Creative Outlook: Top designers discuss the evolution of interior design and flooring’s role within it - Aug/Sept 2022
By Jennifer Bardoner
What are a few of the milestone changes in commercial interior design over the last 30 years?
SHASHI CAAN: Today, we truly are working from anywhere, at any time. I love that we no longer have such rigidity between design typologies-healthcare, hospitality, workplace, home, etc.-and that there is significant creative crossover for new creative impetus and freshness.
For the first time in history, we have five generations working side-by-side in the workplace. The younger workforce, less driven by compensation and the traditional professional advancement, requires greater societal purpose and value-add from their employer and employment.
KEN WILSON: The first thing that comes to mind are the incredible technology tools we have to design and document our projects today. The visualization tools are absolutely amazing.
SHERYL SCHULZE: Environments are merging and becoming more hospitality-forward, especially in office buildings and the workplace. More types of materials are needed to achieve these various settings in order to differentiate them from one another, but overall, spaces are incorporating materials that support a hospitality look and feel.
NANCY THIEL: With the focus on the home environment as hybrid and work-from-home solutions are expanding, I am seeing several commercial manufacturers decide that there is value in promoting product to the residential market, where they might not have done so before. Also, technology has swept the commercial industry forward, bringing new modular products using 3D printing, easier access to custom one-off products, and developing lighter-weight, larger-format materials.
What do you consider the greatest changes in flooring over the last 30 years?
WILSON: The evolution of carpet tile is one. Thirty years ago, we lived in a broadloom world. Back then, if you saw carpet tile at all, it was in an airport, and it didn’t look good. Today’s carpet tile is amazing, and much of it is very environmentally responsible, largely thanks to programs like Green Label Plus, the NSF/ANSI 140 Standard, Living Product Challenge, CARE, EPDs, HPDs, Cradle to Cradle and now, there are even some net-zero-carbon products.
Also, we are using a lot of hardwood flooring today. The new engineered wood flooring products have opened up a lot of possibilities that we never had before.
SCHULZE: The scalability of the modularity of the product has improved from sheet goods to tile to large format. One of the greatest developments in flooring has been customization, which has opened doors for more intentional design.
CAAN: Changing from decade to decade, advancements in innovation for mass production have streamlined floor material production and installation processes. With developments in synthetic and alternate materials, today we have far more choice of flooring materials than 30 years ago. Floors continue to evolve beyond the functional to, today, expressing corporate culture and brand aesthetics. More than ever, lifestyle and fashion trends influence and impact flooring preferences.
How do you expect that design will continue to evolve in the coming decade?
CAAN: AI, evolving far more rapidly than perhaps realized, can, with great speed, deliver hundreds of optional solutions and possibilities. This sophistication of analytical problem-solving combined with efficiency is a threat, and one that is transforming the design profession and industry. Experts project that within the next ten years, the typical practicing designer will not be known as a design creative but, rather, a design curator. However, the star designer/architect will become more valuable for their unique talent and expertise.
Design creatives have the option of more confidently mastering human sensibilities and the art of design. We need to develop the ability to cultivate improved reflection and good judgment. To responsibly imagine uses honed skills that embody empathy. This requires a sharpened focus on better understanding human psychology, perception and behavior. Sharpening the human responsiveness for poetics and sensory literacy is needed to separate us from our robotic inventions.
THIEL: Everything and everyone, macro and micro, is on the move. That goes for companies, large and small, rethinking their office space; manufacturers focusing on R&D and conceiving new product lines to tempt us; hospitality projects taking advantage of the downtime from covid to renovate and expand as we start to travel again (or, at least, try); and so many individuals switching jobs and rethinking their lives. There are lots of opportunities out there. Stay nimble. Stay aware. Look for the opportunities. Commit to growth.
WILSON: Our biggest challenge is how we are going to eliminate carbon. Science tells us that it has to happen in the next ten years. It is going to require a major paradigm shift in the way we think about design and what we are willing to do to ensure it happens. There is a lot to figure out still, but we need to start this effort right now.
Has the role of the floor changed?
CAAN: For me, the floor remains the most important of surfaces in the environment. It is the first surface that is felt, even if not noticed, and that connection emotes distinct sensibilities, shaping our experience. While the functional backbone of each environment, the floor is, in general, often the component most taken for granted.
WILSON: I wouldn’t say the role of flooring has changed much, but it has evolved and gotten better, like everything else.
SCHULZE: The floor is working harder. We’ve seen a shift from softer materials, like carpet, to more durable, harder surfaces that are high-performing and long-lasting.
What’s most important in terms of sustainability in the flooring industry?
THIEL: Our clients are much more purpose-driven than 30 years ago and much more conscious about the environment. That means being creative with recycled content, developing products using more renewables and less energy, and striving toward carbon positivity.
WILSON: The low-hanging fruit is to simply build less and reuse existing construction and materials as much as possible. It also means designing spaces with durable materials that can be deconstructed and avoiding the use of carbon-intensive materials, like concrete and steel, in favor of using materials that sequester carbon, like wood. We recently completed our new DC Studio and reduced our embodied carbon by 56%. We learned a lot that we are now applying to other projects, but we can and must do better.
SCHULZE: The biggest challenge in specifying flooring today is finding a broad range of flooring that meets sustainability initiatives in response to climate goals. When considering everything that goes into product manufacturing, embodied carbon and operational carbon are prominent throughout the entire process.
What is your wish list for flooring manufacturers?
SCHULZE: Looking to the future, sustainable solutions that are cost effective and address the needs of climate change are top of the wish list.
WILSON: Keep getting greener and eliminate carbon.
THIEL: Just like wallcoverings on vertical surfaces, it would be great to see a more mural-like approach to printed carpet. It’s a way to connect AI with brick-and-mortar.
CAAN: Authenticity and integrity of materials is an ongoing A&D conversation-and even more critical today-especially for flooring materials. Note in point, the Lees launch of Metafloor in 2001 was inspired by the collaborating design teams (which I was a part of) asking the question, “Why does nylon have to look like wool?” Metafloor sought to express the integrity and aesthetic of nylon. The product launch won the Best of Show at NeoCon 2001, a first for flooring at NeoCon.
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