcoal in my kitchen and the Bombay pewter in my entry. Hum. Maybe the South Beach chrome in the bath?

That's what a trip to NeoCon will do to you. Every designer is looking for that perfect product for his or her next project. Or you find something that will work in your own home. What you realize as you leave for home, with all your bags of samples and literature, is that you only have twelve short months to use them all until the industry offers you another round of new things. Yikes! I've got to get busy.