Every decade moves design forward in leaps and bounds. Think about the fashions we wore back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. At the time, we thought we had the cool factor. Looking back, we are more likely to say, “…what was I thinking?” Fashion, technology, electronics and interior design all have one thing in common: Every decade delivers better aesthetics and function. As products continue to evolve, they lend themselves to unexpected applications—and floor coverings are a great example.

Area rugs. In residential design, there are notable cases of crossover uses in just about every floor covering category.  For example, beautiful area rugs have served as artistic wall art in many residential designs. Curved walls are a huge challenge for designers, and the exquisite selection of area rugs (often available in custom sizes and colors) is a real problem solver. This may have been one of the first “discoveries” in employing floor coverings for vertical applications. With that discovery, product developers now design area rugs that could qualify as fine art. If you are a retailer, marketing the use of colorful rugs for floors or wallsis an absolute must, and displaying them as such in your showroom is good marketing.

Ceramic and glass tile. Ceramic and porcelain tile manufacturers were early responders to market demands for crossover materials. Customers were frequently selecting tile they loved for backsplashes or tub surrounds, only to find that they were designated for floor use only. Manufacturers wisely expanded collections to include lighter-weight versions (both matching and coordinating patterns) for wall applications. This has led to well-rounded collections that make the design process much easier, and is a great example of the floor covering industry identifying gaps in product lines and creating products to meet consumer needs quickly. 

Let’s drill down to some real-world examples. Oceanside Glasstile, headquartered in Carlsbad, Calif., is a company that prides itself in offering inspired glass tile creations. Their catalog opens with a quote from Marc Chagall, “Great art picks up where nature ends,” and that is a goal they have arguably achieved. What is most impressive is the number of collections they offer with crossover applications, including just how many of their styles are approved for walls, floors (both interior and exterior) and even pools and spas.  Continuity is one of the key principles of design, and this company has devoted much of their product line to accomplishing that end.

Daltile attacked the crossover product concept from a different angle. They are among the tile manufacturers that have a number of product choices in colors and patterns suitable for both walls and floors. “Heathland” is a ceramic, red-body floor tile (12” x 12” or 18” x 18”) that has a companion wall tile in ceramic white-body ceramic. Both are 5/16” thick and bring a soft, marbleized look to floors and walls. 

According to Linnea Graves, an Anaheim, Calif.-based Daltile Gallery manager, “Our pattern Florentine is flying off the shelves. We attribute that to the unique choices offered. For the floor, the porcelain tile comes in a matte finish in a variety of sizes. For the wall, beautiful (matching) 10” x 14” and 12” x 24” tiles come with a gloss finish. The Cararra marble look is a hit with our customers. Having both matte and gloss is a perfect selection to coordinate walls and floors.

Hardwood. Of course, wood plank flooring lends itself to creative applications. A stunning example of transitioning flooring to full-spectrum design was brought to life last summer by HGTV designers. In creating the 2012 HGTV Urban Oasis project in Miami, the master bedroom became the crowning jewel in a luxury, ocean-view apartment.

To achieve a rich, cozy feel, the designers chose Mullican Flooring’s Castillian oak driftwood hardwood floor throughout the room. The 6” wide, wire-brushed planks added tons of character to the floor.  But why stop there? The designers’ creativity kicked into high gear. They used the same stunning weathered-oak planks as a custom backdrop for the contemporary canopy bed. The visual was carried up the wall and onto the ceiling! The effect, as you would expect, was dramatic.

Cork. Cork floors and wall tiles have become a staple in residential design. Cork’s popularity is showing up on horizontal and vertical surfaces throughout the home. If you are not familiar with the wide array of natural cork styles available, you are in for a treat (get the traditional cork-board visual out of your head—cork has in the past several years moved up to designer status).  Manufacturers have discovered exotic varieties that equate to good design on many levels.

Cork provides a great aesthetic, it’s a highly sustainable, eco-friendly material, it’s easy to maintain, provides thermal and acoustic insulation, comfortable to walk on, and is extremely durable. That’s quite a resumé, so no wonder applications continue to showcase out-of-the box thinking. Very few flooring materials can actually provide warmth underfoot andmitigate sound.  Home theaters are a great area for cork applications, including ceilings! This is one natural material that has a bright future.

LVT. I am frequently asked if luxury vinyl tile can be used on vertical surfaces residentially.  The unofficial answer is that it canbe applied to walls; however standard manufacturers’ warranties would not be in effect. LVT has been designed and tested to perform best on floors, so the warranties are directed to that use only. But that has not stopped many designers from creatively using LVT on walls and even ceilings. It’s user-friendly and easy to maintain, and that alone earns it a lot of attention.

Commercial. On the commercial side of design, we have a frontier yet to be explored when it comes to expanding floor covering applications. There is much to be considered with no room for error. Commercial codes are strict and must be adhered to, by law, for safety reasons. When it comes to wall coverings, they need to meet ASTM E-84 Class A test results. National building codes state that up to 10% of the wall covering can be less than ASTM E-84 Class A fire rated, but local building codes must be checked carefully. They may be even stricter and will take precedence over national codes.

Bottom line, every material must be tested and rated before it can be approved commercially for vertical surfaces. Without doubt, there is a demand for this and manufacturers are exploring options. New materials are being developed to satisfy the needs of commercial markets, but it will be a slower progression and require considerable investment.

Following the progress and evolution of floor coverings continues to be an interesting journey. Look at how far we’ve come in the last 10 years. The next decade is certain to bring many more solution-driven products to market. Expect some surprising results and new hybrid materials to be announced in the future. It’s going to be a progression that, no doubt, will continue to amaze us all.