Reading the Tea Leaves: Style Drivers in the Residential Carpet Market
Nothing is so hard to nail down as the tastes and preferences of the residential floor covering consumer. Economic pressures, color trends and influences, media saturation and myriad other factors work together to shape and guide the consumer through the decision-making process…which can then turn on a dime.
To gauge just how important these influences are, and how the retail professional can benefit through understanding what’s on the residential carpet horizon, we asked three design heavyweights – Laurie Dillingham, Senior Manager Color, Style & Design for Beaulieu of America; Nathan Hammett, Manager of Color and Design, Residential Business at Mohawk; and Libby Cook, Senior Designer for Royalty Carpet Mills/Camelot Carpet Mills/PacifiCrest – for their thoughts on what’s driving today’s market and what’s on tap tomorrow.
floor trends: Let’s cut right to it: after a few years of what some have described as “relatively subdued offerings,” this year there seem to be more colors, more styles, more options for the residential consumer when it comes to carpet. Are we finally seeing the end of the idea that “all they want is beige”?
Laurie Dillingham: Realistically, we don’t believe we will ever see “an end” to the significance of neutrals in our market. As they have for decades, neutral floorcoverings will continue to provide a backdrop for consumers to experiment with bold pattern and color utilizing transitional elements within their space. The expanded offerings in our product lines has become a direct result of an evolution in market philosophy which now brings us a fashion forward perspective to the forefront of residential carpet design.
Nathan Hammett: I believe that is absolutely correct. After several seasons of somewhat conservative palettes, the consumer is longing for an influx of color in their lives, and this is obvious in almost every product category. The livelier colors that we’re seeing introduced appear to reflect a renewed optimism for the consumer and the market. A lot of people in our industry are using the phrase “Frugal Fatigue” to describe this movement.
Libby Cook: Optimism about a reprieve in the economic downturn means consumers have more confidence regarding major expenditures. People crave options with regard to style and color and are willing to experiment with the floor. They’re ready for a change to make them feel good, and color can do just that! Palettes in general are expanding to include colors taking their cue from fashion, entertainment, and global influences. Lots of solid and patterned carpets look inviting in colors other than beige and can create a unique interior, whether it’s a bold, saturated color or a soft pastel. In the end, though, beige is still a best seller.
ft: What are, in your opinion, carpet’s three greatest attributes? What should the homeowner really be aware of?
NH: Obviously, the aesthetic carpet offers is very important. Carpet is a great way to introduce color into settings that may have historically been more neutral. Comfort is another key benefit carpet offers. Consumers are spending more time at home. As a result, they are looking for new ways to bring more comfort into the home environment, which has them gravitating to carpet. Our new SmartStrand Silk collection is a great example of innovation born out of consumer demand and preference for softer carpet in the home, and I think this trend will continue. Last, carpet adds great insulation and noise reduction value.
LC: Allergen reduction and health. Many consumers are misinformed and mistakenly blame carpet for allergy-related problems. The Carpet & Rug Institute is an excellent resource for documentation on the subject; I pass along this information whenever I can. To quote the CRI ‘Studies have shown that carpet is better at trapping allergens than hard surface, such as tile or hardwood, because carpet fibers catch particles and allergens that fall to the floor. When allergens are trapped in the carpet, they cannot circulate in the air for you to breathe.’ I couldn’t have said it better.
Additionally, carpet is soft underfoot, reducing slip and fall incidents and minimizing injuries when falls occur. It also reduces noise and provides warmth.
LD: Carpet provides unrivaled comfort under foot in comparison to all other floor covering materials on the market while it additionally provides exceptional acoustical benefits offering homeowners a quiet retreat from their very busy lifestyles. Most importantly, carpet presents extensive styling variation with extreme diversity in color, pattern and texture it provides a breadth of options suited for virtually every design style.
ft: Let’s talk design: what are some of the influences driving the segment today? What’s sparking the creative flow, inspiring your concepts?
