NeoCon 2008 - July 2008

By Darius Helm, Brian Hamilton, Maurie Welsh O'Neill and Anne Harr

It’s a transitional year in the commercial business, strengthening in places and slowing in others, facing new challenges, and in its own way last month’s NeoCon reflected those dynamics, with redefined brands, new product ranges, shifting colorways, and a range of unexpected design directions. Attendance was down about 4% to 50,483, and part of that was due to the weather. Exhibitor turnout was about flat at 1,200 showrooms and booths.

However, one element has retained its momentum—the greening of the industry. By now, it’s standard that every flooring producer’s story end with an environmental epilogue, some more full of content than others. But all the big carpet mills—Interface Inc., Shaw, Mohawk, Tandus, Milliken, J&J, to name but a few—are making significant headway with reclamation and reuse, alternative energy, dematerialization, reduced waste and other programs. One of the biggest developments this year is the evolution of Interface’s ReEntry 2.0 program, a low energy system that reclaims and reuses nylon 6,6. Initial limitations in reclaimed yarn color are rapidly being overcome, allowing for much more post consumer recycled content in the firm’s commercial offering. The expansion of nylon 6,6 reuse is a key element in the development of a nationwide reclamation infrastructure, since it stabilizes the industry by providing a badly needed reuse channel for a major carpet ingredient.

Shaw has now successfully taken its EcoWorx fully recyclable backing program to its commercial broadloom offering, and the firm’s Evergreen Nylon Recycling facility has already recycled 100 million pounds of reclaimed nylon 6 into new carpet. Mohawk recently finetuned its Encycle PVC free backing, and the firm is the biggest channel for reclaimed polyester drink bottles in the nation. Milliken, meanwhile, is now a carbon negative global company (third party certified).

Another exciting development is FreeLay, an acrylic polymer treatment that replaces a range of traditional systems for attaching carpet to the floor. Bentley Prince Street and Fortune Contract are already using the system. We’ll take a comprehensive look at this and other green programs in next month’s sustainability report. 

A significant and continuing trend in the carpet business has been lower face weights, or, more to the point, lower face weights that don’t sacrifice performance, comfort underfoot, and the hand of the product. Though largely driven by cost issues, since petroleum byproducts are the major ingredient in nylon, the lower face weights offer a strong environmental story as well. 

Much of the progress in face weight reduction has come from carpet tiles, in large part because the thicker backings act as a buffer. Carpet tile itself continues to gain ground, with more carpet producers and more carpet brands than ever before offering carpet tile lines.

It’s been an interesting year for design trends. Nature is traditionally one of the fundamental sources for designs, and in that sense this year was no different. However, many of this year’s designs examined nature through its interaction with human artifacts—and even humanity’s impact on nature and the environment was a significant source of inspiration this year. Prime examples include Tandus’ Manufactured Landscapes, Beaulieu’s Mindscapes, J&J’s Magnify, and Places and Spaces from Mohawk’s Lees brand.

A noteworthy color trend at the show seemed to reflect the industrial impact of humanity, with a considerable number of products in a range of grays and concrete looks to burnt oranges and reds and muddy charcoals.

Over the last few years, textile looks in carpeting have been gaining in popularity, and many of this year’s best designs found their inspiration specifically in classic textiles, particularly clothing fabrics, reflecting and reinterpreting the opulence of bygone eras, like the early to mid 20th century.

There was an overall trend toward a more conservative sensibility, reflecting both the state of the economy and the uncertainty about what lies ahead. Many of the most successful designs at the show were based on subtle elements, softened lines and muted colorations.

Here’s a look at some of the highlights of NeoCon 2008.

• For nearly a decade, fiber producers have been trying to find a way to reclaim used nylon 6,6 fiber and recycle it into new fiber, but all efforts fell short—until last year. That’s when InterfaceFlor finally made a technical breakthrough and introduced five yarns created in a co-op venture with the Italian company Post Consumer Carpet Technologies and the Virginia firm Universal Fibers. The only drawback was that the new yarns were all dark, because no one had been able to figure out how to create recycled yarns in a full spectrum of colors.
Well, in the past year, John Bradford and his R&D team figured out how to do just that and a lot more. The result of their efforts is ReEntry 2.0, a process that reclaims virtually any type of carpet, sorts it, separates the face fiber from the backing and recycles it into an array of products ranging from automotive components to new nylon 6,6 yarn.

At NeoCon, InterfaceFlor showed Convert, 29 new modular products in 24 colors, and all of them are made with post-consumer nylon 6,6 yarns culled from ReEntry 2.0. Each style has a combined minimum of 65% post consumer and post industrial recycled content.

All but one of the styles in this year’s collections were inspired by vintage fashion. They range from Blast from the Past, a multicolored stripe pattern that looks like a vintage tweed fabric, to Fresh Start, a solid color cut/loop tile that comes in 12 colors ranging from bold and bright Mandarin to more subdued earth tones like Herb and Pelican.

The Redo Collection features three patterns—appropriately called Remade, Reissued and Reincarnation—that have the distinctive look of vintage wool and chenille fabrics. The Pietra Collection of three patterns—Bertola, Brescia and San Roca—were inspired by the travertine used as a building material in ancient Rome. Other new styles and collections include What Goes Around, Sew Retro and Rags to Riches. All the new styles can be installed in a wide variety of patterns, from checkerboard and ashlar to brick and quarter turned.

ReEntry 2.0’s significance goes far beyond the 29 products introduced this June. It solves one of the last major roadblocks to making commercial carpet recyclable and brings Interface much closer to its goal of zero environmental impact by the year 2020. If all the carpet installed in the U.S. were recycled and sent through ReEntry 2.0, the process could supply the entire commercial carpet industry. Right now, 9% of all the yarn used in Interface carpet tiles is recycled. The company expects that to be around 25% by the end of this year, and ultimately greater than 90%.

ReEntry 2.0 is not only revolutionary, it’s a blueprint for all future recycling efforts in the worldwide carpet industry. Its cost effective sorting system allows it to take any carpets, sort them according to backing and face fiber, and recycle them into the raw materials for many different kinds of plastic products. And that makes InterfaceFlor a major player not only in the carpet fiber business, but also in the industrial recycling business.

