When looking for an on-the-money description of something bland, corporate and erring on the naff side, office flooring used to be up there with the biggies. But those days are gone. Flooring is now where you will see some of the most innovative materials and design aspects of the most creative of workspaces. No longer there just to hide coffee spillages and contend with high footfall (although it still does both of these), office flooring is now a useful tool in brand-carrying, defining areas with different functions – or zoning – and also playing an important part in employees’ wellbeing.
“In general we see that the perception of flooring has changed during the last few years and is much more the centre of attention in office projects today. If flooring in the past was the last piece of the puzzle for the architect, it’s now the material the architect starts with, or at least includes early in the process as a design element to communicate the values of the company,” says Helen Emanuelsson, chief marketing and sales officer at Swedish flooring manufacturer Bolon.
When it comes to brand-carrying, this can be meant both in the figurative and literal sense. It can simply mean it is a choice in line with the company’s ethos, such as the cooler than cool, hipster-type concrete floors seen in the new NY Saatchi & Saatchi offices designed by M Moser, or the Dutch herringbone hardwood used by Hakwood in the Singapore offices of property group Eastern & Oriental, for that distinguished look with a colonial edge.
But it can also be implemented as another tool to express the logo, livery or general aesthetic associated with the brand, as displayed by the colour pop carpet in the Manchester Pride office, by Interface, to represent the colours of the rainbow flag of the LBGT community. Similarly, the bespoke terrazzo flooring motif in the new 4 Chiswell Street offices in the City of London, by Ben Adams Architecture for Schroder Real Estate, is used to reinforce the circular designs that run through the scheme.
“We decided on the terrazzo because it is a bespoke material that can be precast and cast in situ with full control over the colours used,” explains Adams. “The motif is part of the fluted panelling used on the walls of the space, as is inspired by the limestone doric columns that typify so many of the grand buildings in the City. We pre-cast the circular elements and then cast in situ around them with a subtly different colour mix in the terrazzo. This allowed us to work with a strong graphic design without overwhelming the space with contrasting colours.”
Adams warns not to go overboard with flooring as an obvious brand-carrier on large projects, but says: “You can certainly use the ground plane as another surface on which to emphasise a brand, or even carry messages. The trick is to remember that floor finishes often persist for longer than tenants do, or even brand identities, so we try and use replaceable elements at floor level when there is a specific branding requirement.”
With zoning, the rule of thumb goes that carpet is still the most hardwearing for regular workspace, while less frequently used spaces are where the more adventurous products are introduced, such as Milliken’s Artistic Liberties punk-inspired carpet.
“The office space is now rarely seen in its entirety but instead separated into a variety of ‘activity settings’ or purpose-built areas, which are designed for specific actions such as impromptu meeting zones, formal meeting spaces, project rooms and breakout areas,” explains Julie Dempster, marketing manager at Forbo Flooring systems.
When it comes to the flooring, she continues, modular floor coverings fit these modern-day office trends as they allow workplaces to be easily adapted. Carpet tiles remain a very popular choice for general working areas, as they offer the ability to create a unique design by mixing and matching the tiles, and are cost-effective. The modular format lends itself to a quicker installation time and allows office plans to be easily adapted for future requirements.
Also, if damage occurs, tiles can also be easily lifted and replaced without having to replace the entire floorcovering. For example, in the offices of data solution company Qlik at Tower 42 in the City of London, Mark Crick, design director of Crisp Designed, specified Forbo’s Tessera Alignment carpet tiles for the main office area, but used its luxury Westbond carpet tiles to highlight feature areas such as the boardroom.
