Many of you reading this may very well have passed me as I scurried about the aisles at Surfaces earlier this year. With my appointment book in one hand, my notebook in the other and sensible (yet stylish) shoes on my feet, I spent three days with my eyes wide open. If you were not there, shame on you. This show is huge for anyone in the flooring industry. It is where floor covering manufacturers debut their hot new products. Remember, these products are the result of months (and sometimes years) of work involving R & D folks, designers, artists and, increasingly, environmental engineers. While the official attendance figures were slightly off from the previous year, the swirl of showgoers clogging the aisles made it clear that Surfaces is still the premier showcase for our industry.
My experience at Surfaces comes from a different perspective than people who are there to sell or buy flooring. As a veteran designer and sales and marketing specialist, I cruised the trade show with an eye out for emerging design trends. And yes, I found many. My mission was to interpret how those trends will translate to floor coverings. Now, having had a few months to digest the info I picked up at Surfaces and analyze what it means, I have drawn a few conclusions as to where flooring is headed in the coming months and beyond. So, just for you NFT readers, here is a summary of those hot new product trends evident at our February pow-wow in Las Vegas.
“ECO-nomics” is the first major trend I spotted while investigating the Surfaces exhibits. The term is a meshing of the words “ecology and economics” and you are likely to hear it a lot in the days and months ahead. Green-inspired design was everywhere you looked at the show. Milliken’s exhibit, for example, nailed it with a hanging mobile that read “A Healthy Planet.” Recyclable products throughout the exhibit hall proudly wore medallions proclaiming their earth-friendly status. Yes, we have been hearing about environmental concerns for a while but this show was something of a watershed for this type of “green design” thinking. Architects, designers and floor covering specialists all see green products as a key ingredient towards solving our environmental (and landfill) crises. Consider this observation from the Color Marketing Group International’s projections for 2007-08: “We are currently at the tipping point of Earth-Smart design. We will move from planning to action, decreasing reliance on oil and using alternate fuels, energy sources and recyclable materials. We will have greater awareness of our carbon footprint both nationally and individually.”
And if you are still wondering what “green design” means, it simply comes down to this: It is all about creating buildings and interiors that are healthier for people. It is using products and materials with the lowest possible environmental impact. What we are seeing is that this is not only good for Mother Earth; if approached properly it is good for the bottom line. Consumers like the idea of embracing “green” products. So? Have you been communicating our industry’s focus on environmental concerns? Do you let people know the story behind the recyclable products on your showroom floor? Don’t underestimate the selling power of eco-friendly products. If you think this is still a category reserved for “tree-hugger status” only-think again. It’s a fresh, relevant marketing approach that the public is ready to hear. Consumers want to feel good about the products they buy-and you have just the information and the products that can make them feel good, which is what you want, right? This tradeshow presented a wealth of “ECO-nomic” items: carpet pad, eco-friendly flooring adhesives, cork floors, wood floors, bamboo and sisal rugs, and recyclable fiber systems in carpets all enjoyed a high profile at Surfaces.
And, the designs of many products introduced at Surfaces embodied the Earth-Smart theme. Carpet patterns took a delightful turn toward more organic shapes and forms. Bamboo looks, basket-weave constructions, and block pattern-on-pattern styles gave depth and interest to broadloom. For the most part, patterns were subtler than in the past, echoing the quiet linear movements of nature. Tree-bark patterns and even sedimentary rock formations were all inspirations for this new breed of graceful broadloom designs.
Color trends are taking cues from nature. Designers are embracing palettes that are a good mix of soft neutrals (as expected), but also resonated with some deep rich colors as well. Kraus was a leader at the show in respect to color trends. Their Forces of Nature collection captured the true essence of mineral, botanical and aquatic hues. Coppery tones borrowed from granite quarries mimic the best of the Earth. Stone gray carpets are multi-toned, reflecting the many stages of weathered rock. Greens are yellow-based botanical hues, drawing from rainforests and jungle vegetation for the colors. Blues are deep and true, leaning towards cobalt. This remarkable palette is rounded out with autumnal golds and a sunset red.
Another big trend evident at Surfaces was hard to miss: Hardwood exhibits absolutely dominated a huge section of the exhibit hall. Why? One word: “Authenticity.” Wood and all its new machinations offers the nature-based designs consumer are craving. Manufacturers have introduced more choices, colors and finishes than ever before. Both domestic and exotic woods captured attention. In the exotic category, several stars stood out: Brazilian Cherry (mid-tone reds), Sangria Rosewood from Brazil (featuring deep claret tones), Kapalu (a light, tropical hardwood) from Hawaii, and rich African walnut (dark and rich) were all featured at Surfaces.
I was privileged to be invited to a private showing of Harris-Tarkett's experimental wood products and was asked to rate them on aesthetics and salability. One new trend unveiled here was the introduction of “fumed woods.” This is a new process whereby wood is exposed to ammonia and concentrated high heat. This induces a chemical reaction. The result is a fresh, enticing look. Dark woods lighten at the edges creating a soft hand-antiqued look. Lighter woods react to the process just as well, darkening at the edges and creating interesting dark striations throughout the wood.
In the world of ceramic, glass tile, porcelain tile, and even granite seen at Surfaces, color was abundant. If there is one sector of decorative floor coverings that is not afraid of color, it is porcelain and ceramic tile. Deep purple, Aegean blue, rich golds and deep reds were all on display in memorable vignettes. Bedrosian Tile based in Anaheim, Calif., introduced a stunning glass border tile (part of their “Leaf” series) that featured a gold-leaf metallic core encased in colored glass. It appeared to be three-dimensional when applied to a wall surface. Picture this three-dimensional effect in topaz, suede brown, aquatic blue and even shining silver-leaf. Also notable was a new shape of glass tile-a convex bubbled glass in playful primary and secondary colors. The unusual shape of each tile captures and reflects light to create a luminous look.
Yet for all this color, there was an interesting prevalence of white at Surfaces. White continues to be important in interiors for 2007, especially in tile. Notable product introductions included an interesting “carved-look” tile which provided architectural dimension. Also the Urban Chic style was a major influence in the introduction of metallic wall and floor tiles. Bronze, pewter, silver and gold finishes were all on display at Surfaces as important accents for kitchen and bath designs. Embossed designs, and smooth and pebbled finishes in floor and wall tiles all added to the allure of the metals.
One other impressive product group that continues to create its own trend is area rugs. More than ever, rugs have become the crowning glory of home interiors. Deep, gem-like colors were captivating and woven into some surprising patterns. Floral themes were particularly eye-catching. Contemporary positive/negative design motifs produced rugs that were definitely worthy of artwork status.
As I reflect back on Surfaces 2007, it did not disappoint. Important design trends emerged loud and clear. Earth-Smart design led the way, supported by colors, styles and patterns that echo the best of nature. The eco-friendly products introduced at Surfaces might just become your best sellers as this year progresses. Display them wisely and with prominence. Learn the story behind them and just how they earned their “green” status. And if you’ll forgive the pun: they might just earn more “green” for your bottom line.