• The energy was also high at sister company Bentley Prince Street this year. The California design leader showed off its versatility with a spread of about 20 edgy yet timeless products and rolled out its first products made with ReEntry 2.0. 

Natural textured looks made with natural textured materials were a major theme at Bentley Prince Street. Zip Stitch, the first collection from ReEntry 2.0, combines flax, hemp and recycled nylon 6,6 yarn in a woody bamboo-like, softened linear pattern in a natural palette—the product comes in tile and broadloom.

Building Utopia and Seeking Nirvana, also with ReEntry yarns, are a bulky luxurious tip sheared loop product in a staggered bar motif paired with a small scale textural in a rich earthy color line. Vivid Ombre and Distinctive Ikat, two highly tactile coordinates in both broadloom and tile, feature a sweeping geometric linear in rich, blended color, along with a bolder horizontal staggered bar pattern.

The Tucson Collection is made up of four striking loop coordinates in highly textured, deeply defined abstracts by well known interior designer Clodagh, in both broadloom and carpet tile. The patterns—influenced by the effect of light and shadow on the Tucson desert—include a fireworks motif, a dramatic random oversized cross hatch look, a ropey large scale design reminiscent of rippling water and a bulky near-solid.

The sumptuous all wool loop Oceanic Collection by Jack Mishkin includes a bulky two-color cable in a distinctive stripey loop (North Island) with a heathered highly textured coordinate (South Island) in a spread of glowing, warm natural tones or any of 160 custom colors.

Another theme for BPS this year: classic couture textile looks translated into cutting edge tailored styling for the floor. Asphalt, an elegant near-solid broadloom (and one of the more interesting minimalist solid color offerings at the show), is made with a yarn combination that includes Invista’s FiberEffects, which makes the accents look like a mohair or silk threading woven into a high-priced suit fabric. Concrete, a broad, crackly random linear coordinate in a heathered loop, cuts into the Asphalt field for a dramatic counterpoint. The two-style collection won a Silver Best of NeoCon Award for broadloom.

Also new: IndustraFelt, a dense, tailored textile look with tiny striped metallic accent tickings in a plush flatwoven texture. It’s just 20 ounces, but looks like a lot more. It comes in broadloom or tile in 24 brilliant colors that span from rich neutrals and grays to luminous oranges, limes, reds and blues. IndustraFelt has two heavier (26 ounce), ultra luxurious velvety cut and loop companion styles—Machine Made and Mass Produced—which feature bands of deeply carved horizontal waves and linears.

One of our favorites: the Modern Foundations Collection, a collaboration with NY design firm Robert A.M. Stern, a low key tailored textile-like group of patterns with a palette of subtly tinted metallic color so artfully done that the metallic elements become one with the field color. The result is a gorgeous stretch of both texture and color that changes with the light, the time of day, and with whatever other interior elements are placed on the floor.

Global Jet Set is an elegant nubbly texture with the look of woven coat fabric. The 26 ounce loop coordinates with a number of patterns-in-progress, ranging from large scale plush cut and loop organics, hand done brush stroke looks, positive/negative interplay designs and sunny geometrics evocative of the Flower Child era.

New on the installation front: Contact Release, a cushioned backing system for broadloom that requires no adhesives and a lot less time and trouble to install than conventional backings. And it’s virtually odor free.

• Tandus came out with two Monterey introductions, a broadloom and modular pair called Travertine and Pietra, and the Master Plan collection of five broadloom styles. Master Plan, designed by Suzanne Tick, features a subdued geometric design based on the tatami motif in enticing low-key colorways, along with small scale coordinating broadlooms. One of the designs features bricks and squares in a range of orderly patterns against a loop pile background that seems almost woven, while another design takes that motif to a smaller scale.

Travertine and Pietra are a coordinating broadloom and 24” tile with an elegant multilevel straie design in both subdued and deep earthy colorways. On the broadloom, tip shearing accentuates the relief.

Manufactured Landscapes, a Tick design for the C&A brand, was one of the boldest introductions at the show. The basic design is of a range of textures with tailored low key patterns—like a level loop construction with a regularly spaced single rib, small nubby loops at different heights, or crisp low linears with different luster levels—arranged in wide bands of varying widths (with both subtle and distinct color shifts) across a six foot repeat. By running the pattern across the entire width of the tufting machine, the repeat falls differently for every six-foot substrate, which is in turn cut into three and packaged together as 24” carpet tiles.

The industrial look of Manufactured Landscapes is a response to randomness in tile design, and the tiles can be installed in series, quarter turned, in an ashlar design and even randomly. The collection was inspired by Edward Burtynsky, a world renowned photographer of manufactured landscapes like quarries and industrial sites known for his eerie ability to draw out the beauty from desecration. 

Using different installation methods, the carpet functions for corridors, offices and open space interiors, and the collection also features complementary executive carpet with a small scale speckled design. Manufactured Landscapes comes in 12 colorways, largely neutrals and earth tones. Manufactured Landscapes II and III, coming soon, feature more deft touches, like the occasional vivid accent line running the width of the tile. 

• Johnsonite, a $150 million division of Tarkett, came out with a range of products, including Mesto Rubber Tile, a marbleized design with a hammered finish in a range of neutral and industrial palettes. As part of Johnsonite’s integrated flooring system, Mesto’s patterns and colors coordinate with products throughout Johnsonite’s portfolio, from rubber sheet and tile to vinyl sheet and tile to linoleum to wall base, etc. 

Johnsonite’s I.D. Premier collection features wood, stone and concrete looks, in a total of 54 options. The wood designs come in a range of grains in trendy colors like dusty darker browns. Stone designs range from granites to veined marbles and travertines. Some of the designs look even better in vivid hues like pink than in earth and wood tones.

The firm also expanded its Acczent Wood sheet vinyl collection with more styles and colors than ever, including exotic hardwood styles like Rosewood and Cabreuva. Like I.D. Premier, Acczent Wood is part of Johnsonite’s Color Foundations program of six neutral colorations—warm beige, cool beige, warm gray, cool gray, black, and white—available within each of its flooring solution palettes. 

