Paul Dare, head of design at office designers Morgan Lovell, speaks about his priorities when undertaking a flooring project
What’s been your most challenging project in terms of flooring and how did you overcome those challenges?
One of the most challenging projects I’ve done was one with multiple materials: wood, carpet, vinyl and tile. The client wanted a seamless experience walking from one to the other. But, of course, when you walk on one product, you get slightly different acoustics from another material.
This particular client didn’t want that change, so we had to source a wood which had acoustic properties and then use an acoustic underlay to help to take away the reverb. We trialled loads of woods, took them into the space itself, laid them down and tested them. We found one which worked, but then came the issue of heights. The different products have different heights so we had to either pack up or lower the floor so the whole journey from one floor to the other is seamless. That was a challenge but it looked amazing once it was complete.
We recently did a project for a motion capture studio and it was essential that there was no sound from the floor so the microphones couldn’t pick it up. We brought in specialists to help us come up with a configuration for flooring which absorbed sound. It was almost like a car suspension, with plenty of give but no sound.
What are your most important considerations when planning a flooring project?
As a designer, I’ll always go for aesthetics first. It’s got to look good. But then it’s also got to be highly durable. It’s going to take a bashing, it’s going to be used every day, so it needs to last. I look for quality products with a minimum 10-year guarantee as that shows me the manufacturer is confident about their product. I also want a manufacturer to come and fix it if there is a problem. Aesthetics first, then quality and longevity.
What are the key factors and trends to take into account when designing floors in the 21st century?
The sustainability of the product is key: where it’s sourced from and what’s the carbon footprint of the material. It may be carbon negative at source, but how far as it travelled and by what method? Clients need to know the product’s whole story.
Linked to sustainability is biophilia. Now that we’re moving away from carpet as the sole flooring option, we’re seeing a whole range of biophilic elements: wood, slate, wool rugs. Even natural grass. When combined with green walls, planting and natural materials throughout the space, it can help to lower stress, increase a sense of wellbeing and improve air quality. There are flooring products now which act as air filters and absorb pollution, which is fantastic for major cities. More people are suffering from allergies like asthma and being hypo-allergenic and using natural products really help.
I’m also seeing more custom-made products than ever before. People are getting creative and we can now do things with flooring that we couldn’t do before. We can use different yarns, different ply widths within the same carpet in a tile. The domestication of the office has also impacted floors through increased use of rugs, for example, which makes people feel more relaxed, engaged and productive.
The industry is moving away from carpet as the sole option to using a whole range of biophilic elements – wood, slate, wool rugs, and even natural grass as at this project at Sage Publishing
What type of floor would you install if there were no restrictions in terms of budget or anything else? In other words, what’s your fantasy floor?
There’s a Danish company called Dinesen which does beautiful, solid, wood flooring taken from their family-owned French and German forests. They use Douglas firs, characterful oak trees, beautiful ash and classic pine to create huge planks of stunning wood. It looks wonderful down on the floor and you know it’ll still look wonderful in 100 years. If I could have that product all throughout my house or office, I’d have it. I’m also quite a minimalist designer, so I love concrete.
How important is technology in floor design? Are smart floors a significant trend?
Technology in flooring is a trend but it’s a troublesome one. The challenge is that you have to walk on flooring and the technology inevitably ends up getting damaged. It can be costly to fix and disruptive to the business.
In retail we see wayfinding lighting on floors and sales messaging about particular products together with safety information, such as emergency exit routes. That makes sense because it helps to sell more products and has a positive safety impact.
I see less interest in corporate environments. The budget tends to be invested in AV equipment or furniture rather than smart floors. But there are some good examples here and there. I’ve seen floors which measure the cadence of a person so they know their identity by the time they get to reception. Then there are carpets which capture particles in the air and keep the pollution down, and acoustic barriers to go under flooring to help to deaden noise. There are innovative products out there like floor tiles with two different piles, so one is almost a rug within the carpet.
Do you feel that more significance is given to flooring now in design than in the past? Or has it always been an important consideration?
It’s a much bigger consideration than it ever has been. Before we just used to cover the floor with a material – grey or blue carpet typically; now, flooring is a central part of the design. It can help with wayfinding around an office. It can add inspiration. It can make us feel good. It can add to a project’s sustainability credentials.
Our clients are definitely paying more attention to flooring now. They’re interested in the stories behind the flooring; they want to know how and where it’s manufactured. They want a choice. It’s not just carpet – they know there are other options: wood, concrete, stone, tiles, vinyl.
The key is to take the flooring samples to their new space and lay it out there so they can see it in situ. Because light is different everywhere you go: what you see in the showroom is sometimes not what you see on your site.
Clients are paying more attention to flooring now. They’re interested in the stories behind the flooring; they want to know how and where it’s manufactured
What’s next for flooring and offices?
Right now, it’s about looking organic and natural to add to biophilia; what’s next is minimalism. Manufacturers probably won’t want to hear this, but less is going to become the way forward. We’ll find a lot of companies, especially the fintech sector, are going to want pretty much nothing on the floor. Polished concrete or metal. Something as raw as possible.