Focus: Q&A

Four designers from leading practices share their views on flooring: what they specify and why, their priorities and favourites

Jasper Sanders
Jasper Sanders, Design Director at Jasper Sanders + Partners, believes that flooring can set the tone for a project, and is a vital component in effective zoning of busy spaces…

Jasper Sanders, design director at Jasper Sanders + PartnersJasper Sanders, design director at Jasper Sanders + Partners

How integral to the success of a project is the flooring?
It is the one surface in the space that all activity takes place on. Its performance, sound absorbency or reflection – an echo can be powerful – and robustness can contribute to how a space can feel. Visually, it can sit in the background or it can be a device to create different zone settings. Floor surfaces are a critical ingredient in creating successful places for people.

Our New Bridewell student residential project in Bristol was an experiment in flooring design. It was a continuous finish that extended across all of the social spaces. We also zoned the different activity areas by intensifying the pattern in those spaces. It made for a fun and interesting space that contributed positively to the identity of the scheme.

What type of flooring do you specify most often?
We specify a lot of vinyl and are looking to use the more recyclable Marmoleum floor covering from Forbo on some projects coming up. We like to find unusual and exciting ways to use existing finishes or potentially use new products coming to the market.

What’s the best value to be had in the flooring market right now?
Forbo Flooring Systems’ products are great value and extremely robust. We’re experimenting with making our own patterns with Bolon woven vinyl right now, which is very exciting.

What types of flooring would be top of your wish list?
We prefer natural products that are self-finished, but practicalities of cost and longevity mean that we always have to balance the choices we make. We still love timber and are looking to use a light-stained, wide oak plank on a scheme.

Tony Wilks, Gensler
A Design Director at Gensler, Tony Wilks has been creating and building brands for more than 20 years. Specialising in design, he has worked globally, with brands such as Adidas, NatWest, Google and Vodafone. He explains the key part flooring can play in any project and talks us through an innovative way of using the ground beneath our feet as an effective means of communication…

Tony Wilks, GenslerTony Wilks, Gensler

What can specifiers do to exploit the potential of creative flooring, both in terms of design ideas and material choices?
Flooring can play a pivotal role in creating engagement in any space, whether delivering brand communication or acting as wayfinding. We can consider various types of products that offer a graphic aesthetic, whether using tile to create imagery or typography, wooden flooring with inlays that create graphic patterns or wayfinding devices, or taking advantage of the unfinished nature of raised flooring as appropriate with powerful graphics to bring focus or tactility to a space.

In a project for British Land Gensler used bold floor graphics to demonstrate distinct types of spaceIn a project for British Land, Gensler used bold floor graphics to demonstrate distinct types of space

Materiality can add another dimension to the design process, considering where to create focal or ambient spaces, high-dwell or stop spaces may drive material choice, whether for durability or tactility.

Can you tell us about the recent project you did for British Land?
British Land wanted to create a brand and event that offered SMEs the opportunity to create a work environment tailored to their individual needs. We were asked to create an event that communicated the shift in future workplace mobility.

Considering time frame, budget and space, we created a bold, impactful floor graphic that demonstrated the distinct types of space plans that future tenants could choose from. We saw the raw, raised-floor finish as an opportunity to graphically bring the space together and create impact.

We used the raised floor as a mechanism to deliver graphic communication around the flexibility of space types that potential tenants could choose from. It’s not often we have the option to use flooring as a way of communicating visually, usually due to material restraints such as carpet tiles – so we considered this an opportunity to use the floor to bring some continuity and to convey a message in an engaging and fun way.

In terms of ‘Tomorrow’s World’ thinking, how could things develop in terms of innovative flooring ideas in commercial/retail environments?
We should be considering flooring as more than just a way to deliver an aesthetic or functional use. In a world where technology is developing so rapidly, the potential for fl ooring to deliver enhanced user experiences is boundless.

This could include kinetic energy to power environments, embedded heating elements to lower energy consumption, or to run electrical current to wireless links that charge everything, can really transform the way we engage with buildings

Oliver Heath, Interface
Oliver Heath, architectural designer and biophilic design ambassador for Interface, says that references to nature in flooring choices can bring huge benefits in both user value and visual impact…

Oliver Heath, Interface

How integral to the success of a project is the flooring?

There have been clear developments in workplace design over recent years, from the removal of cubical workstations, to open-plan offices created to promote collective thinking and the sharing of ideas. With this, the creation of a holistic mix of spaces and zones that support mental and physical wellbeing, and social and private activity, is ever more important. Flooring plays an essential role in this zoning process as it offers a single and unbroken surface unlike any other that a designer can add thought and creativity to.

