Looking Underfoot

An abundance of materials can make flooring selection seem almost overwhelming. Ceramic tile, porcelain tile, luxury vinyl tile, hardwood, laminate, engineered hardwood, bamboo floors, and carpet and all its variations are enough to give anyone pause to think about what they really want to tread on day after day. Usually, the decision comes down to comfort, price and aesthetics.

Michael Lang, senior marketing manager with Export, Pa.-based Karndean Designflooring asserts trends today in flooring are similar to overreaching societal trends. “These days everything is, ‘make it easy. Make it quick. Make it convenient,’” he says. “We see those trends occurring in flooring. People want flooring that is easy to maintain, easy to clean, yet at the same time is stylistic and durable.”

Crossville, Tenn.-based Crossville Inc.’s Mikeal Jensen, residential design director, notes sophistication, sleekness and versatility as driving forces. “It’s not just about how traditional stone looks anymore,” he says. “With advanced design and technology, we’re able to create subtle detailing, linear looks and a range of colors unlike ever before. We also have more capabilities to play with sizes, from large format to mosaics and everything in between. With the range of modern looks, we’re seeing tile installed more frequently in places beyond the kitchen and bath. It’s an xciting time for tile.”

Customization

Karndean Designflooring, which manufactures luxury vinyl tile, has built a business around making its LVT flooring resemble natural products such as tile and wood. “The physical result of the manufacture of vinyl tile is made possible by a print film that’s incorporated into the manufacturing of the tile or plank,” Lang explains. “Printing in the past five to seven years in terms of clarity and resolution has seen great improvements to the point we have to demonstrate to people the floor is manmade and not the real thing.”

Lang used to have a ceramic floor in his own kitchen, and he and his wife would have problems with tile cracking when large jars or cans were dropped on it. “One of the advantages of LVT is that it is much more durable than the natural materials; that same can of tomatoes could be dropped on an LVT floor, and it won’t crack,” he says. A polyurethane wear layer manufactured into the substrate also makes it resistant to scratches and scuffs.

Simulated grout strips made from the same vinyl material help the floor look more realistic. “Our flooring also can be cut with a hydro laser,” Lang says. “A commercial customer can incorporate their logo into the floor. With consumers, we don’t see it taken that far, but we do see them do a lot with our design accessories with strips and borders. It goes back to durability and ease of customization and installation.”

One of the most unique flooring installations Lang has seen is at a hospital in Florida. He compares the design to barbedwire-looking tattoos. “The architect who designed this took two styles from one of our product lines, sketched out a barbed-wire-looking design and used a hydro laser cutter to cut their flooring in this design using two different colors,” he explains. “It’s so encouraging to us to see architects get creative with the product. Our target market is beginning to pick up on this ability to customize and get a luxury look. The consumers that buy our flooring are emotionally engaged in their homes.”

Technology and Color

Technological advancements make tile a much more versatile material than in the past. “Today, we’re able to effectively replicate looks of other materials in tile thanks to advanced design and production capabilities,” Jensen says. “Technology is the tool kit that is empowering us to develop the fresh new looks you’re seeing in tile. High-resolution images, roller print technology, advanced glazes and textures — we use it all to create the style of today.”

Jensen also is seeing a resurgence in color. “In 2013, we’re expanding our color story. I think we’re all ready for color to return to our designs,” he says. “It’s a sign of hopefulness and positivity, and I also believe it’s an indicator of the sophistication of those who are making tile selections. It’s great to create new tile collections for an increasingly design-savvy world.

“There’s no doubt more neutral colors will win out,” Jensen continues, “but we’re seeing increased use of decorative accents, mosaics and patterns. Homeowners who may have only tried a more artistic installation on a kitchen backsplash in the past are now being more adventurous on shower walls or on the entryway floor.”

Sizing Styles

Lang sees business as usual continuing, with planks in particular. “We do see the demand for larger planks and larger tiles increasing,” he says. “The 3 by 36 and 4 by 36 planks will never go away completely, but we’ve seen demand for planks that are 7, 8 or 9-in. wide as opposed to 3 or 4. Whereas the size of tiles 10 or 15 years ago was trending to 12 by 12, it eventually became 16 by 16 and now we’re seeing demand for larger tiles than that : 18 by 18, 18 by 24 and even 18 by 36.”

Jensen believes large formats are beyond a trend. “I’d say they’re a staple,” he asserts. “Over the years we’ve seen sizes grow from the standard 12 by 12 to 18 by 18 and now we’re accustomed to 24 by 24. Our design sensibilities have evolved to welcome large-format tile even in smaller spaces, and contractors have developed their skills to create beautiful installations that function well and look beautiful.” Crossville offers a program that allows consumers to order custom plank sizes, which enables them to create fun, random patterns such as brick patterns for floors and walls.

Part of the trend to larger sizes goes back to installation convenience, Lang says. “When you’re installing a 3 by 36 plank, obviously you need more individual planks to fill up the square footage. That’s going to take longer than it would take to fill up that same amount of square footage with a 9 by 48 plank. Installation goes faster when you deal with larger pieces. That ties back to what I was saying earlier with not only flooring, but our society in general: Make it easy; make it fast; be in and out and be done. Larger pieces allow you to do that.”

Although the popularity of larger pieces appears to have originated in the commercial sector, Lang sees it migrating to the residential side. “Typically, people take input from three different places: Whatever they see on TV, what they see advertised in national magazines and what they see when they’re out,” he asserts. “They go out to dinner or attend an event and see a floor they like and think it would look good in their living room. By virtue of the larger sizes being installed commercially, that is eventually going to transpose over to the residential side. People subliminally see that as being visually appealing. People also know what technology can do and they’re wanting to become more creative with what they can do in their home and business. Sizing and creativity are becoming much more modern than they historically have been.”

Jensen anticipates rapid change in the industry. “I think we may see even faster evolution of looks and styles in the tile design industry in the next five years, as our technical capabilities advance to meet our design visions,” he says. “We often say to look to today’s runway fashion and even commercial interior design to see what will be coming in the next few years for home fashion. I wouldn’t be surprised if the lead time becomes shorter, as media-watching, design-savvy homeowners become more sophisticated, daring and ready to make bold choices regarding their interior design and décor.”

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