NeoCon 2009 - July 2009

By Darius Helm, Anne Harr, Frank O'Neill & Maurie Welsh O'Neill

With expectations appropriately lowered, this year’s NeoCon, held as always in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, was in many ways impressive. The vast majority of commercial flooring producers were out in force, there were plenty of new designs and innovations, and while traffic was down, those in attendance were there to do business.

To a newcomer, this year’s trade show, held June 15 to 17, might have seemed like the paragon of dynamism and creativity. As always, the crowds were sharp and elegant, the corridors and aisles were at times chocked full of people, and everywhere were examples of the latest, most ingenious, most masterfully designed commercial interior products.

Nevertheless, when it’s easier to take the elevators than the stairs, you know that attendance is off, and when there’s open space on the seventh and eighth floors, you know that some exhibitors decided to take a pass this year. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that a slow economy doesn’t mean no economy and a recession is not a standstill. If the pace of business is off 20% or so, people still have to go out there and do the other 80%—billions of dollars worth of business must still be conducted—and that’s what people were doing.

Some sectors of the commercial market, like corporate office, tenant improvement, retail and hospitality, are down significantly. Others, like healthcare and education, have suffered less, and here and there those sectors are helping companies grow their revenues. Government work through the GSA is perhaps the most robust. But in general there are a lot of projects on hold, circling, waiting for the banks to start lending more freely.

While there was still plenty of product at NeoCon catering to the corporate sector and to retail store planning, many manufacturers were making sure they had plenty to offer for healthcare, education and government jobs. 

The two biggest trends in commercial flooring were as strong as ever at the show. Carpet tile continues to be the biggest growth category in flooring, and most of the medium sized broadloom mills are now making carpet tile along with all the big mills. New to the club this year is Atlas Carpet Mills. 

The green movement also shows no signs of slowing. It’s a movement that was spearheaded by commercial carpet mills, and they continue to lead the charge. Fibers are greener this year than ever before, and Invista has jumped in feet first with bio based content in its Legacy yarns. Backings are greener, alternative energy makes more of what’s on the floor, and overall environmental footprints continue to fall.

Now the hard surface players are starting to really step it up. Mannington’s turning used VCT into new VCT, Crossville’s making used porcelain tile into new porcelain tile, Centiva has a vinyl tile that’s more than 50% recycled, Roppe is recycling SBR, and more hardwoods than ever are FCS certified. Despite the recession, 2009 may well be the year that resilient and hard surface producers finally stepped away from the riverbank and entered the current.

This year’s flooring designs were a mixed bag. Some were conservative while others were bold and optimistic. While some manufacturers focused on extensions of existing collections or additional colorways, most came to the show with something new—and a handful took the opportunity to make a big splash. Here’s a look at what was new.

• Crossville’s UltiMetal, which won the Gold NeoCon award in the Flooring: Hard-Surface category, is a color-body porcelain with a metallic glazed surface in a faceted micro-mesh. Small scale crookedness within the grid plays with the light for a warmer and more delicate look than some of the metallic grid finishes out of Europe, which can be too brash for some applications and too severe and precise for others. UltiMetal, which comes in white, silver, grey, black and copper, can work in a wide range of commercial applications, and despite its luxurious appearance, it is scratch resistant and acid resistant. Crossville expects UltiMetal to be a hit in heavy use retail and hospitality applications. 

The tiles come in three sizes—6”x24”, 12”x24” and 24”x24”, along with listellos and decos. The accompanying listellos are a riveting grouping of creative geometrics, including ladders, stripes, boxes and grids, combining the different colors. The floor in Crossville’s space featured UltiMetal and its listellos in a lyrical waterjet-cut installation that drew a lot of passersby.

The other big news at Crossville is its $10.5 million expansion, which includes the 180 metric ton SACMI PH7500. The SACMI, the only one of its kind in North America, will enable Crossville to produce up to three 24”x36” tiles at a time, double filled and rectified. The SACMI is still being installed and tested. 

The expansion also includes a crushing machine that went online in May, following two years of research and testing, which will enable Crossville to recapture several million pounds of tile annually. The post consumer content is ideal for the SACMI’s double fill capability, which will allow the reclaimed product to be used in the bottom layer. Clients who want their waste Crossville tile diverted need only pay for transportation.

• Tai Ping, a major player in the hospitality market, has entered the contract business with a collection of carpet tiles called Frame of Reference. The all wool line, in three designs, comes with attached cushion backing with 80% post consumer PET content.

Portal, an offset botanical pattern, can be used in four tile and nine tile formats to create larger patterns. Transom is a subtle design of fractured elongated blocks on one end shifting to a more organic design on the other. Threshold is a design of smaller scale interlocking blocks. All three solid color designs create the patterns through loop and tip sheared effects.

Tai Ping is coming out with a second collection next month called Sketchbook that includes an angled grid called Crosshatch, a centrally focused dot pattern called Stipple, and Shadow, a small scale irregular design.

• When the economy began its downward slide, most manufacturers cut back on spending and product development. InterfaceFlor took the contrarian approach, and, as senior VP John Wells said, “put the gas to the floor.” At this year’s NeoCon, the company introduced nine new collections and a total of 18 styles—the broadest product introduction in several years.

This year’s showroom theme was Through the Looking Glass, a nod to David Oakey’s whimsical Alice In Wonderland creations, which were influenced by everything from fashion to fantasy. Most of all, though, they were influenced by the economy. All of them are safe, yet, in a twist that Oz would have loved, as fantastical as the designer could ever dream.

Oakey achieved this paradox by creating conservative tile products that designers can have cut into any pattern or size they want. So a thick and thin stripe pattern like Cap & Blazer can be laid out in a brick pattern, or Tectonics’ linear patterns and 16 colors can be mixed and matched or cut into an unlimited number of unique designs. The firm’s TacTile squares make the process of laying down cut pieces simple and secure.

