Sustainability and eco-friendly architecture are the two most prevalent global trends, either through the manufacturing process (decrease of raw materials and CO2 emissions), employed technology, or the recycling of materials.
Apart from sustainability featuring in the production of ceramic and porcelain flooring, the processes of other materials include such innovations as mosaic wall tiles that use materials such as recycled glass from fluorescent lamps and waste from TV and computer screens, together with other material residues used as components in the manufacturing process of other products, such as flooring made of 100% reforested wood, among others.
The use of technology, especially nanotechnology, in design and architecture makes an increasing advance in the manufacture of flooring materials. Through this new technology innovative, resourceful and efficient materials are emerging, with a number of uses.
For example, this includes an antibacterial line that reduces microorganisms on the surface by up to 99%; and flooring that purifies the air in the immediate environment up to 70%.
Also, nanotechnology is seen to be used to keep floors and walls bacteria-free, with no need for cleansing detergents; and in the photocatalysis process it is able to replace harmful gases (pollution) with oxygen, thus purifying the environment.
High-definition printing has been introduced in a number of forms, with its impact mostly felt in the ceramic and porcelain fields, where it is becoming a main trend. Digital print technology allows the surface reproduction of a wide range of natural materials, such as wood and stone, and their aesthetic characteristics including grains, textures and tones.
However, there has been so much happening with all materials in the global flooring industry that we decided to provide you with a roundup of some of the more inventive and practical advancements that were launched or featured at the various international exhibitions.
Bi-colour yarns used in non-directional construction were introduced to provide a very rich texture, and a collection of both broadloom and modular options combining fine art with modern colour and design caught the eye.
Berber is still a popular choice, with today’s versions having more texture and pattern. Variations in height and sculptured effects offer a bolder look. Even the more traditional Berbers offer more visual interest with more extreme differences in pile cut and thicker, deeper loop textures.
There seems to be a major shift in new products towards layered colour and soft texture in carpet. A combination of texture and pattern will always be popular because it minimises soil and vacuum marks, but the other advantage is that colour and texture offer more distinctive styling and fashion appeal.
New manufacturing capabilities have produced many new looks in carpets constructed with cut and loop yarns and in high- and low-loop yarns. Examples include swirls, bows, lattices, plaids, pin dots, and fleurs-de-lis.
But, there’s much more to carpet than high and low pile. You can get super-soft carpet, sculpted surfaces, and materials that are fade-resistant in sunlight.
It is noticeable that many types of carpeting contain significant amounts of recyclable material and renewable resources. At the end of their useful life, many carpets can be recycled for use in new products.
Carpet fibres and yarns
Ecological carpets made from a new fibre containing 37% renewable corn sugar that provides permanent stain protection were launched this year, and 100% polyamide yarn used in a tufted structure also caught the eye.
One of the interesting developments recently launched was a new Velcro tile which is PVC-free and composed of 82% pre- and post-consumer content. It can be easily installed with adhesives or with special connectors developed by Velcro to connect each tile to the other, and to the floor. After use, the installation can be removed without a trace.
A loose-lay resilient modular flooring system with an anti-skid rubber backing and traditional wood looks and trend aesthetics of stained concretes smoothed to a stylish sheen.
Luxury vinyl planks
Luxury vinyl has really caught the imagination of designers worldwide, and now comes a high-performance luxury vinyl plank with a locking tongue and groove. The product can be installed over high-moisture slabs and reduces sound transfer, and is also available in wide-plank wood visuals.
Ceramic & Porcelain tiles
Here the latest developments feature a visual feast of pattern and colour with geometric graphics, intentionally random patterns, and encaustic-inspired tiles. Hexagons, squares and planks are popular while super-slim (3-4mm) and thick (20mm) are also in.
Recently launched was an interesting collection made from different recycled materials to depict looks such as recycled oak, stone-cement, and a meld of concrete and coloured wood. In other new ceramic developments there are high-fashion floors that are scratch-resistant and easy to maintain that have been designed to reflect colour from every angle in a sparkly, high-gloss floor.
