We have always said that nothing ever stands still in the flooring industry, and this has never been truer than it is today, so it is very interesting to take a look at what is available and happening in residential applications. 

This is one sector of the South African building and construction market that has woken up and is currently providing considerable work for the flooring industry.

Combined with the fact that designers and specifiers are always looking for the new floorings that provide exciting alternatives, together with the latest developments in tried and trusted flooring that they have come to rely on, this makes a review of the current trends in modern living a very exciting prospect indeed.

Luxury vinyl flooring

Scott Humphrey, chief executive of the World Floor Covering Association, has gone on record as saying that luxury vinyl flooring, as a flooring category that has developed into a completely new phase, is setting the pace in this respect, thanks to the extraordinary photo-technology that mimics wood (or just about any other material) perfectly.

As with laminates, the process involves taking a photo of wood and printing it into vinyl, which is then usually provided in tiles or planks. In many cases, the ranges of wood looks are not the only options; marble and other natural stones can be replicated, as well as concrete and other finishes.

In reality, the “luxury” element is largely in the look, but there is no doubt that the new technology – similar to that employed by laminate flooring – has given vinyl a completely new aesthetic appeal.

Carpet

Carpet is getting more environmentally friendly with overseas trends bringing the recycling of nylon into carpeting, and the melting down of polyester to repeatedly make new fibre becoming increasingly prevalent.

Some manufacturers are creating fibre combinations that provide an almost unheard-of softness, with new ways of processing nylon fibres, or using considerably more fibres than previously, and many regard the development of softer textures as the cutting-edge trend in the business. So, it’s back to luxury carpets.

In terms of carpet styles, cut-and-loop – where the pile is partly cut and partly looped to create a sculpted look or pattern – is an increasing trend.

Wood and laminates

Despite the undoubted popularity of laminate flooring – which has been bolstered by the fact that practically every other hard floorcovering is adapting their photographic technology to emulate other materials – natural wood is making a major comeback overseas.

This is mainly due to the trend in open planning for residential applications where the kitchen and family room are virtually combined into one large area; thus it’s becoming common to see hardwoods on kitchen floors.

Preferences in hardwoods are leaning toward darker stains, with a growing interest in grey tones, and the trends are also towards larger planks or using a mixture of different sized planks in one floor.

The more exotic species are also in high demand, as are wood floors that have been hand-scraped and hand-textured to provide an ‘old floor’ look, but there is still strong emphasis on the ecological aspects with most specifiers insisting on FSC certification for the imported hardwoods.

This leaning towards natural wood has developed into a growing segment of the market being interested in reclaimed woods that have been salvaged from older buildings, which in turn provides a ‘green’ approach to any project.

Ceramic and porcelain tile

Here the latest trend is in bigger formats and, once again, the laminate influence is seen in the digital printing techniques that the ceramic industry is using to replicate hardwood and natural stone.

What’s new in South Africa?

Taking a look at what is happening overseas is always of keen interest but, to find out what the trends in modern living are locally, we contacted four of South Africa’s leading lights in trendy residential design and architecture for their views.

Thomas Gouws, the founder and director of the award-winning firm Thomas Gouws Architects + Interiors based in Pretoria; Amanda Katz, Cape Town architect, author, part-time student supervisor, and member of the Green Building Council, who started her own practice in 1988 and has since gained an outstanding reputation for hands-on, full architectural and design; Sandton-based Graeme Sparrow, who opened his own practice in 2000 specialising in the design of modern and contemporary residential architecture; and Dorothy van’t Riet, director and principal interior designer of Dorothy van’t Riet Design & Décor Consultants.

What would you say are the latest trends in modern living?

Thomas Gouws: In the current economic environment there’s been a return to basics: good, comfortable living that is not pretentious or ostentatious, and designs that are simple and practical, yet stylish and elegant.

Amanda Katz: Homeowners are becoming more aware of energy usage and are looking for products and services that mean that they can reduce their personal carbon footprint. They are also looking for so-called ‘green’ products. Those that can afford it still look for luxury in the aspects of tactile and aesthetic appeal.

Also, homeowners are becoming more aware of maintenance and cleaning costs and look for products that require less maintenance and last longer.

Dorothy van’t Riet: Currently in the design field, there is a necessity for introspection and calmness, which is reflected by pure simple shapes, forms, structures and colour.

Texture and touch in materials which include fabrics and wood are popular and suede and wood are two materials currently being used extensively. Beside the trend for calmness we see another trend emerging which is the trend for vibrant living energy. Stripes are in and are being used in carpets, wallpaper and upholstery. Movement is a distinct feature in design right now.

Another trend is historical styles, with a decided touch of nostalgia. There is a trend to use lots of brass and bronze. It has a rich gleam and sculptural weight, and many designers are looking to the Seventies for inspiration. Brass is the metal of the moment, and is being used as staircases, coffee tables and accessories.

The trend in colour this year is green (Pantone named Emerald the Colour of the Year in 2013) and all shades of green are being used, especially the different blue-greens and teals.

Graeme Sparrow: The biggest shift in the last few years has been to more energy-efficient design. This has been driven by the new building regulations, the price of electricity, and a greater awareness by clients. There is now a bigger range of materials and technologies which assists in designing very efficient buildings.

What do you consider to be the most important features of any floor?

Thomas Gouws: The floor must be practical, hardwearing, low-maintenance, appropriate for its application and visually appealing.

Amanda Katz: Hardwearing, easy to maintain, easy to clean, luxurious-looking without costing a fortune, and in a style that matches or complements your home.

Dorothy van’t Riet: The important features for me are durability, comfort and beauty. The flooring sets the canvas on which I create my designs and is the anchor of my thought processes – it is the vital link in all my design elements.