• The New Patcraft and Designweave, a recently formed combination of Patcraft Commercial and Designweave, had its coming out party at NeoCon, displaying for the first time under its new moniker. Patcraft and Designweave were two separate entities until January 1 of this year when parent company Shaw Industries merged the sales operations and product lines. Designweave, a West Coast operation, had a flair for design in the contract business, while Patcraft Commercial had a base of loyal customers. The strategy of the combined company is to dominate the middle market by offering designers a huge selection at modest prices. Its new logo is contained inside a quote box, which is the company’s way of showing its emphasis on personal relationships. Its new tagline is Life goes on On Us, which is meant to emphasize the experience of owning the carpet. 

For its debut, the company introduced three new broadloom lines, Archetype, Petris, and Simple Elegance, and one tile, Fusion. Of the four, Fusion was the most visually daring. It features round and hexagonal shapes that are both expanded and contracted over a background of stripes to give designers interesting options by combining any or all of the scales. It’s aimed at the corporate and institutional market and the patterns make tile replacement easy. It will be available late this year or early 2009. Simple Elegance was also designed to provide a lot of options. It is a study in geometry, featuring deconstructed circles and squares, which the company said is also very forgiving when the walls aren’t completely straight. It’s available in 13 colorways. Petris mimics cobblestone, taking its name from the Greek word Petra for stone. Archetype is reminiscent of building blocks or bricks. 

• Mohawk came to the show with a lot of new looks for its four brands—Karastan, Bigelow, Lees and Durkan. The Places and Spaces collection from the Lees brand was a captivating example of how the best designers in the business interpret the world around them by capturing it in designs that echo and evoke cultural artifacts. 

Places and Spaces, which took NeoCon Gold in the modular category, is the result of a collaboration with designers from HOK offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. The modular collection features both tufted and printed carpet tiles, and believe it or not, it’s the printed tiles that really bring the house down. 

The printed designs—Haze, Headlights, and Monroe Harbor—use subtle layering effects to create seemingly abstract patterns that spring to life when on the floor. Those smears and bright blobs in a sample of the Headlights carpet tile make a dynamic shift once installed; the design becomes a lens and there it is, Headlights. Haze is no less effective, and the delicate layering and shifts in tone suggest cityscapes shrouded in smog—weirdly beautiful. Monroe Harbor has the look of a soft abstract painting with gentle irregular lines inspired by one of Chicago’s most famous marinas. The printed designs come in four colorways, from soft industrial grays and browns to more saturated hues in yellows and reds.

The tufted designs—Masts, Glaze, Weave, and Parkway—have a more tailored corporate feel. Masts, inspired by the sailboats on Lake Michigan, features a crisp ribbed design with narrow linear banding. Glaze and Weave, based on Atlanta’s southern style pottery and baskets, convey impressions of surface glazes and angular weaving patterns. Parkway, inspired by D.C.’s hellish highway system, is a network of arcing bands with an almost botanical feel. The tufted products come in ten bold colorways.

Also new from Lees was the En Vogue collection of carpet tiles in a wide ranging color palette. The two designs, Glamorous Life and Silhouette, take their inspiration from the fashion world with designs suggestive of the beguiling look of high end fabrics like silk and organza, and with patterning resembling pleats and folds. 

Karastan’s Covet collection features coordinating tufted carpet tile and woven broadloom. It’s the first time Karastan has exhibited carpet tiles at NeoCon—they all feature Mohawk’s Encycle PVC-free recyclable backing. The tiles styles, Forever Envy, Ultimate Temptation and Perfectly Poised, feature a loop and tip sheared construction in a tonal palette. The patterns of raised and level ribbed bars--, both tip sheared and loop, crenellated bands and low key block designs give the products an architectural feel. The 12 colorways range from rich and medium earth tones to trendy grays.

The accompanying woven broadlooms, Euphoric, Insatiable and Pure Anticipation, are startling in their crisp precision, with high and low luster levels and high twists in the vivid multicolored skein-dyed yarns.

Also new from Karastan was the Classical collection of tile and broadloom in more vivid colorways—with rich reds, gray greens and sumptuous browns—with 12-gauge constructions. Karastan’s design team worked with junior designers to produce the three products: Symphonic Plus, Sonic Cadence, and Sonata Chill. Symphonic Plus, which comes in broadloom only, is a curvilinear pattern of spheres and arcs in a well-balanced overall design. Sonic Cadence, which come in both broadloom and tile, is a linear design that seems to combine images of piano keys and sheet music, while Sonata Chill, also in modular and broadloom, is a more small scale grid pattern highlighted by linear dotting of accent yarns playing off each other.

Another surprising collection came from Mohawk’s Bigelow. The Landmark collection, with a look that’s both tailored and whimsical, is Bigelow’s first woven offering. The firm collaborated with Holabird & Root, one of the oldest and most prestigious architectural firms in Chicago, for the two designs—Natural Preservation and Prominent Distinction.

Natural Preservation was inspired by architectural details of the Chicago Board of Trade building, with vivid accent yarns cutting across the contoured bands that make up the design. Prominent Distinction, based on the Monroe Building, is a checkerboard design of contrasting construction, one with accent yarn stripes running alongside the ribbing and the other with dotted accent yarns.

Durkan, Mohawk’s hospitality brand, showcased Synthesis, a design system that layers texture and pattern on a carpet. Synthesis offers four multilevel loop base grade patterns—Swirl, Mod, Geo and Tech—upon which secondary custom patterns can be printed. 

• Crossville won a NeoCon Silver in the hard surface category for its Building Blox tile, another successful collaboration with Robert A.M. Stern Design. The Urban Fabric and Greek Key designs are another example of Crossville’s wide ranging approach to porcelain design.

New at the show was Color Blox EC, a 24”x24” rectified porcelain tile with 20% post industrial content. The tiles come in six colorations, including smoky hues like burnt red browns and moody charcoals along with a pale sand, a light gray and two medium earth tones. Also new at NeoCon was Plan, a through body rectified porcelain in five colors from sand to charcoal. Plan is designed for both outdoor and indoor use with two textures, a rough surface and a ridged version.

Another green Crossville product at NeoCon was Echo Recycled Glass, a collection of clear, frosted and iridescent glass in five small formats: 1”x1”, 1”x3”, 2”x2”, 2”x4”, plus listellos. Recycled content ranges from 30% to 50%.