Among our favorite intros this year: Braided, with the look of traditional braided rugs (in 18 colors), which coordinates with the Colonial Collection, and blends the textures and patterns of grandma’s rag rugs in three styles and 18 colors. Oakey recognizes the influence of hard surface flooring in two other creations: Vermont and Concrete. Vermont’s biomorphic design has the veined look of stone and marble, while Concrete honors the underfloor with four patterns—Brushed, with its monolithic look; Broomed, which has a thin stripe; Grooved, which looks like raked concrete; and Blended, a mix of the first three patterns.

Two of the more versatile intros this year are Board Games and Surreal. Board Games’ two linear styles can be installed non-directionally or cut into different size squares to create a ceramic tile look. Surreal comes in three geometric designs—Imago (linear), Nouveau (swirls) and Oz (different size dots)—that can be cut and mixed to create absolutely wild designs.

InterfaceFlor continues to pursue chairman Ray Anderson’s groundbreaking vision of achieving zero environmental footprint by 2020. The firm has increased the recycled content in its products so that post consumer content is now as high as 30% in a single product. The company continues to work with Universal Fibers, which now supplies it with post consumer yarns in 65 colors. This year, InterfaceFlor also began using an exclusive collection of post consumer content yarns from Aquafil in 18 colors.

• Although Aquafil is an Italian based carpet fiber producer, most of the yarn it sells in the U.S is manufactured in its recently expanded facility in Cartersville, Georgia.­ To meet its domestic customers’ needs, the company has diversified its mix to include a wide range of deniers and both white and solution dyed nylon yarns. According to Franco Rossi, Aquafil now offers over 270 colors with a denier range that extends from 150 to 3000.­ In recent months, the company has expanded its relationship with Bentley Prince Street and Templeton.

• Rubber flooring producer Roppe, based in Fostoria, Ohio, has introduced the Impact Recycling Program, a partnership with a Minnesota recycler of non-tire rubber that should have a significant impact on landfill diversion. The program includes a proprietary process to eliminate the adhesive removal problem that has been a barrier to effective rubber reclamation. The recovered rubber flooring, which also includes stair treads, wall base and other accessories, will be turned into landscaping mulches, playground surfacing, crumb for athletic fields and other downcycled uses.

• In 2005, at a time when most U.S. luxury vinyl tile manufacturers were turning to Asia for their products, Centiva was installing a new production line in its Florence, Alabama plant. Since then, the company’s “Made in America” tagline has become a meaningful refrain to its customers, especially in these difficult economic times.

While some companies have been cutting back on new products, Centiva introduced more than 40 wood look tiles and an equal number of new stone look tiles at NeoCon 09. Many of them are part of the new World Options collection, which was inspired by color and design from all parts of the globe. All the products in the new collection are made in Florence.

The company also created new architectural folders, arranging the products from its three sub brands—Event, Contour and Victory—according to either stone or wood designs, making it much easier for customers to choose product. In another bow to its customers, Victory is also now color coordinated. 

Centiva has also been ramping up its green capabilities, with the goal of having 30% of all its energy supplied from renewable sources by 2013. Stria, one of several products with metallic finishes, is the first made with an all recycled content backing. Centiva’s goal is to make the entire Contour custom line recycled. All its products are also certified to meet strict FloorScore air quality standards.

• Last year, Tandus introduced Manufactured Landscapes, a six foot Powerbond and modular carpet collection featuring six bands of distinct crisp textures for a riveting look both industrial and tailored. With the pattern running across the width of the tufting machine, the repeat shifts for each six foot substrate, which can then be cut into a set of three unique tiles. This year the firm has broadened the offering with three extensions—Landscape Patterns, Manufactured Landscapes Broadloom and Landform.

Landscape Patterns replaced a tailored band with a vivid organic pattern in a medium large scale, and the sample on the showroom floor featured a rich red pattern against a mid brown colorway. Landscape Patterns is made up of three designs—Squiggle Ray, Blade Curve and Hybrid, which is more floral.

Also new at the show was Manufactured Landscapes Broadloom, a low profile construction that reinterprets the essential pattern on a medium scale (Phase) and a small scale (Impulse), using blended colors in seven yarns. The broadloom should be attractive to specifiers, since it extends the design concept to cover more areas within, for instance, a corporate setting.

Landform, which weighs ten ounces less per yard than Manufactured Landscapes tiles, interprets the pattern in a level loop at more affordable price points. Landscape Colors adds a single line of accent color for some pop against the neutral palette.

Hypothesis, a collection designed in collaboration with Jhane Barnes, features two subtly structured products, available both as tile and six foot Powerbond, which showcases Barnes’ focus on process and the use of mathematical structures as design tools. Brainstorm looks like shaded blocks and bands in a low key balance between equilibrium and dynamism, while the coordinate, Mental Blocks, is more striated and features a handful of unevenly spaced narrow lines of color for a crisp tailored look. The products are colored for the healthcare, corporate and education markets in 14 colorways of warm neutrals and brights.

Tandus’ Wax Resist Collection, also in carpet tile and six foot goods, features two designs, Atoll and Meristem. Atoll is striated with low key background geometrics while Meristem is a curvilinear design like an abstract botanical, midscale and multidirectional.

• Gerflor, one of the biggest vinyl producers in the world, came out with its new Saga2 vinyl tile with a compelling construction and some excellent visuals. Designs include granite, concrete, textile and wood looks, and the tiles feature a backing made of PVC and cork for both acoustical insulation and to prevent telegraphing. The line comes in seven styles and 24 colors, and the total thickness of the product, which includes its 0.7 mm vinyl wearlayer, is designed to transition with carpet tile.

According to Gerflor, Saga2 backings are 100% recyclable. Gerflor was one of the founding members of AgPR, the German based vinyl recycling and reclamation association, and the firm supplies AgPR with reclaimed product and uses it as a source for post consumer and post industrial material. Gerflor has products with post industrial content as high as 70%, and it works with a firm in the U.S. that will take up and reuse vinyl.

