Armstrong's Stratamax resilient flooring is designed for loose-lay installation.

Mirabello, a sandstone pattern new to Nafco by Tarkett’s PermaStone range.

Resilient flooring makers are shaking things up. Across the category, manufacturers are embracing designs that may turn heads and raise eyebrows. Not surprisingly, hardwood and natural stone visuals are still the bread and butter of the segment. Yet while manufacturers look to these natural materials for inspiration, they’re also enticing consumers with outside-the-box designs - including vinyl made to look like carpet, and even glass. In the process, resilient makers are also shaking off the perception that resilient is still widely regarded as that patterned kitchen tile from the ‘70s.

Amtico, for example, is leading the charge with innovative designs, says David Voll, senior marketing manager for the Atlanta-based company. Among Amtico’s introductions: Linear, a collection designed to resemble commercial carpet tile; Stained Concrete visuals in six colors; and Glass, a residential style designed to emulate glass tile. “The big point with us is always the visual,” he says. “You have to get down and touch the floor to know whether or not it’s the real thing.”

The company is also expanding into new markets. Amtico recently signed on as a manufacturing partner with retail giant CCA Global Partners. The long-term agreement with CCA Global retail groups Carpet One Floor & Home, Flooring America and ProSource Wholesale Floorcoverings will give Amtico a high level of exposure in the residential segment, Voll says. Fittingly, the company launched 39 new residential SKUs at Surfaces along with an upgraded merchandising unit. “With our new agreement with CCA Global,  we are getting heavily back into residential,” says Voll. “We definitely see it as an area of growth for us.”

Northcrest from Mannington's Sobella fiberglass-backed resilient flooring line.

Purchased last year by Tarkett, resilient maker Johnsonite is also expanding into new segments. Primarily known as a rubber flooring and finishing accessories maker, the Chagrin Falls, Ohio-based company recently launched a range of vinyl sheet, luxury vinyl tile and linoleum offerings based on products in Tarkett’s line. And that gives the company a distinct advantage, says Jeff Krejsa, Johnsonite’s marketing director.

“We can go into a healthcare facility and offer full solutions,” he says. “The operating rooms might use homogeneous vinyl. Other areas of the hospital might use linoleum. We’re bringing it all together under one brand. It benefits end-users from an aesthetic point of view, a functional view, and a logistical one, because they’re dealing with a single-source supplier. That is the intent of the whole program.”

Facility managers and other commercial clients increasingly want products that not only perform, but look good as well, says Diane Martel, vp of marketing for Tarkett’s Azrock division.

“We’re seeing more colors used as accents than three years ago,” she says. “There’s a big interest in the design community in making colorful and unique rooms. The function of the product is crucial, but so is the form.”

Azrock, which is celebrating a milestone 75 years with special events and advertising, is an industry pioneer, Martel adds. “We keep improving the technology with new ways of making the product for enhanced performance and increased durability.”

Linoleum XF, part of Johnsonite's Tarkett collection.

Residential: Loose-lay tops list of innovations

Those involved in the residential side are quick to point out they are no stranger to innovation. One of the hottest trends in resilient is fiberglass-backed flooring. The product offers a cushioned, thicker feel than traditional felt-backed resilient, as well as the option of loose-lay installation. According to David Sheehan, Mannington’s resilient business manager, the demand for the product has even taken manufacturers by surprise.

“The demand for glass-backed product has been overwhelming,” he says. “We had in mind that we might place 1,000 displays of our Sobella product this year. But I’m proud to say we’ve already sold 5,000.”

Not withstanding its popularity, glass-backed flooring is still not a household name. “Demand for this product is not being driven by the consumer,” Sheehan says. “It is clearly being driven by retailers who believe that a glass-backed product is something new and exciting they can talk about. For a while we were on the fence about even launching a glass-backed product because we had concerns about performance that we had to address.”

Simply put, fiberglass-backed flooring has been known to buckle when it’s left as a loose-lay installation. This is because the material has trouble accommodating the movement of the subfloor, says Allen Cubell, Armstrong’s vp of residential resilient. “Softer, thicker floors generally lack durability,”  he says. “They are also extremely dimensionally stable, which is not so good in a loose-lay installation.”

His company offers the CushionStep line of fiberglass-backed flooring. But to help offset the problems inherent with the product category, installers often recommend gluing fiberglass-backed flooring down. “While using adhesive provides more durability, it also keeps the product from being a true loose-lay,” Cubell acknowledges.

To address the need for a “true loose-lay product,” Armstrong has taken the wraps off of StrataMax. The resilient flooring, which is not a fiberglass-backed product, uses the company’s ToughGuard II base layer made of limestone for “an incredibly durable, buckle-resistant loose-lay floor,” Cubell says. “If customers want something softer and thicker, they should go with CushionStep. But if performance is the prime factor – as requested by builders and property managers – StrataMax is the floor for them.”

Resilient maker Congoleum does not carry a fiberglass-backed resilient line yet, but one is coming, notes Dennis Jarosz, senior vp of sales and marketing for the Mercerville, N.J.-based company. “We plan to introduce a glass-backed product prior to the end of the year,” he says. “It represents a small percentage of the overall sheet flooring market, but it’s something we want to add.”

Where Congoleum focuses most of its energy is on high-style products with authentic wood, ceramic and stone looks, Jarosz says. “We specialize in bringing consumers new looks and performance enhancements. For example, we pioneered using silver in resilient flooring as a natural antimicrobial agent.”

Jarosz notes that, despite the slowing housing market, resilient flooring will always have a place in the home. Consumer demand, he says, will continue to fuel innovation in the category, which will ensure the long-term health of the segment.

“Vinyl still represents the only category consumers can put in their kitchen,” he says. “The product is virtually seamless and waterproof, with a much larger range of styles and color than even a few years ago. Vinyl is, and will always be, a great choice for the home.”