• Milliken Contract introduced a record number of products at NeoCon, including two major collections, additions to existing collections, and some new carpet tiles at lower price points. One elegant new collection is Suitable, made up of Leno Weave and Woven Threads. Leno Weave is a laddered look, tailored and sophisticated, with highlight yarns pushing up through the pattern across the length of the narrow bands to create a dynamic look. The banding in Woven Threads is separated by crisp dark lines, while accent yarns running for random lengths across the width create the impression of woven fabrics of yesteryear. Colorways range from tone on tone neutrals to richer earth tones and feature more vibrant accent yarns.

The firm also came out with two well priced carpet tile lines—Straight Talk and Mix It Up—for a total of six designs. Mix It Up features trendy stripes that are offset and staggered for dynamic visual effects.

Last year, Milliken unveiled a fascinating collection called Marco Polo in a diverse range of subtly morphing patterns, both small scale, like houndstooth, and more classic florals inspired by rug designs from Central Asia. The line also features exciting use of color, like inserting colored elements onto essentially monochromatic patterns, creating a layered impression. The full collection, showcased this year, features eight patterns.

Milliken also came out with a brand new collection called Persian Dynasty, in four designs influenced by patterns ranging from North Africa and the Near East all the way to India. The designs take advantage of the firm’s Convergence technology to create a broad range of patterns, including an understated paisley in colorways that take it from a classic subdued feel to a brighter, more retro look. Then there’s Ottoman Twist, with a rich woven look in a small scale grid. Morrocan Roll is a linear design of irregular fractured stripes, and Knot Sari is a linear design that morphs by stages through a grid pattern to an elegant geometric and back again.

The Persian Dynasty patterns are mesmerizing, but what takes the collection to a new level is the texture, which manages to recreate the Persian rug look of wool and crushed silk through loop constructions and the use of shimmering accent yarns. 

• J&J/Invision had one of its most aggressive product debuts this year, and what drew the most attention from designers was the beautiful new Magnify collection—a collection that spans both brands. The inspiration for the line came from typical items in the J&J plant. Photos were taken of everything from stacked carpet swatches and carpet tubes to rusted metal, which were “magnified” and interpreted into carpet designs. The everyday items resulted in simple but stunning designs appropriate for almost any environment, even a home. Magnify contains six styles: Stacked, Twisted, Strapped, Rusted, Wrapped, and Corrugated. Stacked, for example, is the rendition of a stack of carpet samples. They all contain the PVC-free Eko backing system. 

All the products share common color schemes and designers can coordinate them throughout a project. Four of the products come in tile only and two anchor products come in both broadloom and tile. The line was also developed in part to provide designers with options at a lower price point—$15 to $37— than the company’s traditional higher end products, so the carpet could be used in both common areas and boardrooms. It should be available early this fall. The firm also displayed its Altered Elements line from its Invision Carpet Systems division. Although the product has been on the market for a couple of months, it had not been shown before. The line is inspired by natural elements such as tumbled stone and weathered steel.

• Centiva introduced Stria solid vinyl tile for heavy commercial applications, especially in the corporate and healthcare markets. Metallic pigments give greater depth and dimension. Stria is manufactured using a process that gives every tile a unique look so the pattern will never repeat. Its look can be made even more striking by the firm’s beveling capabilities. Its backing is made of 100% recycled materials, including 5% post consumer content, which Centiva would like to increase to 25%. Stria will be available in October and will come in seven colors and various sizes. The product can also be recycled through the Centiva Reclamation Program.

Over the past decade, Centiva has become a leading design oriented commercial vinyl producer, with 2007 sales of about $30 million. It emphasizes its ability to create custom designed floors through color matching. It can also use ultrasonic knife cutting for logos and designs.

• Since Masland Contract first came out with carpet tile in NeoCon 2006, the firm has distinguished itself with truly bold styling, creating its own unique look. This year’s introductions did not disappoint. The firm came out with two tile groupings in tonal colorways, one using Antron Legacy and inspired by the biological sciences and a second using Antron Lumena, inspired by elements of fine art.

The Antron Legacy offering includes Fractal, which sinks classic fractal curves in low relief into a more randomized higher loop design that shifts into small, irregular circle patterns to edge the fractal design. Molten is a larger scale design of overlapping bands both narrowing and widening across the width of the tile. Darkened edging creates a dimensional layering effect.

Then there’s Molecule, with a hexagonal design that slides offset through the colors for a complex layered effect that here and there resolves into single colored hexagons. Tinsel is a shifting striae design with the irregularity of linear wood grain.

The Antron Lumena offering includes Brushstroke, with broad strokes crossing the tile in all sorts of angles, and Sketch, with finer dark lines carving crooked paths across the length of the tile. Particle features a linear background overlaid with small dots that cluster toward the center line, and Rough Draft resembles Sketch, but more heavily lined. Interval is a design of short, crooked bands with rough linear gaps, as though sections of the pattern were erased with broad strokes. The most captivating of this group was Imprint, with overlapping stamped concentric circle designs.

Masland Contract also came out with a broadloom line called Floor Plan, an Antron Legacy collection that includes textile looks (Collaboration), lush cut pile striping, executive low relief loop piles, and small scale grids with accent yarn highlights. 

• Shaw Contract is clearly diversifying its commercial sector focus and while corporate is still over 50% of its business, healthcare is becoming increasingly important. Half the floor in its 10th floor showroom was dedicated to a new carpet collection called Graphic Nature and it won a Best of Neocon Silver Award in the healthcare textiles category. Evidence Based Design is a major movement among healthcare designers today (as evidenced by the number of seminars at Neocon that addressed the topic) and Shaw Contract is obviously tuned in to this trend. From an aesthetic standpoint, Graphic Nature conveys the soothing, healing images from nature. And from a performance standpoint this collection has a multi-dimensional texture appearance but is actually flat for improved wheel roll performance. According to product designer Ennis O’Neal, wheel roll performance is a big factor in the healthcare sector. Graphic Nature comes in three tile patterns and three broadloom styles with up to 16 different color options and it can easily contribute to the LEED point total due to its cradle to cradle certification. 