Gerflor also added three new designs to its Taralay line of heterogeneous sheet vinyl. Oxygen is a stylish pattern of small circles, Organic is a meandering cellular grid pattern reminiscent of crocodile skin, and Wood is a grouping of exotic and domestic hardwood looks in strip and plank patterns.

The firm is also test marketing its LVT, which includes a range of looks, from slate, marbled black and black and white tiles to exotic hardwoods like zebrano, rustic woods and timeworn woods. Gerflor’s total global LVT offering is made up of 114 designs.

• Expanko, one of the oldest producers of cork flooring, won a Best of NeoCon Silver in the resilient category for its Hand Crafted Italian Veneers.­ Both of the styles in this collection have striking patterns. The Pesca pattern has a mosaic look with dark non-symmetrical lines between each little square. Spinato, on the other hand, offers a distinctive herringbone look.­ Both of these Italian made patterns are constructed with a 0.5mm veneer over a cork substrate.

• Bentley Prince Street opened the show with 15 fresh, luxurious products, all done with the unique vision that has given the company its leading design reputation. The collections, which include both carpet tile and broadloom, were given an urban theme—Living on the Edge. They were inspired by the vibrant satellite cities that have sprung up around the nation’s major metro markets.

Favorites include New Gotham, an elegant signature BPS broadloom designed by industry artistes Jack Mishkin, Valerie Ottaviano and their talented team. This super-plush product features gently staggered bands of both velvety and burnished metallic texture, artistically highlighted with whimsical dots that look like hand embroidered French knots. New Gotham comes in 18 rich Antron Legacy colors, paired with a smaller scale coordinate, a textured dimensional grid, also accented with dots that look embroidered.

Satellite City and Suburban Fringe, two exciting and refined coordinates in tight, multilevel textured loops, look like fine linen or hand drawn silk. Both large scale patterns are made with Lumena yarns that create great energy through texture, glowing clear color and subtle metallic touches. They come in 18 strikingly vibrant new solution dyed colors. Edge City, a near-solid twist with a cashmere hand, comes in an expansive 24 color palette of sophisticated neutrals and daring brights. All three are available in both broadloom and tile.

Easy Street features four well priced patterns made with solution dyed yarns by Aquafil, coordinated for several spaces of a single project. The collection, housed in a nifty new compact architectural folder, includes a tight multicolored loop in 12 patterns, a bulky textural loop, and two bulky larger scale plaids—one linear and one organic—all coordinated with a sleek, tight solid style in 30 colors. The firm has also partnered with porcelain producer Crossville, offering hard surface coordinates for the collection.

Also new: Charles River Redux, a greener and decidedly more vibrant redesign of an older favorite, made with an impressive 70% post industrial recycled content nylon, a lighter face weight (Ascend’s new Ultron 900 denier nylon yarn) and gorgeous high luster Ultron Prismatic technology, which highlights the rich, multitextured organic linears that make the wave patterns actually reflect the light off the floor.

And stay tuned for a luxurious spread of naturally colored, ultra-dense 60 to 70 ounce wool styles and an equally exciting unique collection of gorgeous, ultra-sleek, skinny Euro flatweaves.

Bentley Prince Street also added a significant feature to its revolutionary virtual reality Zoom Room, which allows designers to see just what a carpet will look like in a room. Now designers will be able to see their own custom designs on the floor, too, which could streamline the creative process dramatically.

• The change of ownership for the Ultron brand of nylon 6,6 carpet fiber was so recent that the new owner, Ascend, didn’t have time to take down the Solutia name on its permanent 10th floor showroom. Now backed with financing from SK Capital, Ascend plans to continue to build the Ultron brand name to the specifier market. For the first time, the Ultron showroom featured modular tile on the floor.­Its new 900 denier fiber allows its customers to reduce the overall face weight without losing perceived bulk, thus allowing lower price points.­Also new for this year is a filament nylon product that contains recycled content.­Until now, all the Ultron yarns with recycled content were staple yarns.

This brand will be interesting to watch now that it’s no longer under bankruptcy protection or up for sale.

• Mannington was yet another company to defy the recessionist blues with a sweep of fresh new designs and concepts. The firm won a Best of NeoCon Award for its Virtual Library, a component of its Internet site. The library, which was designed in collaboration with Azul Arc of Atlanta, allows designers to open folders, zoom in on products and specs, and to link up and order through a rep.

The Spectrum Collection, the company’s latest collaboration with design firm HOK in Chicago, offers a fun and fashionable spread of playful carpet and rubber tile coordinates, which designers can custom mix, match and cut for original looks. (Mannington, by the way, added rubber floors and base to its broad offerings when it acquired rubber producer Burke Industries last summer.) Spectrum, whose striped patterns were inspired by scientific wavelength readings, includes a group of carpet tile patterns with varying linears in both vivid brights and tailored neutrals, set against light or dark neutral field colors in two foot square modulars, with 30 colors in all. The 12”x24” companion rubber tiles come in 15 colors, in solid or striped textured patterns. In a nod to both ecology and the economy, Spectrum’s carpet tiles are made with a low 11 ounce face weight, a 30% recycled InfinityRE modular backing, and a dense, high performing construction.

The firm’s concept of creative cutting for signature looks brought new ideas to even tried and true products such as VCT, with a unique, multicolored floor display of specially cut 3”x3” tiles. Mannington is the first manufacturer to recycle used VCT back into new VCT, a program launched earlier this year.

Also new: Stream of Consciousness, a group of three whimsical trailing circle patterns, inspired by the sea urchin, in multilevel loop tip sheared solution dyed Antron nylon, available in both tile and broadloom.