Porcelain is still well in favour, with hi-tech printing providing dynamic new and glamorous looks. Intentionally designed for patchwork, ornate 200x200mm porcelain floor tiles with silkscreen patterns reminiscent of Persian rugs have appeared on the market, and metallic highlights also seem to be on the increase.
In terms of stone looks, many manufacturers offer a wide range of stones to choose from including a glazed porcelain tile collection featuring a mix of natural stone looks using a single chromatic range while others are inspired by a mixture of stones.
Noticeable is the introduction of many antibacterial, antipollution and self-cleaning ceramics. One is a proprietary antibacterial technology that significantly enhances the sanitising effects during cleaning and does not require sunlight to be activated.
A new porcelain decking tile was launched for the residential sector that provides zero-maintenance decking. Treated in a special process, these tiles have antibacterial and antipollution properties.
A new, patented system for the quick laying of ceramic floors was launched. Suitable for residential and light commercial projects, the system creates a new floor in a matter of hours without joints, adhesives or grout.
There is no doubt that the influence of fashion on the world of interiors could be seen in the influx of tactile collections. From the femininity of lace to the luxurious sheen of silk, many ceramic tile manufacturers have launched new collections inspired by the texture or appearance of a variety of fabrics.
For tiles that do require grout, a revolutionary new epoxy grout was introduced that makes installation cleanup trouble-free; its quartz content makes it easier for installers to remove the grout from the tile surface during application.
Eco-design is at the peak of popularity, and this is clearly reflected in the latest wood flooring trends. There is a growing demand for multi-coloured surfaces with emphasised wood knots and other character marks. There is a shift away from a refined and polished to a more authentic, natural look.
Also, the increasing demand for eco-friendliness in interior design has led to a change in wood floor surface finishes; waxes and oils with natural components are starting to replace polyurethane lacquers.
Parquet floors with hand-scraped, brushed or distressed finishes are gaining in popularity. Apart from the perennial favourite of warm brown tones, more colourful hues are also increasingly in demand.
High-traffic laminate floor planks that are antistatic and have a soft, matt effect with a silky feel were introduced, together with a new laminate collection featuring design laminates in 1.2 x 2.4m size, with texture and with dimensional relief, exotic wood looks and high-gloss finishes.
A vintage floral look for laminate floors is also in vogue, combining wood patterns with earth colour tones, and designer laminate plank flooring in extra-wide formats and attractive wood finishes for trendy or country looks.
New trends in cork flooring show greater thicknesses that improve sound transfer, step sound, lifecycle, comfort underfoot and dimensional stability – as well as a Class 1 fire rating.
Anti-slip glass flooring is the latest development, with multi-level, acid etching of the surface providing unprecedented design options without impeding the natural flow of light.
Another industry first was a prototype of a new quick-laying system that features glass tiles pre-installed onto a dense foam support, which provides insulation, sound proofing and waterproofing.
Different types of marble and natural stone or different graphic variations of grey stone were also seen. Another presentation had both sides of the cut stone in one collection, featuring the rich and elegant front side and the rough and minimal reverse, available in three colours and three formats.
A recent development in adhesives uses innovative fibre-based technology for PVC and natural rubber flooring with improved peel adhesion and dimensional stability. Also polymer-based adhesives with solvent-free formulation for wood floors are available.
This year saw high-performance Peel & Stick flooring introduced for acoustic and cushion underlays – both environmentally friendly, made from recycled rubber, bonded with synthetic rubber and fully recyclable.
One truly innovative development over the past few months has been the introduction of artificial grass. Synthetic or artificial grass is a machine-made surface manufactured from synthetic materials such as polypropylene or polyethylene, and thus it becomes the domain of the carpet manufacturers because of the similarity in manufacturing processes.
There is a wide selection of brands available to the landscape architect or homeowner, all providing the end user with an all-year-round lawn that needs no watering, cutting, weeding or fertilising, and dispenses with the problem of not being able to get grass to grow under trees.
Now in extensive use in South Africa for sports fields of all descriptions, artificial grass is certainly here to stay.
So many innovations; so many developments; and so many options for the discerning architect or interior designer! We’ve always said that the flooring industry never stands still, and from this quick roundup it is certain that it will remain a leader in quality, style and customer satisfaction for years to come.