Designing a contract space requires a thorough understanding of how end users will spend their time in it. One of the most crucial decisions a designer or contractor will have to make on behalf of their client is choosing the right type of flooring. Not only does the product set the tone for the space, it also has to last and stay relevant over time.

As owner and principal of Stacy Garcia, Inc., I forecast what’s next in the world of flooring, and what trends consumers will respond to best. Geared toward the hospitality, office space and healthcare markets, the flooring I design takes more than just a “best guess.” My team and I take a very research-based design approach, investigating what will be trending a year or two year from now by visiting with flooring manufacturers at trade shows and subscribing to various forecasting associations to attain a healthy cross-section of the market.

Whether you are manufacturing, designing, specifying, selling or installing the flooring product, the people who use it day in and day out are at the heart of these choices. How do we want their experiences to feel? This article will give you insights into the forecasting process, the resulting trends and why they matter.

Trend vs. Fads

People say to me all the time, “We don’t follow trends.” What they really mean is they don’t follow fads. It’s important to distinguish between the two, since flooring is an investment requiring longevity in both performance and looks.

A trend has staying power and builds up over time. This is especially true for flooring, as a color or style first works its way through other markets. Think of it this way: When you’re looking at a trend, you’re looking for evolution, not revolution.

We are all influenced by trends, even on a subconscious level. The factors motivating these trends are called drivers. Here are the five key drivers I consider when forecasting, along with examples of current flooring trends influenced by each driver:

Economic. We started to see the color gray emerge in 2008/09 as a direct result of the recession. Resting right in the middle of black and white, gray historically is a recession color that represents a safe, neutral choice.

Gray first appeared in fashion at the start of the recession then moved into home design where consumers tested the color in accessories that could be swapped easily and inexpensively. If the color—gray, in this case—has staying power, it will show up in more permanent pieces such as flooring.

Now, we see gray displayed in carpet, wood and tiles throughout a variety of contract spaces. Even though the U.S. economy continues to improve, gray remains popular because it is easy to style around and conveys elegance, comfort and timelessness. Today’s grays skew toward the warm side with brown undertones.

Technological. Technology is influencing flooring on a massive scale, particularly with improvements in digital printing on porcelain and ceramic tiles. Just two years ago at Coverings, printed tiles looked like just that: A print of poured concrete, marble or wood. Thanks to today’s digital printing capabilities, tiles look exactly like the materials they emulate. You are hard-pressed to tell the difference between the tile and the real thing.

These capabilities not only allow you to mimic natural materials, you can create new and interesting patterns. We are seeing trompe l’oeil-like effects, where you can bring in beautiful textures and looks you couldn’t get before.

Technological improvements also have extended to the carpeting side. Brintons, for one, has redefined the detail and color that can be woven into carpet, having engineered a unique specification of loom that can weave up to 32 colors at any one time.

“Photorealistic, three-dimensional definition is now achievable, as well as infinite design possibilities and greater service flexibility,” says Heather Wood of Brintons. It should be noted, our newest collection with Brintons, Urban Nomad, utilizes this technology.

Environmental. Environmental awareness and stewardship is a mainstream concept that influences flooring throughout hospitality, workspace and even healthcare settings. We seek holistic living, from eating locally sourced organic food to adopting Eastern practices in our healthcare.

Contract flooring is beginning to reflect this desire for authenticity through reclaimed barn woods and upcycled materials. Consumers want wood flooring that is unfinished, rustic, roughed-up and raw, achieved through techniques such as handscraping and heavy wire brushing to bring out the wood grain.

Robert Mescolotto, owner of Hospitality Construction Services, reports a rise in reclaimed flooring in restaurants and bars. Certain reclaimed species, such as heartpine, can be budget busters, but hospitality operators have access to other recycled woods with an exotic look that won’t break the bank. For example, Mescolotto once saved a client $50,000 by specifying custom-stained reclaimed antique cypress.

Carpet design is going natural with its aesthetics as well. Hotel operators are embracing large-scale organic patterns and vivid motifs, as seen in our recent Geo-Graphic collection for Durkan, and Whimsical Leaf collaboration with Lexmark Hospitality, which represents the largest pattern we have ever installed in a guestroom.

Cultural. Cultural drivers naturally overlap with technological and environmental motivators. Technology impacts the way we work, live and play because we are tethered to it in every aspect of our lives. Consumers are integrating work-life-play in a seamless way—one that integrates the comforts of our home with the restaurants we visit, the hotels we stay at and the places we work.

The corporate world has responded with the recent trend of open, collaborative floor plans. To give their employees a break from the open design, companies are creating separate “play” or lounge-like areas where workers can decompress and small pods designed as a place to focus.

Modern workspaces mix lush carpet and sleek wood flooring, but noise abatement should be a primary concern when specifying office flooring.

Lounge spaces continue to play prominently in hotels, as the bright, clean West Coast style and its midcentury-modern influences trek across the country. We produced a collection for Durkan called Mod Market, whose pattern, color and scale capture the midcentury vibe.

Also in hospitality environments, I have been experimenting with area rugs in public spaces because they speak to the warm environment the guest seeks. To attain a sense of tranquility, I have been mixing my signature prints with broadloom because these carpets absorb sound and provide privacy for guests.

The same goes for healthcare spaces. “We sometimes try to mimic hospitality settings to make rooms more inviting and calming for guests and patients,” says Tammy Ng with MBH Architects. In the On Lok Peralta Center, a senior care facility the firm designed in Fremont, Calif., “we wanted the restrooms to be very comfortable so we used beautiful yet durable white tile that you might find in a nice hotel,” she says.

Future of Flooring Design

The five trend drivers also provide a window into what’s next for contract flooring trends. For tiles, I’m seeing beautiful mosaics, as well as influences from Spain and Italy with clean, sleek, almost linen-like textures.

For both tile and wood, expect random faceted shapes that create an imperfect layout.

Despite the technological improvements to tile, wood will still be a player in contract spaces, just in a different way. Wood companies not only are selling traditional planks, they are positioning the product as a decorative item by painting it, mimicking old-school tile, and producing intricate, ornate inlays.

We also see contract spaces experimenting with more exotic looks through treatments such as shou-sugi-ban, a Japanese method of burning lumber that was originally developed to preserve wood siding.

On the carpeting front, my research indicates larger-scale patterns, more high-definition designs, additional colors and interesting weave effects in which cut and looping are used together.

Eileen Vitelli, an interior designer with architecture and design firm Studio3877, is seeing an increase in hard surfaces because they are durable and easier to maintain. The use of tufted or carpet made with computer yarn placement technology, as well as carpet tiles, also is emerging. “Five or 10 years ago, that would have been unthinkable because carpet tile was considered ‘too commercial,’” says Vitelli, who emphasizes the importance of wear- and soil-hiding patterns.

Designing successful flooring products that span markets is a process that takes research and learning about the audience using them. Through interpreting the needs of the space and its inhabitants, we can create designs that capture how that space feels and functions.