The back walls of Mannington’s showroom were buzzing, too, with the firm’s tx:style online design competition. Six young designers, the semi finalists in the competition, hosted their displays of conceptual drawings and carpet designs, which showroom and online visitors voted on. An impressive 460,000 votes were cast. The winner: Megan Webb of Nashville, whose winning pattern, Squareberry, should appear in Mannington’s carpet repertoire next year.

• Blue Ridge Carpet debuted a striking 21 products, all designed and orchestrated by industry veteran Sue Ross. Favorites include: Esprit de Corps, a three pattern collection of complicated linears and ombre effects that can be interchanged for unique looks; and Maverick and Free Spirit, a solution dyed tile and broadloom combo accented with metallic glimmer. Maverick features textured pinstripes, while Free Spirit has sweeping large scale organics floating on a pinstriped field. Interestingly, the two coordinates were installed on the showroom floor with unique diagonal cuts to show designers that creative tile cuts can build original looks.

Also new: Ensemble, a five piece collection of luxurious piece dyed tip sheared patterns with lots of color pop. Designs include mid scale organic waves, a random brush stroke organic and three block motifs in varying scales.

Most eco-sleek: Color Stripes, a tailored multistripe and solid mix and match tile group, in related color families, made with the firm’s recycled Eco Centric R3 yarn system, gathered from waste yarns and tail outs during production.

• The story at Milliken Contract, as it has been for the last three years, is one of evolution. Each year the firm has come out with a new design process that has significantly elevated the firm’s design profile, first with Convergence Technology and most recently with Etage. This year the firm took its digital color placement technology to a new level with Excalibur, which offers a far greater degree of precision than ever before. That technology was on display in the In Transit collection of loop products with a highly graphic quality. The line includes Transporter I and Transporter II, characterized by fine lines in escalating gaps, the difference being a precise accent line in Transporter I.

If that wasn’t enough, this year’s show saw Milliken’s foray into solution dyed nylons through three divergent designs. One was Ghost Artist, a collection by Roby Isaac that interprets classic architectural elements with soft geometric blocks in Façade and a curvilinear design in Semblance. Colorways include neutrals and richer, more saturated hues. Another solution dyed offering, the Kingsley Square Collection, features multilevel cut and loop designs with a lush look, including intersecting blocks in different scales and interesting reversals shifting between cut and loop constructions. The palette for Kingsley Square is made of soft neutrals, including greys and yellows.

The Paste Up Collection by Todd Van Der Kruik, also solution dyed, includes Tessellate, Space Invaders, Art Crime, Negotiator, Iconoclast and Public Reaction—an abstract and diverse grouping that fit together well as a collection. Tessellate, for instance, is a medium to large scale design of tip sheared irregular grid lines that slowly converge and diverge, and Art Crime is a smaller scale, more splattered pattern, while Negotiator is almost austere with its high contrast banding, linear but irregular, like a formalized stand of bamboo, and Public Reaction is even more subdued, though there’s a ghostly quality to the layered blocky design.

• Johnsonite, based in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, won a Best of NeoCon Gold award in the Flooring: Resilient category for Space, a vinyl tile collection with seven stylish designs and 28 colorways. The product, which is thicker than LVT, includes leather, textile and wood grain looks that showcase Johnsonite’s sophisticated design focus.

The firm’s Space tiles are installed with a releasable adhesive and can be recycled into LVT through Nafco’s Florence, Alabama operation.

Johnsonite has also enhanced its Mesto Configurations marbleized rubber tile with a range of sizes for unique, customizable installations, and each of the eight colorways comes in three shades—light, medium and dark—for a more dynamic and interesting look. Veining and base colors can also be reversed for added effect.

The firm’s linoleum line, now called Harmonium xf, includes new colors for a total palette of 73, ranging from warm earth tones to vivid saturated hues. The new program includes a design called Allegro with a unique veining technique, and the color range includes solids.

• Shaw Contract swept the Best of NeoCon Gold Carpet awards in both broadloom and modular with a striking new collection called Wool. Available in three broadloom and three modular styles, this collection emulates natural wool but is actually made of Shaw’s proprietary EcoSolution Q nylon, which according to Shaw makes it more affordable. To give the collection added shimmer, a metallic yarn is also incorporated in this collection. We especially liked Spun, which in-house designer Reesie Duncan calls the “black dress” of the wardrobe. The wool collection is NSF-140 Platinum certified.

A second noteworthy collection that coordinates with Wool is Homage, which is a tribute to the hand dyeing craft with product names like Craft, Block Print and Sewn. This collection comes in two broadloom and three modular styles. Shaw Contract will donate 1% of all revenue from Homage to the Public Architecture nonprofit organization.

Both of these collections follow the more conservative design trends that become prevalent during an economic downturn by offering safer and more conservative patterns with neutral and more natural—and almost timeless—color lines. 

In usual Shaw Contract fashion, the back of its showroom was setup to get market feedback from designers who were voting with white marbles on their favorite future design concepts. 

We also noticed a wide strip of commercial grade hardwood flooring down the middle of Shaw’s showroom, which we also noted at the company’s HD Expo exhibit in May. As the specified market seeks more natural products, Shaw plans to be there with hardwood products that can stand up to commercial traffic.

• This year Armstrong is celebrating a century of linoleum with an expansion of its collection by more than 50%. The expansion includes a revitalized palette of colors. The firm’s linoleum lines, Marmorette, Linorette, Colorette, Granette and Uni Walton now come in 126 colors. Armstrong had a wall inside its space illustrating its linoleum timeline through a series of advertisements—a fascinating opportunity to see in what ways things have changed and in what ways they’ve stayed the same. 

Also new at Armstrong is the Continuum color specifying system, a tonally organized process that “unites hue, value and chroma” across the firm’s entire portfolio of commercial flooring products. The system includes a color fan with every card featuring three tonal steps.