There is also a trend to combine a variety of textures, seeing specifiers combining smooth hardwearing, easily cleanable surfaces like luxury vinyl tiles (LVT) or marmoleum, often in bright bold geometric patterns, alongside a more tactile or luxury, thick pile carpet tile. Even stone options and more residential-style warm woods are creeping in, with Hakwood often seeing its products being specified in hi-tech or super-contemporary offices, to balance and bring a little heart to an otherwise ultra-modern design, such as the central London Coca-Cola HQ it recently worked on. Raised access floors are also a popular form of zoning, something which Hakwood was asked to create in the Kitzbühel studio in Austria. M Moser, a specialist in workplace strategy and design, has just completed the HQ building for New Relic, an American software analytics company based in San Francisco – where zoning and, again, brand-carrying was key.
The walls, ceilings and floors were a wraparound way to show the innovative culture of the company. “The idea with both the flooring and the accent paint used throughout the space was to use colour in areas where people come together to collaborate or connect on a personal level,” explains Dominique Price, director with M Moser. “Bold accent paint with a dark low-pile Interface carpet is used to define meeting rooms, booths and phone rooms throughout the floors.” Flooring was used to define spaces as well as tell the story of New Relic and reflect the company’s core values of being bold, authentic and connected.
“The most brightly saturated colour meets the richly toned wood at the large, open heart of the space. The engineered white oak wood flooring then ‘unfolds’ from the core into the work area, continuing up walls and also to define a lounge collaboration zone. Its faceted geometry reflects the dynamic growth New Relic has undergone and continues to experience,” says Price. “Coloured vinyl from Armstrong is used in the kitchen area to change the pace again and show the brand colours. The change in acoustic with the use of vinyl will actually add a buzz to this area not experienced in other zones too.”
Employee wellbeing is the third consideration looming large in these millennial times. Companies recognise the need to bring nature into human living and workspaces all things biophilic – from air quality to light quality – are high on the agenda. All of this is impacting on flooring choice too.
“We’re noticing an increase in the number of offices taking up sit/stand options based on the ergonomic benefits of frequent movement,” says Alison Kitchingman, marketing and design director at Milliken, which offers cushion-backed carpets. “But clients are often unaware that the implication of this trend is that cushion flooring becomes even more important to improve underfoot comfort and avoid leg fatigue.”
Forbo also offers a high light reflectance value (LRV) rating with its Tessera Mix carpet tiles, used in the Edinburgh offices of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), allowing additional light to reflect off the floor and brighten the space efficiently. “Light affects almost all vital processes in the human body and impacts people’s performance, health, safety and sense of wellbeing,” the team explains. “As such, the more light a workspace experiences, the more employees will benefit from an improved and healthier working environment.”
UK flooring company Desso worked on the refurbishment of the headquarters of the Green Building Council, whose mission is to radically improve the sustainability of the built environment, and which promotes the campaign Better Places for People to improve the workplace. Desso built on the wellness theme with 175sq m of its AirMaster Sphere carpet. This was chosen for its patented technology which helps to maximise air quality in line with the relevant WELL Building Standard requirements, including the minimisation of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from materials used.
AirMaster Sphere contains Econyl yarn – a 100% regenerated nylon made of recovered waste materials from Desso’s Refinity facility – which is eight times more effective in capturing and retaining fine dust than smooth flooring. This was all chosen to complement the centrepiece of the office – a green wall featuring 1,589 plants, designed to increase biophilic elements throughout the office. Neutral shades of grey were selected for the flooring to create a tranquil alternative to the vibrant yellows in the meeting rooms.
Similarly Interface, known for its biophilic leanings, was specified by Mansfield Monk in the renovated offices of agricultural commodities merchant ED&F Man with the intent of bringing a rural, agricultural feel to these very urban offices in the Shard in central London.
Large super-graphics on the office walls showcase farm scenery and the flooring reinforces this link to the countryside. For the breakout space, pale grey tiles from Interface’s Urban Retreat 103 collection reflects the colours of the clouds in these images, while the main desk area features moss-coloured tiles from the same range, echoing the yellows of wheat fields ripe for harvest.
Office flooring is no longer just something to tread on – these days it embodies brand values or even boosts staff wellbeing