The second featured carpet collection, Essay of Clues, was developed in collaboration with William McDonough and it is typical of the type of cutting edge corporate styling that Shaw Contract is known for. According to Shaw Contact’s Creative Director, “Essay of Clues draws inspiration from the visual nature of the complex city plans and building sites that William McDonough has created around the world.” This collection has two broadloom styles and four modular styles in 12 colors.

Shaw’s big story this year from a sustainability standpoint is its new EcoWorx broadloom backing complete with a cradle to cradle capability—it can readily be reclaimed back into new backing after it’s served its useful life. This is a lower cost version of the EcoWorx performance broadloom backing that was introduced at Greenbuild almost two years ago. This version was designed for the day-to-day broadloom that is routinely specified across all commercial sectors where water permeability is not an issue. And while modular is the fastest growing category in the commercial flooring market, broadloom still makes up 70% of the specified commercial carpet market. Another green message presented in Shaw’s showroom was the fact that its Evergreen Nylon Recycling plant has now recycled over 100 million pounds of post consumer type 6 nylon back into new carpet fiber.

One last showroom feature that deserves mention is Shaw’s design lab. In fact, it was so popular that Shaw is considering taking it on the road.  This concept is perfect for designers who like to think outside the box as it allow them to conceptualize soft floorcovering without machine constraints, cost or other inhibitors. One of the carpet concepts in the lab, for example, was made of cashmere wool.

• Just as the rubber flooring business is growing overall—fueled somewhat by the PVC-free movement—so is Roppe’s business. Another big factor is the willingness of designers to use more color in their projects. So, to give designers a bigger tool box, Roppe launched a brand new color palette of 70 colors at this year’s Neocon, the development of which was guided by outside color expert Nada Rutka, past president of the Color Marketing Group. 

In addition to offering a wide range of the most up-to-date colors, Roppe is offering its whole color range at one price—some colors are more expensive to produce than others but specifiers often don’t know the final color when a job is quoted. The company has also reformulated the construction of its stair tread and wall base to contain more “tree” rubber and insulate itself from the rising cost of petroleum.  Also of interest, Roppe plans to hold its pricing at current levels for the remainder of this year.

• Mannington Commercial came to NeoCon with a broad range of new products in resilient, ceramic tile and carpet. Adorn, by Kaitlin Phelps, a young designer based in Raleigh, North Carolina, is made up of three designs for both broadloom and carpet tile in 15 rich colorways. Texture features a design of tip sheared raised grid lines in an elegant open pattern against a crisp lower loop ribbed field, the common field for all three designs. Drape is another design with plenty of field, patterned with a raised tip sheared thread running loosely back and forth throughout the carpet. Beaded is a design of clustered starburst tip shearing reminiscent of appliqué.

Glassworks is a collection of three carpet tile designs inspired by the fluidity of hand-blown glass. The designs include Glaze, a laddered pattern with darker colored cords meandering along its length, and Mosaic, a more organic design of random shapes of one color rising through a field of another color—like an irregular animal print. Fuse is a design of thick cords of color through a simple field. The collection comes in 12 colorways, from neutrals to more saturated hues.

Also new was Runway, three tip sheared patterns in both tile and broadloom, including a striae look, a loose structured grid, and an abstract with fan-shaped raised designs. The collection is available in 16 colorways.

However, the biggest hit in Mannington’s showroom was The Create Collection of luxury vinyl tile, which took NeoCon Silver in the resilient category. The basic design, created by Tom Polucci and Natalie Banaszak of HOK Chicago, is striated with in-register embossing that resembles a small scale linear grain or even a woven design. Then there are the 12 surprising colorations, including a deep, dry brown with a purple gray cast, a smoky light blue, a sage green, and a medium wood brown. 

The real surprise is the shapes of the LVT, which includes a 101/2” round that installs with a companion four-pronged shape, a 24” square, a 6” inch square and a 6”x24” rectangle. The shapes allow for a wide range of custom installations. 

• Alloc was touting the performance advantages of its high pressure laminate (HPL) for commercial applications as it displayed its new sophisticated Trendline collection, with bamboo, merbau and other exotic looks. The new looks also come with an attached soundproofing underlayment. The company also showed its new Sand Slate, a stone look. Alloc is one of two companies that offer HPL, a much more durable finish that works better in commercial environments than the more widespread direct pressure laminate. Trendline offers an alternative to the real thing and Alloc says its products are far easier to maintain. 

Alloc laminates also incorporate patented embossed in register technology, which produces some extraordinary visuals. These new products also carry a 12-year heavy commercial warranty. This is the second year the firm has been working directly with the A&D community, although its products are still funneled through distribution.

• Flexco introduced Tuflex Force rubber flooring tiles in 12 colors from its Spextones color line. Last November Flexco signed an exclusive sales, marketing and distribution agreement with Florida based Tuflex, which makes vulcanized tiles for the sports and commercial segments. Tuflex has been providing flooring for the major sports arenas since 1957. Tuflex, like Flexco and Roppe, is owned by Roppe Holding Co. Tuflex Force is made of 99% recycled content, mostly from tires, and comes in 27” tiles, 3/8” thick. It’s being marketed for gyms, especially where equipment is used, as well as rinks and animal care clinics. 

• Rising oil prices are increasing the cost of flooring products that depend on oil as a raw material. This is a blessing for Forbo, the world’s largest producer of linoleum, because now its natural products are more price competitive. Forbo’s MCT (Marmoleum Composite Tile) product is available in 18 colors, and outperforms vinyl tile in flexibility and indentation resistance. Once you factor in the durability, reduced long-term maintenance expenses and antibacterial properties, you get a clear picture of why Forbo’s MCT product is well positioned versus some of the other options in the commercial resilient flooring category.

• Burtco, known for producing top-quality custom wool and solution dyed carpet on computerized yard placement machinery, unveiled Tartan, a new spike-proof carpet for the golf and country club industry. It’s part of its Scotsman line of plaid designs. Burtco, already a leading producer of spike-proof carpet, has installations at some of the top golf clubs in the country. Like the other seven designs in the Scotsman line, Tartan is 100% Zeftron solution dyed nylon. Burtco has a separate business that develops computerized yarn placement machinery for manufacturing high end custom carpet. It uses CYP on the custom side of its business, which accounts for about 60% of the firm’s overall business, much of it in the hospitality industry. The equipment gives Burtco the ability to create an unlimited array of patterns and colors.