Armstrong’s Stonetex Premium VCT has been expanded from 12”x12” tiles to include 18”x18” tiles and a larger color palette. New color options for both Stonetex and linoleum are based on the Continuum system.

Armstrong has also taken its laminate offering into the commercial market with three lines—Traditional, Premium and Premium Lustre—each with 20 colors in a range of gloss levels across ten wood looks. The offering includes the piano finish look of Grand Illusions that has had such an impact in the residential market.

Armstrong’s commercial laminates, which are 12 mil thick, feature AC5 rated high performance wearlayers as well as the firm’s Lock&Fold glueless technology and Quiet Comfort underlayment made from high density polyurethane foam. The firm anticipates demand in the healthcare and retail sectors, and even hospitality, where laminates are being increasingly used in guest rooms.

• One of the most fascinating booths at the show was Green Choice Flooring, which offered a range of surprising eco-friendly wood floors. One was Mulberry, which uses the bamboo strand woven approach to make visually exciting (and super hard) floors from the branches of silk industry mulberry bushes that no longer produce leaves. The firm also takes strand bamboo one step further, creating twists within the product that resemble burling and fracture the directionality of the product.

Also worth checking out are the firm’s PalmWood, a strand product made from recycled coconut trees, and PalmBoo, strand woven from both palm and bamboo. All of the firm’s bamboo is FSC certified, while the mulberry and palm are more along the lines of reclaimed or recovered product. 

• Last year, two of Shaw Industries’ commercial mills, Designweave and Patcraft, joined forces to bring design and service together as one entity. So this year, this value focused commercial brand, Patcraft Designweave, came to NeoCon with a brand new LEED Certified (Platinum–CI) permanent showroom on the 11th floor. This year’s showroom theme was “WOW”—affordable, highly styled products. According to marketing head Eric Wroldsen, “One key element of the Patcraft Designweave message is we offer big company resources with small company service. You still get the EcoWorx backing and the EcoSolution Q nylon fiber complete with its cradle to cradle performance from this nimble service oriented brand.” 

Two new collections this year are Fusion, and Define and Conquer. Define and Conquer is a modular tile collection that features a classic stripe inspired by timeless business suits. In addition to the stripe, the collection has textural patterning that makes it look richer than it actually costs. The Fusion collection features some bold colors and explores the organic formation of the round and hexagonal shapes of bubbles and honeycombs.

• Chilewich added some stunning colorways to its unique flooring, which uses bands of thin vinyl strands in flatwoven constructions for a range of truly compelling looks. New to the Ikat construction are Tweed and Moss. New to Bamboo is Tea, a particularly subtle and evocative colorway—a medium and a deep brown along the weft woven through a pale warp. New to Basketweave are three brighter colorways—mango, lemon and lime.

Chilewich’s products are essentially sold like carpet tile and broadloom. The broadloom is polyurethane cushion backed and the tiles have a vinyl hard back.

• The Mohawk Group showcased new products in all four brands—Karastan, Lees, Durkan and Bigelow. Among the most visually arresting was the Karastan brand’s Archetype Collection, the epitome of woven precision in four designs—New York, NY II, Quillen II, Nouveau III and HighLine—in patterns ranging from crisp textured stripes and a textured box design to a laddered look and an almost beaded linear look. 

Also new for Karastan is Fluid Terrain, a tufted broadloom collection by Irena Peer, a New York based textile designer, that is notable for its abstract but vivid patterning as well as its evocative colorways. Peer used her own software application to generate abstract designs derived from a range of nature based phenomena. The collection is made up of six designs: Spray, Contrail and Drizzle are large scale designs in ten vivid organic colorways, and Drift, Moss and Weathered are tone on tone neutrals with smaller scale designs in 15 colorways. Peer’s color inspiration was 20th century Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, known for his focus on the gradation and interrelationship of hues in still lifes of simple everyday objects.

The Bigelow brand, which is Mohawk’s most affordable contract offering, showcased stylish, tight low level loop carpet tile designs called City by City. The line includes Delhi and Seoul, a linear speckled design and a variably striated pattern, as well as Chengdu, also striated but with sporadic accent lines pushing up through the loop pile.

Surreal Life is Bigelow’s new broadloom designed to coordinate with its best selling Surreal carpet line, and is made up of Spontaneous and Bizarre, two tight but nubby patterns with a retro feel. The line comes in eight colorways that feature a surprising combination of earth tones and rich vivid accent colors. Also new at Bigelow is Organic Matrix, three carpet tile designs with playful designs and a broad color palette.

Durkan, Mohawk’s hospitality brand, came out with Merit Moda 500, a guest room program that allows for a range of customizable options with only a 500 yard minimum. The program offers nine standard colorways in 37 patterns, including 12 that are linear themed patterns, 12 botanical themed and 12 elliptical themed, as well as Flora, a running line pattern in an abstract symmetrical petaled design.

Durkan Designer Rugs is made up of 30 printed rugs, about half of which are animal print based created in collaboration with Todd Oldham. Customers can choose designs and pick from a range of sizes, as well as a range of borders.

Lees’ Focal Point, using the firm’s new Duracolor Premium high performance fiber, is made up of three carpet tile patterns, including Modern Gaze, a design of sweeping curves, Clear Vision, with circular interconnected patterns, and Positive Light, a linear design that resembles mottled light. Now and Zen, also from Lees and available in tile or broadloom, is a collection of three patterns in 12 low key colorways.

Sixth Sense, another Lees introduction, is a collection of five designs in a range of moody, earthy colorways with some surprising color twists and metallic yarn accents. The line includes linears, geometrics, and an abstract interpretation of inkblots that plays with positive and negative space.

• After DuPont sold Invista to Koch Industries, we didn’t expect to see it back at NeoCon with a polymer for carpet fiber. Guess again. Now that its Sorona brand of PTT polymers has been reclassified as triexta, DuPont is promoting its new “carpet fiber,” complete with its 37% bio based component, to the commercial design community. And while this polymer is exclusive to Mohawk in the residential market, this is not the case in the commercial market. If a mill wants to produce commercial carpet using the Sorona polymer, Pharr Yarns can extrude it for them.