LC: Global design influences from shibori and ikat textiles are translating to the floor; textural, abstract patterns are plentiful. A renewed interest in all things vintage means revisiting damask, fleur or other motifs, but with softer, deconstructed edges. Continued growth in modern design results in tailored, small scale patterns that are suitable for transitional or traditional settings alike. Use of metallic finishes translates to the floor in brighter luster accent fibers. The crossover between residential and commercial interiors is growing closer; the commercial influence in residential design is evident in lower pile and more durable loop constructions.
LD: Current market trends have brought us bold graphic prints, ethnic inspired motifs and time worn influences. At the moment, we are very inspired with texture and weave both in their simplistic forms as well as the randomly organic. We are also intrigued with digital blurring effects and color wash techniques.
NH: I think most would agree the upscale fashion markets have more influence on home fashion products than probably any other factor. As a result we focus closely on the spring and fall fashion collections, which give us insight into the colors, textures and patterns we will be using in the coming season.
ft: As for colors, are we talking bold; muted; accented; diffused; something else? What’s prominent in the market today?
NH: Overall, bolder colors are more popular in the home, but not always for floor covering applications. Carpeting is often used as a background color that provides a base for bolder accent colors in smaller piece items. However, this can vary depending on price point and construction. Grays and blues are currently our most popular non-neutral colors, with gray actually taking over neutrals in some categories.
LD: Currently, we are seeing a less structured approach to color with unusual pairings prevalent. Palettes utilizing shades of grayed lavender, pale blue and botanical green accented by vibrant hues of yellow and orange bound together by the foundations of stone gray and warm black.
LC: When a carpet purchase is made for multiple rooms in a home it’s a major investment, so it’s going to be a color that will play off of the rest of the interior space and be suitable to decorate around for many years. Typically that means a neutral, or a color that is at least not a bold or bright hue. Carpet selected for individual rooms is definitely fair game for whatever mood or design concept the owner wants to create because the smaller quantity is less of an investment.
Given the amount of DIY design influences available to consumers these days people are more confident selecting carpet in bold or bright fashion forward colors.
In general neutrals are cooler; taupe and gray are continuing to gain momentum. Interest in blues in many forms is forecasted to grow due to global environmental and water awareness, strong growth of the denim industry, and ethnic textiles.
ft: Let’s look ahead. Realistically, how far down the road can you forecast consumer tastes and drivers and, without giving too much away, what do you personally see coming to market 3, 4, even 5 years from now?
LD: Technology has changed the reality of truly how far ahead we can accurately predict trends. The global marketplace is constantly changing – the exchange of inspiration, product and culture moves from one side of the globe to the other in mere seconds. This fluidity can be both extremely inspiring as well as challenging in the product development cycle.
Futuristically, we see an evolution in the consumer’s perception of carpet. We believe it will become more highly regarded as a premium flooring covering choice and as this philosophy emerges, styling will continue to evolve to meet the needs of those higher expectations. Additionally, we believe the market will aggressively pursue eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable options. We as manufacturers will need to meet the challenge and address those product needs while we focus efforts to communicate our environmental message at the residential level.
From a trend perspective, we feel the market will begin to showcase products that reflect artisanal influences and are represented with styling that is reminiscent of bespoke customization. Today’s consumers are very interested in utilizing products that allow them to make unique design statement within their own personal space. We no longer live in a culture that accepts “cookie cutter” design philosophy and our customers are looking for products that have distinctive qualities.
LC: When you’re looking at two years away the forecast is a slight modification from what’s happening now, textural and pattern differences, color shifts. Extending further out we’ll see exploration of alternative fiber options and lower face weights as consumers are increasingly conscientious about their environmental footprint. Raw material availability will become more critical and the demand for product will prompt hybrid fiber usage.
NH: I believe the consumer’s attention span has been greatly shortened by the increasing availability of new colors, patterns and products that they are constantly being exposed to via the internet and social media sites like Facebook and Pinterest. As a result, the life cycle of our products has been shortened as well. Customers see new variations every day which can make a product look dated by comparison after a relatively short shelf life. Global and cultural influences appear to have a very strong influence at the current time.