• Italian carpet fiber producer, Aquafil, whose biggest customer worldwide is Interface, was talking up its new Econyl 75 polyamide fiber, which contains 70% post industrial and 5% post consumer content—the latter from other kinds of plastic products. The 900 denier yarn comes in ten colors and can be used in combination with nylon, especially in heavy contract applications. Aquafil’s other novelty was a very fine 150 denier yarn, which can be used with any other nylon, especially as an accent yarn. Due to the cost of energy and the weak dollar, the company is adding additional manufacturing capacity in Cartersville, Georgia and the U.S. operation won’t have to import from the Italian mother company. By 2010 it hopes to be producing 40 million pounds domestically, and exporting about 10 million pounds.

• Armstrong’s commercial flooring division showcased products in multiple flooring categories, including its Migrations bio-based composition tile, which performs better than traditional VCTs, its Premier Performance acrylic impregnated hardwood, and linoleum with the NaturCote protective finish. However, what stood out most in the booth was a strip of luxury vinyl plank lining both sides of the booth, a product called Sideline.

Sideline is a wood look plank in a design of banded woods of varying colors and widths—a really eye catching design. The product comes in six colors, ranging from browns and greens to grays and charcoals. 

• Toli’s new product, the LL300 modular resilient flooring, is good looking as well as versatile.  It is available in either a wood grain or granite pattern in 12 contemporary colors. It can be used for raised access specifications and works well combined with carpet tiles or used alone. LL300 is composed of 65% post industrial and post consumer waste. Toli’s sister brand, Ceres, had a preview of its new cork tile line. The line is available in two patterns—Woodland Trail and Cobble Walk—both available in five natural colors inspired by and named for spices (nutmeg, almond, ginger, etc.). 

• Tricycle, the firm that has a revolutionary process for replacing carpet samples with high resolution photographs, unveiled several new larger format simulated sampling capabilities that should be a hit with designers. Previously the company’s Tryk online sampling tool was limited to 81/2” by 11” prints and could only show an overhead view of a carpet swatch. Now, however, it offers the option of larger formats up to 36” by 48”, depending on the product, that show, for example, carpet in a room scene, the combination of a swatch and a room scene together, four carpet tiles together, a lifesize carpet tile, a matrix of four room scenes, and a full repeat. The prints are so good that on the floor they look like the real thing, with a surprising amount of simulated texture.

• Beaulieu Commercial’s Cambridge brand came out with the Big Top collection of Nexterra backed carpet tiles in tonal colorways. Tightrope is the smallest scale design, a grid pattern with interesting gaps and shifts in scale. Ringmaster has an architectural feel, with a few big blocks of raised loop in different shapes and orientations cut through with curves semicircles and narrow strips of lower loop. Trapeze is the most playful, consisting of a medium scale whirling curvilinear design with both dimensionality and action, like a layered collage of the trapeze artist’s movement through space. The collection uses metallic accent yarns to add some pop, and features a coordinate, Arena.

Stillness & Light, a new Bolyu Contract collection, was designed by Julie Cohn and Merle Lindby-Young of design2, a Dallas design firm, who derived their designs from elements of nature. The broadloom collection uses Beaulieu’s proprietary Optifects technology with Antron Legacy nylon.

Winter Solstice features vividly etched lines of loop pile meandering across the cut pile field like branches against the sky. Tree Lines is a cut and loop striae design with lots of texture from the rivulets of vibrant loop appearing and disappearing along its length as though catching the light, resembling the bark of a tree side-lit by the sun. Then there’s Summer Wood, with delicate concentric rings like tree cross-sections layered upon each other. The fourth design is Night Shade, designed to recall light filtering through bamboo screens. Here the use of the vivid buried loop creates an even stronger natural light effect, and the sparse use of thin vertical lines along the length brings to mind the cotton yarns used to bind the screens.

On the floor was another Bolyu product, this one from the Mindscapes collection. The eye catching modular tile design resembles darkened water or oil stains in a raised pattern across a tailored striae background of a lighter shade—one of the most dramatic introductions at the show.

• Azrock, a $100 million Tarkett division, unveiled a PVC free tile called Emerge, made of limestone and a polymeric blend, which contributes to commercial LEED points. The line features tonal backgrounds, including midrange earth tones and saturated blues and greens, with multicolored speckling, in a total of 12 colorations. Also contributing to LEED points is the firm’s Spray Smart adhesive, introduced last year on the Achieve line. Spray Smart not only uses a quarter of traditional adhesive volume, it also reduces installation time by up to 70% and enables immediate occupancy after the installation.

Azrock’s Achieve line of solid vinyl tile now comes in all shapes, including the Karim shapes. This year, to help attain a carbon neutral footprint at the show, the firm went with a minimalist booth design, used carbon offsets, and contributed the booth floor to a local YMCA. 

• Constantine featured several collections at NeoCon 2008 and among the most noteworthy was the Regency collection. This collection is reminiscent of the grand hotels of the 1920s but with a distinctly modern graphic look that works for today’s market. The bleeding dyes and plush wool-like background convey a classic antique feel while the strong contrasting graphics keep it fresh and modern.

For its Gradation & Associates collection, Constantine won a Best of NeoCon Gold for broadloom and a Best of NeoCon Silver for modular tile. This carpet features a tonal contrasting progression of lines at different frequencies. The styles within the collection can be combined or used alone. Gradation & Associates provides a classy chic look at a very reasonable price point (mid to high $20s). Gradation & Associates should be available later this fall.

• Lonseal, the sheet vinyl flooring company that brought us Lonseal and Lonzebra, has done it again with its LonElements Sahara product, a well deserved Best of NeoCon Silver medal winner. Featured on the floor of the Lonseal showroom, LonElements Sahara has a subdued texture and understated color variance with a leather embossed surface for a subtle, sophisticated look. The color palette consists of eight natural earth tones in rich hues of beiges, golds and burgundies. Also notable from Lonseal is its Heiko healthcare collection. Heiko’s soothing color line and easy to clean attributes make it a great choice for this market segment. Heiko, by the way, is the Japanese word for balance.