• Flexco, based in Tuscumbia, Alabama, introduced Health Design Base, a weldable wall base made of a blend of rubber and vinyl that comes with preformed inside and outside corners. It’s all designed for ease of maintenance, including sloped corners, its ability to be welded to both vinyl and rubber, and its tapered edge, with score lines on the back to indicate material thickness, so that it always seams perfectly.

• Masland Contract, traditionally a broadloom producer, has been doing carpet tile for about three years and it already accounts for a fifth of its business. All the introductions at this year’s show were carpet tile designs in what has become Masland’s trademark bold styling. One new tile grouping included a swirly retro called Arrhythmic, Nexus, a textured pattern of linear bands of contrasting luster levels, Intrinsic, a layered look, and Delineate, a linear coordinate. 

Another grouping included Constellate, a dramatic open design like a centered spider web and a spray of water droplets. Others were Radiate, an abstract pattern with an overall effect somewhat like animal prints, Optic, with angled slashes reminiscent of refractions through glass, and Vector, a large scale design of long lines going in different directions. That group also includes Solar, an abstract, and Meridian, a linear coordinate.

• Capri Cork came to the show with some snappy new homogeneous cork designs, specified for heavy commercial applications because the patterns, unlike most cork floors (which are made with veneer), are constructed throughout the tile.

Favorites include: Pick-up-Strips, a trendy linear with a subtle light and dark contrast that creates an interesting textured visual; and Melange, an organic chiaroscuro swirl pattern, with a nature based look. Capri has 20 homogeneous patterns in total, which not only wear well in heavy traffic, but can also be re-sanded, like solid hardwood.

The firm’s new rubber and cork combo, cleverly named And/Or, has a unique speckled surface in 11 trendy colors. The product comes in both four foot rolls and two foot tile for floors or the wall, and is made with almost 35% recycled post-industrial content.

Also new: A 15 color collection of rubber wall base in a neutral palette, which owner/designer Margaret Buchholz coordinated with wall paint, with custom colors available. Even newer : Waves of Color, a collection in a variety of patterns of 12 prefinished stained colors that run from browns to greens to eggplant, all with subtle earthy undertones.

• Burtco hit the show with a few different collections, including Country Club, with a range of classic and contemporary looks, like Persian carpet designs and golfing patterns, along with geometrics and florals. The firm’s Infinity line of all loop patterned carpet in nylon or wool includes a few stand outs, like Fleet Street, a crooked geometric that looks street map inspired. 

Burtco’s CYP (computer yarn placement) capabilities are on display in the Torcello line of nylon carpet in traditional rug styles with six colors per design. Contemporary I also uses CYP technology for a range of modernistic abstracts along with designs that feel more like Arts & Crafts interpretations.

• Amtico, the largest U.S, producer of luxury vinyl for the commercial market, launched four new collections this year and a unique new product called Fiber. In the past, most LVT products were either wood or stone looks. True to form, most of the latest intros are either stone—Spacia Access Travertine and Composite Pumice, Flint and Calcium—or wood—Stratica Crafstman Maple, Wenge, Oak and Light Maple, along with Spacia Access Oak and Zebra Wood—but the company also took a turn into new territory with Fiber, which looks remarkably like carpet tile, and several other styles, such as Spacia Access Ceramic and XL Refined Concrete. Access, by the way, is 5 mm thick, making it the same height as carpet tile.

Fiber is actually the first product in what could become the most interesting new trend in LVT. This stunningly realistic product was actually woven—the company recently installed new equipment in its Georgia plant—then covered with a translucent layer. The effect is sure to be a big hit with designers worldwide.

The XL line, which has 49 different stone, wood and abstract designs, was created in response to the growing trend toward large scale patterns in open plan commercial interiors. Stone and abstract designs range in size from 7.2”x48” to 18”x48”. The wood designs come in 7.2”x48”. Backings are made with 100% recycled content.

Another major recent change: the Stratica line of non-PVC tile has been relaunched with a slightly different chemistry and a new one part pressure sensitive adhesive. The change solves the persistent problem of tiles that don’t stick to the floor. As a result of the changes, the tack strength of the tile is far greater than before, which should be good news to installers.

• Parterre, the Brooklyn, New York producer of luxury vinyl tile, moved to an exciting new and larger space on the eighth floor this year. The move is symbolic of Parterre’s growing recognition as a key player in today’s LVT market. New storyboards show how the firm’s range of wood, stone and metal look products can be combined on the floor to create striking and elegant projects. 

Parterre also continues its focus on environmental initiatives. In May, the firm’s headquarters in the Brooklyn Navy Yard became the nation’s first multi-story green industrial facility when it installed six wind turbines on the roof. The facility also uses solar panels, recycled rainwater in toilets, natural ventilation and high-efficiency lighting.

• Lonseal, which won a Best of NeoCon Silver last year for its LonElements Sahara for Surfacing Materials, was back this year showing the award winning sheet vinyl product now available for flooring. Featuring a rubbed-in printed pattern with leather embossed surface, it’s available in eight desert inspired surface colors in hues including beiges, golds and burgundies. Lonseal’s sheet vinyl is composed of more than 35% post industrial recycled content and is constructed with GreenAir technology to emit low VOCs. As part of the GreenGuard Microbial Resistance Listing Program, the products are proven to resist the growth of mold.

• Invista’s Antron brand of nylon 6,6 carpet fibers announced at the show that 159 new carpet introductions at NeoCon featured its carpet fibers. Antron was also the recipient of a best of show Silver award for its new Bio-Legacy fiber.

