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Floor studies engaging the senses
by Thomas Wagner | 12/3/2013

The floor – unknown territory? One way or another, we are always in touch with it, even if this is simply down to gravity. Not that we ever paid it any attention really. Far too often the floor has remained unknown territory that simply gets overlooked. But wrongly so. Things change as soon as we begin to realize that “the floor”, whether indoors or outdoors, is – by necessity – a designed space. Well-trodden soil being the most basic version. For those of us who prefer to place their feet on something more sophisticated than the naked ground, the floor is essentially covered with a material of sorts.

And there is more to it: Special haptic qualities are not reserved for woven or hand-tufted carpets alone, carefully placed in position to adorn stone, tiled or timber. Because floors are not just there to be looked at, to but appeal to all our senses. We keep touching them almost incessantly. Even when wearing shows our feet tend to notice if the floor on which they are walking is hard or soft, even or structured, bumpy or smooth. It is no coincidence that in the 1960s sculptor Carl André provoked some irritation with his square floor pieces made of copper, aluminum, lead and steel – he had people walk on them to feel the different materials.

Would it not make sense, then, if the different zones in which we work, live, and move about as part of our daily lives had a distinct look and feel to them? And we could simply use our feet to identify which is which? It may not be long before our floors, depending on the institution or division, mood or living area which they embellish, might be rock hard or soft as moss, delicate as wool or wooden and warm. Or fitted with cusps to give warning to our soles.

It’s plain to see and feel: When it comes to floors it is difficult to separate the function from the design concept. We simply walk differently on exposed concrete or cobble stones than we do on floorboards, linoleum or a thick, soft carpet. This is as trivial as it is true and it affects not only the mind and the eye, but indeed the entire body – the feet just as much as the spine, which supports and cushions our bodyweight as we walk.

As floor-living creatures we should certainly take the above seriously. The reason is simple: All those sound and smart solutions, irrespective of whether they involve carpets, parquet, laminate or synthetic flooring, are so much more than technical or handmade products. In other words, it’s not just the designs or surfaces we need to find appealing, but it’s a sensory experience that involves the entire body. This is why it’s so important that we feel a floor with more than just our feet, just as we select upholstery or curtain fabrics with more than just our eyes.

Thankfully the world of flooring has come an awfully long way in recent years. Be it indoors or outdoors, things are moving in the world of floor coverings. The spectrum includes innovative materials such as organic polymers, chenille yarns and fiber cement, exquisite material mixes, and of course all the tried-and-tested natural materials and enhanced surface structures. Thanks to digital printing techniques it’s now possible to apply various designs to almost all materials and even produce flat-woven carpet tiles in hundreds and thousands of different colors.

Moving on to handmade carpets – which are fast gaining in popularity and enjoying a second life as wall tapestries – there seems to be no limit to the abundant diversity available. The list ranges from Jan Kath’s subtle deconstruction of traditional designs (he is currently augmenting his collection with carpets that have the chance appearance of bleeding watercolors) to stars-and-stripe designs by Reuber Henning that have been inspired by films or pieces of music and aptly named “Clockwork Orange” or “Sibelius”. Those less fond of the above can opt for designs created from digital motion profiles or, for a whiff of irony, choose robust networks woven from bicycle tubes or disused V-belts. Even extravagantly sculpted 3D surfaces are on offer here. Perhaps you would prefer a pattern that takes its cue from chaos theory? Those still keen for more should take a look at light-emitting carpets destined to provide better orientation in public buildings.

Parquet flooring is currently enjoying a rapid renaissance and there is so much more offer today than the old-familiar run-of-the-mill woods. Indeed, the vintage wave and the “used look” craze have both left their mark even on timber floors. Accordingly, artificially aged oak floorboards and parquet made of recycled and unevenly processed timber beams are now exuding the charm of the old and used. And a clear indication that we can expect the industry’s creative force to dream up plenty more such resourceful ideas.

The industry is not resting on its laurels even as regards installation techniques, but has been busy developing still simpler solutions. Evidence is provided in the form of trailblazing 360-degree click systems and carpet tiles that can be installed like laminate floorboards, or liners that can be applied without adhesives and create a firm foundation for the floor covering.

Let us conclude: There is definitely no shortage in the choice of materials, designs and creative possibilities when it comes to new floor coverings. If we believe the professional augurs, the 2014 floor trends range from “exquisitely subtle” to “reliving the primitive” to “patterns & decors”.

No matter what your personal favorite is, make sure you look down with an alert eye and mind! Not because you are feeling uncertain or wish to exercise humbleness or because beneath the paving stones there’s bound to be sand, not to say a beach. No, not at all. But simply because the floor on which we stand and walk deserves to be exquisitely designed and well made.