• The New York luxury vinyl tile specialist Parterre is one of the industry’s hidden gems. The firm offers a gorgeous spread of high quality products which are artfully executed, magically realistic and right on the mark stylewise.

Design talent Roche Fitzgerald created several tile collections of unique but tasteful wood, stone, concrete and metallic effects, which can be mixed and matched for multimedia looks or stand-alone floors.

Favorites include: the Scrapyard line of watery, weathered metal looks with a painterly yet realistically convincing palette from the Fused collection; the Hard Core collection’s rubbed metallic Patina line, with gracefully changing subtle finishes that catch the light differently at different times of the day; and Urban Tarnish, a rusted steel plate look, also from the Fused collection.

• Solutia debuted its Ultron StainGuard, a new system that bonds with the nylon 6,6 carpet fiber. Solutia didn’t develop the product but it owns the patent so it will remain a proprietary product. So far, Clayton Miller is the only mill to have a product on the market—its Cadence line—with the new stain protection but a number of other mills are conducting preliminary tests. Solutia sees the product as a natural in the hospitality sector but also effective in the healthcare and education markets and it is initially being rolled out for commercial applications. Troublemakers such as coffee and mustard can simply be cleaned up with water. Solutia also came to the show with 55 Ultron products from a variety of mills. Notable this year was its contribution to Lees Carpet’s Best of NeoCon Gold Award. Solutia fiber was in the printed styles of that eye-catching winner. Also, most of the products exhibited by J&J/Invision and Constantine used Solutia fiber.

• Luxury vinyl tile producer Amtico International was at Neocon with a catchy “back to black” theme, which radiated through its booth and carried through to the retro 50s style pinup advertising running in some of the designer magazines during the show. Of the three products being featured at Neocon, it was easy to see why Back to Black was chosen as its feature collection. This dramatic collection of linear grained LVT has a satin sheen and comes in four near-black hues named Envy, Desire, Poison and Vamp. Equally as impressive were the new LVT products designed to look like marbled cork, and cherry and maple hardwood flooring. All three of these manmade imitations look amazingly real and yet can be used in high traffic commercial applications where the natural product could quickly wear out.  

Business continues to be strong with Amtico, especially in the hospitality and healthcare sectors.  And while the company is headquartered in the United Kingdom, its products sold here in the U.S are domestically produced so it is insulated from the currency exchange issues that other European producers are facing.

• Anyone walking the 10th floor couldn’t miss the completely redesigned Antron showroom—designed by Chicago based Design Collaborative (which also redid Johnsonite’s booth on the 8th floor). The modular glass construction allowed people in the outer hall to see the entire showroom, which has a modular design and was colorfully lit with accent lighting. And based on its reuse of existing materials in its showroom makeover, Invista has filed for LEED gold certification.  When this permanent space is not being used as a showroom, it can easily be converted to a training center or as a reception area for client events.

This year Invista added 25 new colors to the Lumena line of nylon 6,6 carpet fiber, bringing the grand total to 225 colors. But more importantly, Invista is offering 50 colors with 25% post industrial content, which was recognized this year with a Best of Neocon Silver Award for its recycled content. And from a marketshare perspective, of all the new carpet products introduced at Neocon this year, a record 206 use Antron fiber and one whole wall in its new showroom is dedicated to showing samples of those new carpet introductions.

• Styling leader Atlas showed four new cut loop broadloom collections this year, Avante Garde, Estilo, Lyric, and Shall We Dance, as well as the Mediterranea Collection II. The Avante Garde collection is fairly self descriptive and is perhaps Atlas’ most unusual collection. It has four very three dimensional monochromatic styles—Energy, Flow, Vibe and Groove. However, the line that drew the most attention was the Estilo Collection, a series of geometric patterns that can be used in a wide variety of settings. Shall We Dance, a series of large scale florals and geometrics, comes in eight patterns and 24 colors in 26 ounce weight. Lyric, a series of flowing, large geometrics, comes in ten patterns and 24 colors in a 32 ounce weight. Atlas does not produce carpet tile. 

• Blue Ridge had four new, somewhat conservative tile collections, all using solution dyed yarns, featuring stripes or patterns, along with coordinated solids, and they are designed to complement each other. The four collections contain a total of ten tiles. The A La Carte Collection features tiles with stripes of varying widths. The Hyphenates Collection also features stripes but in a different pattern that could be used for wayfinding. The Duet Collection is also a play on stripes but in a more abstract form. The Renaissance Collection uses a stripe motif as well, but in a much more compact format. Blue Ridge also had onsite a demonstration of a nifty new design tool that will be incorporated into its website. The tool shows how tiles can be mixed and matched, and rotated, to create custom designs. Blue Ridge also showed its Ensemble Collection of broadloom designs, but the emphasis was on the new tiles.

• The Burke Flooring showroom featured EcoFitness, a rubber flooring product made from recycled California truck tires. EcoFitness is available in either interlocking tiles or rolls and color choices are virtually unlimited. This product is made from 88% post consumer recycled content, is competitively priced and is backed with a two year warranty. In addition, Burke was also showing its LVT wood and stone look collections featuring a nano silver antibacterial wearlayer.

• Capri Cork made its NeoCon debut this year and by what we saw, we expect them to quickly rise to prominence within the design community. When you take the sustainability and performance message of cork and blend it with Italian styling, you have an immediate recipe for success. 

Most of Capri’s commercial products are homogeneous and handsomely designed. The Rigato collection (Italian for pin stripe) is a signature design for Capri Cork. New in 2008 is an extension of its Re-Tire Collection (made from cork and recycled tire rubber) called the Medley Collection—available in eight colors.

• Last November, Art Dodge found a new ownership partner (leaving his former German Rugupol partner) and now Ecosurfaces is owned in part by Element Partners—a venture capital firm whose portfolio is focused on companies with a solid environmental message. Under this new ownership structure, Ecore International (the new company name) plans to become more designer friendly by adding more colorful and coordinated products to its assortment with a wider range of shapes and sizes. 