In fact, Antron introduced two new sustainable products at this year’s show. In the white nylon Legacy family, the company has developed a bio based component derived from castor bean oil that accounts for 10% of the weight of the product and can contribute to the LEED renewable materials credit category. And on the solution dyed Lumena side of its product line, Antron has added 25% recycled content. The first color available with this new yarn is peppercorn but more colors are under development. With both of these new products, performance is not sacrificed versus its other yarn systems and both can be recycled again once they’ve served their useful life.

Just prior to the show, Antron announced the winners of its 9th Annual Product Innovation Awards. Look at our coverage of these awards on

• Canadian vinyl manufacturer Estrie was featuring Viera, a PVC free alternative to VCT with no VOC emissions. This resilient flooring is made from limestone, natural pigments and a non PVC polymer, is free of other halogens and plasticizers, emits no VOCs, and is made up of 45% post industrial recycled content. Viera is available in 12” or 18” tiles. It combines multiple color tones in a subtle tone on tone visual in 20 different color options. Estrie was also showing luxury vinyl in hand scraped mahogany, ebony and Asian teak. 

• Tile of Spain was well represented at NeoCon by several fashion forward Spanish tile manufacturers including Tau, Onix, Grespania, Keraben and Inalco. Patti Fasan, Tile of Spain’s ceramic tile consultant, hosted daily seminars highlighting the latest innovations in design and technology in ceramic tile. Trends making a statement were: Earthos, embracing rustic earthiness in texture, material choice and color palette; Safarience, incorporating African prints, artifacts, exotic woods in rich hues and textures; and Articrafts, a Southwestern style with Asian inspired color. Another topic Fasan discussed was innovation, like Inalco’s SlimmKer product. SlimmerKer is less than ” thick and uses Iplus digital printing technology, which allows for greater realism in design.

• Beaulieu had a range of Cambridge and Bolyu products on display in its showroom, including Sashay and Strut, two Bolyu broadlooms using Zeftron nylon. Sashay is a linear tip sheared product while Strut is subtly striated. Also new was Yada Yada, a broadloom with tip sheared bars running over a striated loop.

The firm’s Cambridge brand featured a textural solid color with raised loop lines, including metallics, against a multicolored background for a boucle look. The key to this design—and to the two companion pieces, one a midscale with discreet circles and lines and the other with land scale bands going in different directions—is the action of the sparse foreground against the dynamic striated background.

Cambridge also came out with companions for Definition, a textured loop grid broadloom—a tip sheared graphic and a staggered slightly irregular geometric. Both are made with the firm’s Avalar solution dyed nylon 6. 

• Last fall, Swiss based Forbo paid $244 million for Bonar Floors and in the showroom this year many of Bonar’s commercial flooring products have been added to the Forbo mix. One unique cross between resilient and carpet is a product called Flotex, a flocked vinyl line that has a soft felt-like wear surface over a vinyl substrate. This product offers the designer a wide range of colors and patterns in two collections called Classic and High Definition. One other noteworthy addition to Forbo’s mix from this acquisition is the Coral entrance mat products, which, when installed at the threshold of a building, capture dirt, grit and moisture and extend the life of the main interior flooring surface.

In Forbo’s Marmoleum line, the company has added a new woodgrain pattern called Striato. This natural linoleum product line is available in 24 colors and promises to reduce maintenance costs over the life of the product. Marmoleum continues to have tremendous success in the two commercial sectors that are active during this economic slowdown—healthcare and education.

• Japan’s Toli International, which is marketed and sold in the U.S. through CBC (America) Corp., has updated its color offering for Linotesta, the firm’s 12 year old homogeneous 18”x18” vinyl tile. The five new colorways, which bring the offering to 33, comprise pearl grey, soft taupe, warm neutral beige, soft spruce green and tangerine. Toli also offers entry level Fasol Plus (with 50% post industrial content) and Viale homogenous vinyl tile, along with a range of other vinyl tile and plank offerings.

• Ceres Natural Floors, CBC’s PVC free brand, includes Natural Cork, Recycled Rubber, Sequoia Plank and Wels Sheet. Wels Sheet, a polyolefin product, has recently been redesigned with a non-porous cross-linked reinforced polyurethane wearlayer that boosts performance with resistance to scratching and scuffing as well as stains, dirt, chemicals, solvents and acids. The line is offered in 28 brand new colors.

• For the first time since this family owned company bought Invision Carpet Systems in 1994, J+J/Invision came to NeoCon this year with a unified brand. For the last 15 years, Invision has been recognized as the designer brand and J&J was the contract dealer brand. But recent and comprehensive customer research revealed that two websites and two product lines were confusing its customer regardless of their role in the selection process. So Mark Clayton, who just two years ago helped Beaulieu of America develop the Bliss brand name, helped J+J simplify its message to the contract market. Part of the consolidated brand promise is sophistication and harmony that is affordable. 

The first product that caught our eye even before we entered its showroom was a new wool collection called Herdwick and Shetlain. Named after sheep breeds, these naturally colored modular tile products have no dye, are made with British Wool and are priced to compete with nylon. Available in loop and tip shear, these wool products come in grays, browns and off-white.

Once inside the showroom, we were drawn to the new Magnify collection, the design of which was inspired by the paper craft. With product names like Imboss, Shred, Torn and Watermark, this collection uses varying pile heights to accentuate the various patterns. Some of the styles in this collection use Ascend’s Ultron fiber and are available in modular and broadloom configurations. According to Laura Compton, a few of the products use up to 20 different colors in one tile. With style extensions to this collection being considered, J+J sought designer feedback via a ballot system during the show.

• Karndean, a major LVT specialist, came out with a new collection called Island Limestone, which comes in four colors—Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark—ranging from rustic off white through a sandy tone to two soft mid browns, all with plenty of color range and texture within the tile. The 30 mm tiles come in a 3’x3’ panel made up of nine tiles of different sizes along with 3 mm Design Strips separating the tiles for a convincing grout look.

