The building and beyond

by Tania Wannenburg
Exterior flooring feature Jnl 6 15

This exterior feature gives insights into the latest trends, types of exterior surfaces and ideas to blur the lines between interior and exterior environments.

Outdoor flooring has a set of requirements different from interior flooring solutions. Not only do outdoor flooring products need to be more robust, UV-resistant and durable, but their performance and characteristics must satisfy the aesthetic requirements of landscape artists, architects and interior designers, which continue to become more complex. These needs and specifications are often conflicting, leaving it up to specifiers to find flooring solutions that meet all the stakeholders’ goals.

Whether your client needs paving, decking, stone or new technologies, you need to focus on aesthetics, functionality, maintenance and the holistic effect of the flooring system. This feature gives insights about the latest trends, types of exterior surfaces and ideas to blur the lines between interior and exterior environments.

Blurring the lines between inside and outside
In urban cities and commercial buildings, space is often limited and design professionals need to think outside of the box in order to create a feeling of openness. Floors can be an overlooked element that can help blur the lines between the interior and exterior environments. While the roof and walls of a building may have definite limits, the floor can be extended without a threshold or barrier, creating an inviting outdoor environment for building occupants.

There are many architectural elements that can be brought into play, such as designing buildings with irregular forms like wings, outcrops and roof overhangs that can soften the transition from inside to outside, but flooring is by far the most important material to create a seamless continuation from inside to outside.

Care needs to be taken to choose non-slip materials, in the case of stone and tiles it should be specified accordingly and it may be that a subtly different finish – flamed, honed, acid-etched or sand-blasted – is specified for external use. Timber floorboards used internally can be echoed outside by using timber decking of the same width and laid in the same direction.

One way to achieve this is to carefully match the exterior flooring colours or textures with interior elements. Levelling the floor so that building occupants barely notice the change can also add to the effect of an uninterrupted continuation of building elements. With no lumpy threshold, elevation or barrier, you will be able to create a seamless experience when moving from inside to outside. This approach enhances the experience and extends the usable space of the building.


Metal decking
One rarely sees metal floor decking in outdoor areas, but this seems to be a growing trend in the design industry. A number of suppliers offer decorative steel outdoor flooring tiles as well as durable, waterproof solutions thanks to lap joint systems to create a unique outdoor environment.

Dark hardwood
Dark wood stains, such as jacobean, espresso and ebony, seem to have become popular for outdoor flooring purposes. This dark colour gives an elegant, classical look that can offset the lighter aspects of outdoor décor and furniture beautifully. A benefit of a dark stain is that it can hide imperfections, but it can also be harder to maintain and keep clean.

Whitewashed flooring
Modern precincts, hotels and resorts are investing in new whitewashed flooring solutions that are a far cry from the white floors of the 80s. Specifying a wider plank is a subtle change that can make a huge difference in terms of helping to add a contemporary, light, rustic and breezy ambience to these developments.

Reclaimed wood
Sustainability is foremost in many clients’ minds and reclaimed wood can give you the opportunity to invest in eco-conscious wood that’s been recycled from antique floors and old beams. This is particularly relevant in heritage buildings that are being renovated, where one of the client’s goals may be preserving existing materials. Reclaimed wood also lets you feature the natural imperfections of the wood, which can add to the character of the project.

Exterior concrete flooring
Gone are the days when exterior concrete flooring gave an industrial, minimalistic impression. This type of flooring is back in style thanks to its durability, sleekness and the wide variety of colours and finishing options to choose from.

Brick and permeable paving
According to the 2015 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends Survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), low maintenance design and sustainability are the top trends for residential landscape projects, putting brick and permeable paving suppliers in an ideal position to address this need among consumers. Permeable paving fell within the top 10 project types in this survey. Permeable Paving Blocks encourage water infiltration and prevent rain water runoff, in order to replenish our dwindling ground water reserves. Ideal for areas prone to erosion, these versatile blocks can be used for domestic, industrial and agricultural applications such as drive ways, parking areas, vehicle tracks, hardstand for trucks and machinery, attenuation ponds, embankment stabilisation to name a few.

Timber and bamboo decking
Both timber and bamboo decking have a crucial role to play in today’s eco-conscious exterior flooring market. Green-minded clients are taking their exteriors one step further and opting for timber and bamboo products that have been sourced from managed plantations, so specifiers who are able to research and become expert in sustainable timber and bamboo decking solutions will be one step ahead of the game.

Composite decking
Composite decking and tiles make renovations easy since many of these products have been designed to simply be placed on top of concrete. Many manufacturers also specify that only the normal machinery and tools will be needed during installation, but that no sanding or sealing will be required.

Wood-look tiles
Wood-look tiles are also available in porcelain and ceramic, which can make the wood effect more realistic than ever. One of the benefits of this type of tile is that you can mix and match the tile sizes and patterns, which can help create a trend-setting exterior space for your client.

Artificial grass
In the past, people would be able to spot a shiny, plastic artificial lawn a mile away. Technological advancements, however, have given architects, landscapers and designers the ability to create a perfect lawn with artificial grass that looks very realistic.

Designers are using combinations of flooring materials and live plants to create appealing outdoor environments. Some ideas include artificial turf in between concrete slabs, nonlinear designs and patterns, brightening up an otherwise shady balcony or outdoor area, creating a kids’ paradise by including sandboxes and other play areas or using multiple materials such as wood decking, natural stone, sculptures and concrete.

Not only is artificial grass pretty, but it’s also very functional and may appeal to a variety of clients as it is environmentally friendly (no need to be watered and maintained like a traditional lawn). Some of the applications where it can be used include government facilities, roadway medians, shopping centre medians, urban buildings and complexes.

Rubber flooring for play areas
Rubber surfacing allows children to play while reducing the risk of injury. For a children’s play area, invest in thick, rubber safety tiles that are made of commercial-grade, shock-absorbing, resilient materials which are UV- and slip-resistant. A benefit of this type of exterior flooring is that it’s easy to install and maintain. Some of the applications that should be considered include swim parks, rock climbing walls, children’s playgrounds, decks, stairways, sports courts and walkways.

Car parks
Architects and designers can easily improve the aesthetics and performance of corporate car parks with decking solutions. Polyurethane products, for example, have been designed to reduce noise from tyre squeals, improve light reflectivity and prevent water ingress in the concrete structure. The variety of colours available also makes demarcation lines and signage easy, thereby helping with traffic movement and regulation.

Simulated stone
Exterior flooring has remained a favourite among commercial and residential clients over the years. Simulated stone flooring offers a more affordable alternative to get the outdoor look. Stone laminate flooring, for example, resembles real stone and is easy to care for. For example, a ‘bendable’ simulated stone has been created that can be installed around every turn or moulding.

Whatever your aesthetic goals and performance requirements are, there will be a flooring solution to suit your needs. Big-picture thinking, insights into the latest trends and researching new flooring options are ways to give your client an exterior environment that adds value and enhances the building occupants’ lifestyle.

Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following for the information contained in this article: Flowcrete SA; Seamless Flooring Systems; Terraforce; Wood Floors SA; www.lushome.com, pro.com, www.installitdirect.com, www.matsmatsmats.com, www.synlawn.com, www.flowcretesa.co.za, www.houzz.com , www.pathwaycafe.com , www.dowlinghomes.com and www.homebuilding.co.uk.

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