While at its booth on the 7th floor, we were given a sneak preview of an exciting new collection designed by Ecore’s product design consultants Metaphor, which it plans to launch at this year’s Greenbuild show in Boston. The company still claims to be the largest recycler of scrap tire rubber in the U.S. and with the recent ownership changes, it is in a position to sell its recycled rubber flooring and sports flooring worldwide.

• Expanko showed two new handcrafted looks in its Traditional Veneer Cork flooring, as well as a solid color cork tile called Viale, which the company said is the first solid on the market. The two-color solid tiles with a dark background have an abstract look, with thin, wavy contrasting stripes. Because they are solid, these tiles can be sanded and won’t lose their color. They’re manufactured at the same density as hardwood floors. Expanko sees a lot of potential with the solid product for use in medallions and other accents. The tiles can also be custom cut for different looks. The firm’s new veneer, Pesca, has the look of fish scales, while Spinato features undulating lines of cork veneer. Both are being marketed for light commercial use.

• Fortune Contract made a big move at NeoCon this year to a new showroom on the 10th floor that beautifully showcased its distinct style. Designer Judith Ingalls introduced six new collections, most notably the Heavy Metal and Shimmer collections. Heavy Metal is a progressive metallic luster mix designed to coordinate beautifully with Shimmer, a tonal striated pattern. Both are available in broadloom and tile.  Also new and notable was Piece of Cake, which has a heavy woven, chunky texture and was designed to coordinate with last year’s Pie in the Sky. 

Fortune Contract is generating a lot of excitement with its new natural wools from New Zealand. The natural wools are currently available in six tones using no dyes. Amazingly, the different colors come from sheep living at different altitudes, with a sumptuous gray hue at medium elevations and a surprisingly rich brown at high elevations. Any pattern in the Fortune line can be done in the wools. 

This was the second year for the Yards to Miles contest for architects and designers incorporating Fortune Contract products in interior design. This year, the award was presented to two firms. HOK from Culver City, California was the West Coast award recipient, led by Clay Pendergrast for the design of a law firm in Santa Monica.  The carpet styles selected for this project were Forecast, Dateline and Roadwork. The East Coast award recipient was the DFS Group of Alexandria, Virginia led by Bronwyn Thomas.  Roadwork and Stripe Tease were the carpet selections for a multi-family clubhouse located in Slatersville, Rhode Island.

• Gerflor, headquartered in France, is the third biggest vinyl producer in the world. In March 2007, the firm created its U.S. sales network, based in Atlanta, working with the A&D community and flooring contractors. Its best known products, Mipolam and Taralay, are specified largely in the healthcare sector, as well as the education, retail, corporate and public space sectors. The firm offers a complete range of vinyl and vinyl composite products.

At this year’s show, Gerflor showcased its new patented Tarafit installation system, a more sanitary and durable alternative to traditional flash coved installations. The Tarafit Corner System offers rounded rather than angular corners that catch less dust and dirt and offer higher performance. The inside corner solution includes a high impact PVC cup over which the vinyl is installed, and the outside corner solution includes a weld design that goes around the corner instead of along it, creating a more secure and longer lasting seam.

Gerflor’s vinyl products use neither phthalate plasticizers nor heavy metal stabilizers, and include post industrial recycled content of up to 70% and post consumer content of 5% to 10%.

• Architectural resilient flooring manufacturer Halo Floors showcased three new exotic wood looks. The new colors, Brown Ebony, Britannia and Walnut, are dark and rich and provide the beautiful look of natural wood flooring with the benefits and longevity of vinyl. Halo also introduced a range of soft pastel tiles designed for the healthcare market and solid brights geared towards the retail environment. Any of these can be used alone or with a delicate pattern overlay such as dots or leaves to add interest and texture. Tiles are available in the traditional 12” tiles or the larger 24” format.

• Canadian firm Kraus, whose sister company Strudex Fibres makes carpet fiber, displayed samples of its Mid Century Modern collection, a solution dyed nylon containing 31% recycled materials. It’s aimed at the urban condominium market. Another new product was Michael at Home, a variation of its Michael (named for founder Michael Kraus) high end commercial line but targeted for the residential market. It comes in coral and wave patterns, and is available in both broadloom and tile. 

• PacifiCrest’s Batik and Fresco broadlooms feature a geometric design of medium scale rectangles alternating in either high and low loop (Fresco) or loop and tip sheared (Batik). The sumptuous colorways are the result of using solution dyed Antron Brilliance and Antron Primers for greige goods in five colorways. Primers is a pigmented acid-dyeable fiber, part of Antron’s FiberEffects family, offering broad color possibilities when the tufted carpet goes through a continuous dyeing process. The five pre-dyed colors in Batik and Fresco end up producing 17 different colorations with both tonal and accent colors.

PacifiCrest also introduced two companion products, Art Nouveau and Deco, tonal pieces using both Brilliance and Primers in a loop and tip-sheared construction. Art Nouveau is a small scale random design, while Deco is an understated striated pattern. 

• Not only making its NeoCon debut but also its debut into the commercial sector was Tuftex, Shaw’s West Coast division. Its In the City collection consists of 40 products of nylon broadloom separated into five volumes—Volume 1 being the least expensive entry level carpet and Volume 5 the most expensive. The color line is truncated so that the designer can choose the color scheme, then refer to the volume that meets the price point to select the style. The collection is designed for the condo market.

• Wicanders introduced a 41/2”cork plank collection called, appropriately enough, Cork Plank. It’s a fairly significant departure from its more traditional cork looks, with the basic feel of wood plank flooring but with the distinctive look of cork. It’s microbeveled and is installed as a floating floor. Cork Plank comes in 12 visuals and the colors of exotic hardwoods and uses the non-VOC binder Acrodur, developed by BASF, which makes it one of the greenest cork products on the market and a natural for LEED projects. Wicanders is the only cork company using the Acrodur binder. Cork Plank comes with a five year light commercial or 15 year residential warranty. It will be available in August or September.





Copyright 2008 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Karastan, Armstrong Flooring, The Dixie Group, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Tuftex, Fuse, Interface, Mannington Mills, Crossville, Parterre Flooring Systems, Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, Fuse Alliance, Tarkett, Roppe, Masland Carpets & Rugs, Beaulieu International Group, Mohawk Industries