Also new is Oak Royale, a collection of rustic wood looks, full of burly knots and graining, in 7”x48” plank formats. The 30 mm vinyl planks have a gentle timeworn surface texture and beveled edges. Oak Royale comes in four colors: Winter Oak is a deep, moody brown; Autumn Oak is a rich medium brown with a reddish hue; Summer Oak is a natural oak tone with a warm finish; and Spring Oak is is slightly paler and slightly cooler.

The firm has also come out with a heavy duty commercial vinyl tile, a 20 mm GreenGuard certified collection of four planks and four tiles, in wood, limestone and concrete designs.

• Once again California carpet manufacturer Atlas showed its talent for style. New this year is the Dance Partner Collection, which is a companion collection to last year’s Shall We Dance. The Dance Partner Collection consists of eight different patterns named for dances from exotic locations around the world. The patterns feature lively textures ranging from the small loop texture of Salsa to the bold combination of circles and squares with highs and lows in Cha Cha or Zambra. The collection is made with Antron Legacy type 6,6 nylon and is manufactured with 10% of the total weight derived from post consumer recycled content. 

The Dance Partner Collection won a Best of NeoCon Silver in the Broadloom category and a Gold in the Antron Carpet Fiber Product Innovation Awards. This collection of broadloom offers the same sophisticated styling Atlas is known for at a more affordable price.

More big news for Atlas at NeoCon 09 was the introduction of carpet tiles, featuring five collections. The carpet tile patterns are designed to work with existing Atlas broadloom lines. The Atelier Collection won a Merit award in the Modular category at Antron’s Product Innovation Award.

• Halo, Mary Docker’s LVT company, was showcasing its Twisted Plains Collection for the healthcare industry. This collection is available in eight solid colors, which can be used alone or with a shear overlay pattern of spot, cracked ice or palm to create a texture. The colors have been designed to coordinate with cubicle curtains. Tiles are available in either 18”x18” or 24”x 24”.

• Tricycle, the environmentally focused design firm that pioneered replacing carpet samples with high res photos, is now offering Tryk tools for hard surface products such as stone, wood, ceramic, glass and porcelain tiles. The paper samples have the ability to have grain and embossing for a more realistic effect. At NeoCon, Tricycle launched a campaign asking designers to commit to using Tryk sustainable paper samples for the first rounds of sampling. In doing so, Tricycle believes that thousands of pounds of samples can be diverted from landfill in addition to speeding up the sales cycle and decreasing sampling costs. 

Tricycle and Eflection Inc. have formed a partnership that allows interior designers and architects to upload floor plans to a web based suite of tools, which is compatible with common architecture software. The floor plan, complete with the chosen finishes, can be downloaded by the interior designer or architect to continue work on the project in the architecture software.

• Making its debut at NeoCon this year was US Floors, one of the leading cork and bamboo flooring manufacturers in the U.S. Some may remember this company as Natural Cork, which changed its name last year as it expanded its U.S. manufacturing capacity and broadened its product line to include bamboo and engineered hardwood. And now by exhibiting at this year’s NeoCon, it is also expanding its market reach by targeting the contract commercial market.

In addition to cork flooring with water based aluminum oxide finish for added durability, the company is the only flooring manufacturer that offers a natural oil finish on a strand woven bamboo product. Company officials told us that strand woven bamboo is perfect for the commercial market because it’s twice as hard as traditional bamboo and equal to red and white oak on the Janka scale (an industry test for measuring hardness). 

As an innovative twist, US Floors also offers a hybrid product called Corboo, a strand woven bamboo infused with cork material, which provides a contrasting and random veining effect.

• Fortune Contract was back with four new patterns in its Ovis Natural Wool collection. There are no dyes used in the collection. The different colors ranging from ivory to black are a result of blending wools. from various breeds of sheep living at different altitudes. “Ovis” is Latin for “sheep.” This product comes standard with high recycled content EnviroCel Laminate plus backing for a total of 70% rapidly renewable, 16% post industrial and 4% post consumer recycled content. The collection is available in broadloom or modular tile. Also new is the Light Metal Collection, a 42 ounce version of last year’s 55 ounce Heavy Metal collection. 

• With StonePeak ceramic tile, you get Italian styling with U.S. made products. This is because StonePeak is owned by Italian based GranitiFiandre, but its products are manufactured at its plant in Crossville, Tennessee. At Coverings in April, the company rolled out a nanotech surface treatment that inhibits the growth of bacteria and fights the adverse effects of smog on the tile’s surface. 

Two new noteworthy collections are Cottage and Parkland. Cottage offers a wood grain look in four colors and three sizes for designers who want the look of wood but the toughness of ceramic tile. Parkland is a large format, rectified product that combines a contemporary texture with a natural appeal. This series is available up to 24”x48” and now includes a new grey color.

• Constantine Commercial is probably glad that it decided to keep its eighth floor space rather than just use its Wells Street showroom. Without a space in the Mart it wouldn’t have been eligible to win the Best of NeoCon Silver for its modular collection, John Doe Channeled. Channeling, Constantine’s proprietary technology, is a process of carving sheared bands into the face of the tile. The bands give a very different visual effect in each installation type—monolithic, quarter turned or ashlar. That, coupled with a fine frame edge border, gives the collection a strong, sophisticated graphic look. John Doe is part of the Gradation and Associates collection, a 2008 Best of NeoCon winner. John Doe can be used alone or in conjunction with other products from the Gradation and Associates collection. 

Copyright 2009 Floor Focus 

Related Topics:Karastan, Armstrong Flooring, Roppe, Mohawk Industries, RD Weis, Stonepeak Ceramics, Coverings, Beaulieu International Group, HD Expo, Crossville, Shaw Industries Group, Inc., Masland Carpets & Rugs, The Dixie Group, Mannington Mills, Parterre Flooring Systems