Playful hexagonal cubicles off er spaces for children to relax inPlayful hexagonal cubicles off er spaces for children to relax in

What types of flooring do you specify most often?
No two projects are the same in size, spatial layout or requirement. What is important is the ability to add variation and creativity into any space. I often use a mix of carpeted and solid surfaces to create clear circulation routes within areas, and to delineate environments designed for focus, concentration, sociability or activity.

What’s the best value to be had in the flooring market right now?
The term ‘value’ depends entirely on one’s financial and environmental perspective. In both of these, my designs take a wider, longer-term approach to value. For me, it is essential that we factor in both a carbon-centric and human-centred approach, combined with good design and practicality.

What types of flooring would be top of your wish list?
As a biophilic designer, there is tangible financial value for my clients in using materials that improve the human connection to nature as a means to reduce stress and aid recuperation. Research from Interface’s report Human Spaces found that individuals who work in environments that incorporate natural elements, such as greenery and sunlight, report a 15 per cent higher level of wellbeing than those who work in environments devoid of nature. Designers can use this information to demonstrate that nature-inspired design not only looks beautiful but can increase employee productivity and creativity, reduce rates of absenteeism and presenteeism, and have a real economic benefit on the bottom line for businesses.

What recent projects have you been involved with that included innovative or unusual flooring solutions?
We recently completed a small project at The Garden School in Hackney, London. The school offers education for two to 16-year-olds with highly specialised provisions for learners with autism. The project involved creating a recuperation room leading off from the usual noise and bustle of the adjacent playground – a place where the children experience a lot of stress.

Using flooring from Interface’s biophilic Human Nature and Net Effect ranges, alongside a range of nature inspired colours, textures and patterns, we created a space that reconnects students to the natural world. The main floor is zoned to separate the main circulation space and an interactive nature feature. A carpeted window seat offers safe views of the playground, along with an abundance of rejuvenating natural light. Playful hexagonal cubicles also offer a space for children to relax in and restore their mental energy. And with their varying pile-heights, Interface’s textured carpets provide tactile references to nature – key to helping de-stress, energise and relax.

Andy Warnerlacey, HOK London
Andy Warnerlacey, practice leader for interiors at HOK London, explains how choosing the best material combinations can ensure that a project strikes the right chord…

Andy Warnerlacey, HOK LondonAndy Warnerlacey, HOK London

Which has been your favourite recent flooring project?
HOK designed the Bute Mills project in Luton for Youthscape, a local charity focused on helping at-risk youth. This pro bono project provided us with a unique opportunity to pull together a rich combination of floor finishes to complement the 929 sq m turn-of-the-century grain warehouse. A blue steel chequer plate at the new entrance (the original opening for hoisting goods) provides a link to the industrial heritage of the building. This industrial materiality is extended into the reception and conference rooms with engineered, recycled, timber boards from Tedd Todd. The expectation is for each board to develop its own patina and character over time.

A rich combination of floor finishes were pulled together for the Youthscape charity to complement the vintage buildingA rich combination of floor finishes were pulled together for the Youthscape charity to complement the vintage building

Elsewhere, a woven vinyl from Chilewich maintains the flooring aesthetic with a more welcoming, hospitality feel in common gathering areas. In the kitchen and meeting areas, retro black and white ceramic tiles from Johnson provide a whimsical element. The hot-pink Kimpton studded rubber floor on the central staircase echoes the shade of Youthscape’s logo and links the floors together. Interface carpet is used in the office space to soften the acoustic profile of the space.

A hot-pink studded rubber floor from Kimpton echoes the colour of the charity’s logoA hot-pink studded rubber floor from Kimpton echoes the colour of the charity’s logo

How integral to the success of a project is the flooring?
Like keys in musical compositions, the flooring provides the foundation for any interior scheme. Everything – literally and figuratively – rests on the floor finish. It sets the conceptual direction, creates the mood of the design and responds most directly to the intended purpose of the space. From a multisensory perspective, it is the only surface finish the user is always in contact with. Flooring also has a significant impact on the acoustic character of the space. In environments where the light is at a high level, flooring’s light-reflective properties can have a direct impact on the perceived visual weight of the ceiling.

A retro black and white ceramic tile floor from Johnson is used in the kitchen and meeting areasA retro black and white ceramic tile floor from Johnson is used in the kitchen and meeting areas

What types of flooring do you specify most often?
Timber is the most sustainable and versatile of all flooring materials. From high-end parquet panels with intricate marquetry details to recycled industrial planking or exceptionally durable end-grain blocks, each iteration provides character and contributes to different conceptual design approaches.

What innovative or creative flooring products have you seen or specified recently, and which types of flooring would be top of your wish list?
The Bolon Blend rugs with their vinyl and wool blend look amazing, especially when layered on top of one another. As for the wish list, each of these offers a different tactile response: NexGen aluminium decking, recycled leather, Quartz carpet.

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