Flooring is the backdrop for the design picture to emerge. The flooring forms one of the largest spaces and has a visual and sensual impact which contributes greatly to the perception of the internal space. The flooring therefore plays a major role in my design decisions and influences my initial conceptualising processes. It forms the core to my designs, offering the potential to explore many creative, yet functional possibilities.

It also provides the nuances of colour, texture, light and pattern that appeal to the senses which in turn create a sense of beauty, excitement and anticipation. Flooring contributes in creating the design atmosphere in the space. My aim is to create a space that has beauty and creativity, as well as functionality, thus always enhancing the design space.

Graeme Sparrow: Most important is functionality for the clients’ needs, including durability and ease of cleaning. With most types of floor finishes, there is a range of textures, colours and pricing available, so aesthetics and affordability are less of an issue.

How much influence does the interior design have on the floor – and vice versa? And which comes first?

Thomas Gouws: A lot. The interior design usually comes first – after deciding what effect you want to achieve and what the performance criteria would be – then a suitable floorcovering is sourced.

Amanda Katz: For me, the floor usually comes first as it is the most difficult to change later; wall colours can be changed to suit. The colours of existing house fittings sometimes play a part in the choice of colour of floor finish (e.g. if there is a lot of timber in the house, this may affect the choice of floor finish colour or type), and a very modern contemporary home may seek a contemporary floor finish to suit the home’s style. Domestic animals in a home can also affect floor choices.

Graeme Sparrow: The interior design plays a huge role. I find that mostly the floor choice comes first as it plays such a huge part in the overall look and feel of a design. It is also easier to adjust the colours and textures of paint, soft fixtures and fittings, and décor items to suit the floor, rather than the other way round.

What do you view as being the latest trends in flooring?

Thomas Gouws: We’ve seen a big comeback in the preference for timber flooring. People are, however, more conscious of the impact on the environment and opt for eco-friendly solutions. Cementitious and seamless floor systems are also still very popular.

Amanda Katz: Nothing really new as far as I can tell. Products such as resin-encapsulated aggregate floors are gaining popularity in the residential market. Laminates and real timber floors are still very popular as are the new vinyl timber look-alike planks.

Floor finishes that imitate natural finishes without the maintenance hassles are also popular (i.e. timber-looking porcelain tiles, timber-looking vinyl plank flooring, etc).

Dorothy van’t Riet: The main trends in floorcoverings indicate a further shift towards the use of natural materials in eco-design. The tendency now is to use floorcoverings as a key element of any well-designed modern interior.

Environmental concerns are growing and consumers are becoming much more conscious about how their floors and other design items are sourced, manufactured and eventually discarded. A carpet and floorcovering report by market research agency Mintel indicated that whether or not an item was environmentally friendly was a key deciding factor. This trend for environmentally friendly floorcoverings will gather speed in 2014 and is unlikely to slow down any time soon.

Graeme Sparrow: Achieving a natural, warm feel has become very important. The quality, range and affordability of both laminates and tiles has improved over the last five years, and this has allowed us to choose artificial products that have the look of natural materials, but with better durability and pricing.

Do you have preferred floorcoverings, or something that you would be delighted to be able to use, and why?

Thomas Gouws: We love to use any seamless flooring system because it provides a clean backdrop for the architectural features and furniture in a house.

Amanda Katz: There are different floorcoverings to suit various needs. I love thick carpets in bedrooms and up quiet stairs and passages. I still prefer porcelain high-gloss tiles in kitchen and studio areas and real timber in living spaces and studies.

Dorothy van’t Riet: My preferred floorcoverings at the moment are white marble (Thassos); wool carpets; and French oak wooden floors.

Marble: I love the authenticity, lustre, smoothness and coolness of this natural stone. It adds a sense of beauty combined with quality. I generally use slabs of 1200 x 800mm, depending on the proportion of the space. I love the fact that marble can be honed, polished and washed to give me so many variations to my design applications.

Carpets: At the moment carpets have a subtly textured design. They add warmth and softness. One of my preferred floorcoverings is the Wilton woven wool carpet that gives good luxury, combining softness with durability. The subdued colours have a variety of interesting textures and the contemporary designs make it a favourite floorcovering that I am currently specifying in my design projects.

It is reassuring to know that wool carpets are also natural, sustainable flooring solutions that are kind on the environment. Due to its organic origins, wool has a low carbon footprint and is fully biodegradable after use. Wool carpet helps to regulate noise, temperature, moisture and air pollutants while effortlessly retaining its shape and appearance.

Wooden flooring: remains one of my popular choices for flooring in many of my projects. Clean-lined wood is deservedly one of the most popular for me of all flooring materials. A wooden floor works in almost any situation, both practically and aesthetically. It lasts well, ages beautifully and provides the perfect base for decorative rugs. The colour, texture and the smell of wood add richness and sensuality to living spaces. Variations in colour and grain give wood life and a unique beauty that man-made materials are unable to imitate.

Graeme Sparrow: Each project has its own requirements so it varies. Lately I have enjoyed using vinyl laminates which allow use in kitchens and bathrooms to get the flow of one material through a house. The quality of coloured screeds and sealants has also improved, so I have less reservation about using these than in the past. When it comes to natural timber, I like to use bamboo as this is a fully sustainable product.

It’s worth mentioning again that the residential market is one sector of the South African building and construction market that has woken up and is currently providing considerable work for the flooring industry, and as readers can see from the foregoing – the flooring industry is responding with flair, innovation, attention to detail and customer service, and is held in high regard by the professionals. This is good news for the industry.