Get down to it

Leading designers give us the lowdown on their flooring choices

Gregor Jackson
Founder and partner at GP Studio

For the luxury brands we work with, open space has become more of a feature in the retail environment and so all the more evident in the design. Creative use of flooring can also become something that works as a directional tool for shoppers, moving them around the retail space. But there are other considerations: the sound it creates (bold and harsh or warm and soft), and the impact it can have on lighting. Flooring can have a powerful impact on an overall design.

What's the flooring you specify most often?
In our work we find that solid oak flooring offers a durable, naturally beautiful and timeless material. It creates warmth and a classic feel - as well as a sense of being 'at home' for customers. But we also tend to find that flooring can become a core part of a brand's retail identity. For example, GP Studio works with Harrods, Harvey Nichols and John Lewis, and with each there is an almost defining material - marble in Harrods, limestone in Harvey Nichols, porcelain tile and wood in John Lewis.

In terms of bangs per buck, which sort of flooring performs the best?
An almost impossible question to answer as every brief makes different demands, and design 'value' will be defined very differently by different clients. However, porcelain tile will give a finish that remains unchanged and consistent over a long period of time.

I'd also add that one of the things that we've been working with recently in projects is flooring that changes over time and that colours with age: the right kind of specialist timber with a metal inlay can deliver this sort of impact. We have also recently been experimenting in the studio with floors that age: building up layers of paint on a surface so that, as it's walked on, a pattern or colour is revealed.

If money wasn't a factor what would be your three top flooring finishes?
Glass: Where it's used well, it offers amazing opportunities - for example witness the glass staircase (with its back projection incorporated in Louis Vuitton New Bond Street and Hong Kong Island). Marble: It is intensely pleasing to work with - there is nothing else that gets you as close to working with elemental nature in our industry. Carpet: With woven lighting through it is dynamic, engaging and exciting as a material.

Our project: The Penthouse
Client: Harrods

When we worked with Harrods on the redesign of its private shopping experience (The Penthouse), we had a unique opportunity to fuse durability, sublime beauty and tactility in a flooring design. A Pietre del Casdoso stone floor gave us the durability required in a space that had to look flawless for years. For tactility we incorporated timber (a matt-bronze, gun-smoked coated floor of timber and metal mix), which gave richness of tones and added warmth.

As a reflection of its core function as a private shopping area, we incorporated 100 per cent bamboo carpet and a bespoke cow-hide rug... creating a modern cocoon for those who enter the space we created.

Clive Hall
Director of BDG architecture + design

The key elements in any interior solution that people immediately interact with are the surfaces. In many open-plan office developments with curtain-wall glazing the surfaces experience is limited to just two: furniture and floors, so floor finishes are clearly very important. Both in terms of colour and texture they play increasingly important roles as a navigation aid, and not just for people who are visually impaired: in larger developments floor colour can be used to assist department or floor location.

What's the flooring you specify most often? For commercial office design, despite the vast range of floor finishes available, carpet is and will likely remain the most commonly used floor finish; the key drivers being flexibility and technology. When technology shifts away from cables to wireless and improved battery life then the range of floor finishes can change. But for now a modular carpet tile on a raised-access floor tile with under-floor power, data and ventilation distribution is the system of choice in the UK and many parts of the world. Furniture can be reconfigured, cellular offices can be easily added. It remains a cost-effective solution. Many hard floor finishes require a substrate and a change of floor-tile height and for this reason carpet is often the line of least resistance. And the power of health and safety should always be acknowledged: carpet remains a very safe bet.

In terms of bangs per buck, which sort of flooring performs the best?
Again for commercial office interiors, away from reception areas and break-out spaces, carpet is very hard to beat on cost. In schemes of limited budget the change of carpet is probably the single most visual impact in a scheme. And of course if the carpet is cost effective this frees up funds for key areas, such as reception and break-out spaces.

If money wasn't a factor what would be your three favourite flooring finishes?
Natural materials are very hard to beat: 1) A sumptuous, hand-made broadloom carpet can often be irresistible; spend any amount of time walking from a hard floor finish to luxurious carpet and you'll get it - even with your eyes closed. 2) Quality oiled-timber floors always look stunning. 3) Stone will always impress.

Our project: HQ in Victoria, London
Client: EDF Energy

When we developed the scheme, a key element of the brief was sustainability not just in selection criteria but in telling a story that was very much responding to the low-carbon agenda. All the project materials were carefully vetted to ensure they met BDG architecture + design's ISO 14001 process, but the project team quickly became engaged by the use of reclaimed oak timber, originally from the Hoxton Gallery, in the reception, break-out and office spaces. The lustre and patina of the timber looked amazing after the original installation, and for the client it is at the heart of the low-carbon story.

Mark De Jong
Founding partner at Kossmann De Jong

Flooring is extremely important, but often undervalued. In our work as exhibition designers, we try to create worlds. We transform spaces to a certain subject. In an exhibition the floor is the surface that is literally in contact with the visitor. By having the right floor, we are able to set the right tone and atmosphere immediately.

For example in De Nieuwe Kerk (a 15th-century church) in Amsterdam for the exhibition: Istanbul The City and the Sultan, the flooring was created from Turkish rugs, which transformed the atmosphere of the church to that of a mosque.

In the exhibition The Rebuilding of Rotterdam [an FX Awards 2011 winner] the flooring was made of regular paved street stones, which contributed to the feeling of strolling through the city.

