In the world of soft surfaces, carpet tile—or modular carpet—is no stranger as the product has been around for roughly 60 years.

From its start it was seen as a product that was beneficial for certain commercial environments, such as office buildings. Even so, it never took off, i.e., set the world on fire like some other products have in recent years—think laminate in the mid 1990s or more recently the LVT craze sweeping both residential and commercial markets.

Over the last 15 or so years, though, this has changed as technological advancements have made carpet tiles extremely attractive to architects and designers as well as facility managers.

In fact, while wall-to-wall carpet is still the mainstay in residential settings, modular products have become so popular in the commercial arena it has overtaken broadloom in marketshare. Based on a survey of manufacturers carpet tile now represents between 55% and 60% of all soft surface jobs in the specified contract segment—and the gap is widening each year. It should be noted when discussing the specified market it basically represents all commercial jobs other than Main Street. But even in this area it is growing as local businesses are realizing the many advantages carpet tile brings to the equation.

Mike Gallman, senior vice president of commercial product management for The Mohawk Group, said, “Carpet tile has become a top choice among designers and specifiers [and] is growing across all commercial areas. This being said, corporate offices and government remain the leading user segments. However, we’re seeing growth in hospitality as well.”

Peter Greene, vice president of marketing for Interface, said, “We see the secular shift from broadloom to carpet tile continuing to spread across commercial segments and into residential, as the benefits of tile outweigh the upfront cost benefits of cheaper broadloom. We’ve spent the last 40 years delivering this message, first to the office market, then to other commercial segments such as education, healthcare and retail; more recently, to hospitality and multi-family housing and, for the past 10 years, through our consumer sister brand FLOR.”

What has changed in recent years to make modular such a desirable product? Like many things there is no short answer as manufacturers cite a plethora of reasons, though a few generally standout as the key areas, including ease of handling, ease of installation, ease of maintenance, and even sustainability. But the reason most continually point to is, design flexibility. And, in many cases, it is the aspect of this that brings forth many of the other reasons mentioned.

Dave Mumford, president of Kraus USA, said in the commercial segments where carpet is specified, modular is an “easier to use product in just about every aspect. Technology has changed so much in this area it has really opened up what is available, especially in style and design as designers can use their imaginations in an almost unlimited manner.”

Ralph Grogan, president and CEO, Bentley Mills, agreed, saying, “We see a lot of increased interest with end users and designers as a result of this flexibility. Especially in higher education, the ability to utilize school colors and achieve dynamic design through installation is appealing.”

In fact, when it comes to designing with carpet tile, Rob Cushman, vice president of marketing for Beaulieu Commercial, said, “it used to be an afterthought.” Part of that reason has to do with how the product used to be manufactured, he noted. “In the past, most manufacturers would take a broadloom and cut it into carpet tile and hoped it worked. Now there is complete dedication to producing pure modular products.”

John Stephens, vice president of marketing for Shaw Contract Group, added, “Long gone are the days when the best carpet tiles were those that you couldn’t distinguish from broadloom. The ever-growing variety of designs, patterns, textures and shapes—such as hexagons and rectangular tiles—give architects, designers and end users limitless design options. Today, you can create distinct spaces within the same room by using a variety of carpet tile patterns or even a combination of modular and hard surface flooring to create room-defining insets, large-scale graphic patterns and wayfinding elements.”

Recognizing the floor is a central element to the design of any space, Alex Jauregui, senior vice president of Mannington Mills’ carpet business, pointed out how a well-designed carpet tile “opens up opportunities for unique installations. For instance new formats such as planks are available. Carpet tile offers the extra dimension in designing as the floor really becomes a canvas—its design incorporates the ability of breaking the pattern repeats in a more randomized manner using state of the art technology on tufting that produces pattern repeats beyond six-foot. Hiding or breaking pattern repeats is always a very desirable and pleasing effect in commercial interiors.”

Ross Leonard, vice president of marketing for J+J Group, the ability to hide or “camoflage” the look started a little more than six years ago when “manufacturers got better with colors and patterns. In the past you had to worry about dye-lot differences, meaning the blue wouldn’t be the same shade as it was a few years before. Today, with the advancements in design, as well as the ability to use non-directional placement you don’t have to worry about these differences.”

Kraus’ Mumford pointed out carpet tile can be laid in multiple ways, not like it used to be when a designer was limited to following the arrows on the back of the product to help create a proper design, or at best using the quarter-turn method. “Besides quarter-turn, there are numerous methods, from brick or ashlar. There are just so many ways you can put it down compared to broadloom, especially when you are dealing with borders.”

This ability to create varied designs without worrying about dye-lots and pattern repeats plays into modular’s ease of maintenance noted Leonard. “Because of this you can spot replace a tile if it becomes worn or stained. With broadloom if there is a stain that can’t be removed you are stuck with it until you replace the whole thing because taking out the section and seaming a new piece in will stand out. With carpet tiles this is not the case. This is one feature facility managers really like.”

Shaw’s Stephens added, “The emergence of mergeable dye lots makes it even easier to mix and match replacement tiles over the course of time without worrying whether colors will match previous orders exactly. This also reduces the need to store significant amounts of replacement stock on-site.”

Since carpet tiles come in boxes, they can be easily stored in a maintenance closet for future use, unlike like rolls of broadloom. By the same token, boxes of tile can be loaded on a pallet for easy transport, or a single box can be handled by one person, whereas a roll of carpet generally needs multiple people to carry around.

In addition, when working in office buildings, the ability to load a pallet on a freight elevator is much easier than a roll, especially older buildings which have smaller lifts, thus making it very difficult to get a piece of broadloom upstairs.

Finally, in today’s modern office environments where open spaces and furniture systems are the norm the development of lift systems in the last 20 years has really opened the door for carpet tile due to its ability to be installed in sections—or when needed spot replacements.

As Kraus’ Mumford said “The minimizing of business disruption is a big deal. With carpet tile it is so less disruptive, plus with today’s easy installation methods, such as releasable backings, you can install a 100 yards of carpet overnight and the client can be back in the morning without having downtime.”

Beaulieu’s Cushman, added, “CEO’s want as little downtime as possible and the A&D community is hearing from it clients about wanting products that cause little to no disruption in work. Carpet tile is perfectly suited for this.

When discussed in its totallity it is easy to see why the commercial market has fallen in love with the product. For Interface’s Green, the real question is, “Why doesn’t everyone use carpet tile?”