How important is the floor, and what are your current preferences? FLOORS in Africa asked six of South Africa’s top architects and interior designers for their views.

Francois Pienaar: CO-ARC International Architects
In your experience, how important is the floor, both in design and application, and what are your main aims when specifying a floorcovering?
Regarding the selection of floorcovering materials we need to judge the performance requirements, depending on the specific function and use. A space of silence, a place of worship or a library would be in total contrast to a nightclub, for instance. The floor finish of a hotel room in tropical West Africa would be considered in totally different terms to one in London. Many factors are involved – climate and the psychological nature of the place, to name a few.

Low maintenance, issues of hygiene, all contribute to the final decision. If a floor can last 50 years without being replaced, fulfilling aesthetics, durability and architectural integrity, great!

What are your preferred or favourite floorcoverings, and why?
We do not have a favourite, but porcelain as a material is undergoing constantly improved performance due to competitive research and development by manufacturers worldwide. Aesthetic demands as well as creative responses in the manufacturing of porcelain tiles do provide the architect with greater options today.

Niel Crafford: Crafford & Crafford Architects
In your experience, how important is the floor, both in design and application, and what are your main aims when specifying a floorcovering?
Floors are one of the only three surfaces available to the designers of interior spaces – walls and ceilings being the other two – and they have huge potential to unite spaces as well as separate them, especially when combined with level differences.

The most important value of a floorcovering to me is its texture: hard, smooth, uneven, soft – all these textures play an even more important role than colour does. It is this property that gives character to floorcoverings – soft, inviting carpets compared to rustic, hardwearing terracotta tiles.

The other important thing about floors is their thermal performance – the ability to store and transmit heat is of great importance to the inhabitants of the building. It is mostly its physical composition that determines how well the material will perform, but its appearance also plays a role here – once again, the soft carpet appears a lot warmer than the hard tile!

What are your preferred or favourite floorcoverings, and why?
I enjoy natural materials and clay floor tiles – especially hand-made – are top of my list. Coloured screeds are also favourites. Both these floorcoverings work well with loose carpets or rugs, which can be changed to suit the occasion.

Another favourite is epoxy floors – very much the ‘in’ thing nowadays. They are hardwearing and can be used in commercial, institutional and, of course, industrial buildings. It is even possible to have different colour inlays, opening the door to exciting designs.

Professor Desmond Laubscher: The Design Centre
In your experience, how important is the floor, both in design and application, and what are you main aims when specifying a floorcovering?
We are all guided by our senses. Possibly the most guiding is our sight, but at the same time our feeling for touch is very important. This leads us to know how we would negotiate our world without sight.

Instinct tells us to put our hands out and anticipate what we may encounter and then negotiate the obstacles by moving around them. This seems the obvious route to take, but let’s step back and understand we are going nowhere without that one step in front of the other.

So is it not crucial that we allow our feet to feel our path forward? Of course it is. Feel the texture under your feet, feel the soft touch of carpets, the cold sensation of stone, the smooth, the rough, the warm, the cold – they all influence our sense of touch.

So now you can see and appreciate the wealth of finishes we walk on every day. The beauty of terrazzo, granite, marble, ceramic, carpeting, wood, how amazing! We are inclined to forget what happens underfoot but it defines how we move through space and, through material use, we cannot but engage with that gravitational pull that brings us back to the floor.

Specification of floorcovering is obviously influenced by the requirements of the client’s brief but it is really important to influence one’s client to choose the correct application for the job.

What are your preferred or favourite floorcoverings, and why?
Sustainable. Sustainable and sustainable. Our planet is under huge threat for various reasons well documented. Let’s use materials that do not deplete our planet – or at least have minimal impact on depleting our environment. On a personal level, the tactile experience is phenomenal. Nothing beats touch and feel, warmth and cold.

Trish Emmett: Emmett & Emmett Architects
In your experience, how important is the floor, both in design and application, and what are you main aims when specifying a floorcovering?
The floor is incredibly important as specifying a floor finish inappropriate to the use of the space can destroy the functionality of the space. Durability is probably the most salient consideration. I prefer finishes that can make the transition to the outdoors as seamless as possible, allowing walls to roll away and floors such as timber boarding and decking, full-bodied porcelain or honed slate to continue through.

The obvious practical criteria apply such as the need for floors to be hardwearing and non-slip. The finish can also be remarkably simple, such as a screed with or without inlays of timber or granite.

What are your preferred or favourite floorcoverings, and why?
As a widely travelled conservation architect, I have respect for timeless floor finishes. The patina of age has a particular charm and fascination, such as the indentation of thousands of school children’s footprints wearing down an old oregon staircase.

I prefer natural finishes such as stone (particularly limestone), cork and timber. The warmth of wood has a particular appeal. I have also spent many hours designing with encaustic tiles into reworked Victorian or Edwardian floors. Restraint is important. Often the urge to introduce a different texture outweighs the merit of keeping the same floor finish running through spaces, unifying them and creating a greater illusion of space.

Flooring can be complex. We are specifying a floor at the moment for a Multi-Purpose Sports Hall that can be used for school assemblies and prize-givings, concerts, indoor hockey, basket ball, badminton, drama, dance and social functions – a big ask!

Floors in outdoor courtyards come into their own when they can be flooded to become shallow pools, reflecting the lights and the buildings around them.

Dorothy van’t Riet: Dorothy van’t Riet Design Consultants
In your experience, how important is the floor, both in design and application, and what are you main aims when specifying a floorcovering?
The flooring sets the canvas on which I create my designs. The flooring forms one of the largest spaces, together with the ceilings and walls, and therefore plays a major role in my design decisions and influences my initial conceptualising processes.

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, and to define the space I am working in, thus creating visual boundaries.  I use this especially in hotel and corporate projects.  

I also consider the acoustic and sound-control properties of the flooring I use especially in the auditoriums, home theatres and corporate projects. In my residential projects I aim to create a sense of warmth and comfort, whilst also considering function and durability.

I also address the size of the room, because a patterned floor would dominate a room; large, bold patterns make the room look smaller. Light colours with a smooth surface create a feeling of space and restfulness. This in turn unifies the space, and creates a cohesive design palette.

For me costing is the last consideration as the above factors need to be addressed first. In my projects I go for quality and correct specifications, and give my clients the options of various quality levels and pricing. One of the most fulfilling things is to see a small sample of the flooring chosen translated into metres of visual space.  

What are your preferred or favourite floorcoverings, and why?
My preferred floorcoverings at the moment are white Nero Marquina marble from Marble Classic; Monn Carpets; and French Oak floors from Forest Flooring.

Marble: I love the authenticity, lustre, smoothness and coolness of this natural stone. Marble adds a sense of beauty combined with quality. I love the fact that marble can be honed, polished, sandblasted and washed to give so many variations.

Carpets: At the moment carpets have a subtly textured design. They add warmth and softness. One of my preferred floorcoverings is the new Monn Carpet Collection. The Wilton woven wool carpets in the Monn range give unbeatable luxury, combining softness with durability.

Apart from the excellent aesthetic characteristics of this collection, 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 carpets help to regulate noise, temperature, moisture and air pollutants while effortlessly retaining their shape and appearance.

Wooden flooring: Wooden flooring remains a popular choice for flooring in many of my projects. Clean-lined wood is deservedly one of the most popular of all flooring materials, and wood 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.

One of my favourite colours in the Forest Flooring range is the beautiful French Oak finish. The wood is coloured and protected with Rubio Monocoat oil, allowing an intense and deep colouring in one single layer, without influencing the natural look and feel of the wood.