In terms of bangs per buck, which sort of flooring performs the best?
For The Darkroom - an exhibition about the history of Dutch photography in the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam - there was not a lot of budget. We chose to use rubber tiles, which are normally used for garden patios. It turned out to work quite well; the tiles were hollow, which allowed to hide the electricity cables from the installations, and the rubber has a great acoustic. The costs were only 15 euros a square metre.

If money wasn't a factor what would be your three favourite flooring finishes?
In exhibitions, flexibility is very important so we prefer to use system flooring. System flooring gives the freedom to make what you want and where you want to make it. It is also quite practical for electricity cables from multimedia installations throughout an exhibition.

Our project: LEF Future Center
Client: Rijkswaterstaat, Utrecht

The LEF Future Center is in the HQ of the Dutch Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management - an environment where employees find creative solutions for the complex questions and challenges in transport and water management in the Netherlands. The starting point for LEF was change. People need to leave their everyday situations behind to come up with groundbreaking ideas.

Flexibility was the leitmotiv of the design process. All the spaces were designed with the possibility to influence the mood of the participants. For the HQ we used the system flooring Hoba. The 60cm x 60cm tiles were made of calcium with a stainless steel finish. LEDs inserted into the floor tiles enabled colours and patterns to be created. So even in the floor we applied techniques to change the atmosphere in the building all the time

Nick Stringer
Director, Shed (UK and Singapore-based interior architects)
Sometimes flooring can be everything, other times quite inconsequential; like most of design it's always about relevance. I think that flooring (like ceilings) is quite often overlooked, the execution of both these aspects can really 'bookend' a scheme, holding the space together.

What's the flooring you specify most often?
Honestly, there isn't one. It's not about favourites, it's about how appropriate it is to the project, brand or individual. Hard surfaces prevail in retail for obvious reasons but there are many factors at play.

For example, in a extremely large retail project we are doing in Dubai right now, we can't use timber because the moisture content in the screeds cannot be dried out in time to meet the programme. So we'll be laying stone, and in Dubai they can do anything with stone.

In terms of bangs per buck, which sort of flooring performs the best?
Often leaving an existing floor works well when you have the opportunity, old screeds and tiles can be cleaned to good effect for a more 'distressed' environment. I still like carpet for ease of use and sheer comfort. There is something inherently warm and comforting about walking on carpet.

If money wasn't a factor, what would be your three favourite flooring finishes?
Terazzo - not the acrylic resin versions you get nowadays but the original cement and aggregate mixes of mid-century modernism. There is nothing more beautiful, more hardwearing and versatile than a great terrazzo mix. Unfortunately, when we tried specifying for the Spencer Hart flagship on Brooke Street, we couldn't find anyone to lay it traditionally, which was a real shame. It wasn't about the money, but choosing a stone - an actual sheet, particularly marble - is a really rewarding and almost luxurious experience. It's frightening to think about the geological processes involved, but if I worked in an Italian marble quarry, I couldn't help but have a smile on my face for most of the day. Also I like encaustic tiles; beautiful pattern making with real colour and vibrancy. They sometimes get a bad rap for being produced in sweat-shop-conditions in Morocco, but they are beautifully put together and real art.

Our project: Spencer Hart London flagship, Mayfair
Client: Spencer Hart

For Spencer Hart's London flagship, the architectural cool vernacular of Palm Springs was intrinsic to developing both the interior architecture and the brand, the facade of the Parker Hotel in Palm Springs specifically providing inspiration to anchor the interior with a strong yet delicate perforated concrete block wall.

That helpfully led us into using a polished concrete floor that underpins the whole scheme. It wasn't as easy as specifying though because using concrete took the structural loading to the edge of building regulation acceptance.

The hard work often goes into the substrate too. There were years of build-up, which needed removing before new ply being laid to correct levels. Expansion joints allowed for and concealed where possible behind or under wall construction.

Concrete can work with a variety of colours and temperatures so it was interesting to work with the contractor to get a suitable mix and finish. Into it we worked some distressed pattern to highlight scale and offer a hint of that mid-century case study deserthouse look.

Marta Nowicka
Founder of Marta Nowicka & Co

Flooring is extremely important. Without the right flooring specification, a space becomes impractical and dangerous - how many times have you walked over a slippery, wet floor or tripped on an uneven surface? The flooring company or installers can let you down; we use proven suppliers and install a sample of floor to be used and abused before the specification is confirmed.

What's the flooring you specify most often?
We have classic flooring tastes. We love smooth concrete, engineered timber, stone, industrial floor paint and terrazzo or marble chips. But we have just specified the most beautiful floor tile called DVCA O2, from Domus Tiles.

In terms of bangs per buck, which sort of flooring performs the best?
It depends on the location and use of the space - but for commercial use oiled, smoked 8mm engineered timber is great value - you can sand it two to three times, re-oil it, and it cleans up a treat.

If money wasn't a factor what would be your three favourite flooring finishes?
For specification in Britain, top would be Portland Stone, in situ terrazzo, then solid walnut.

Our project: Karsten Schubert Gallery, Soho, London
Client: Karsten Schubert

We designed the Karsten Schubert Gallery in Golden Square, London in the previous offices of Hosker Moore and Kent. Karsten Schubert, the client, was adamant to use a lino floor - as a practical, utilitarian, low-cost flooring solution. I was horrified as he was going to show artists such as Barbara Hepworth and Bridget Riley on lino! It would have cheapened the environmental experience plus been distracting due to its incongruity. So we ordered the ugliest lino samples possible, in huge sheets, and laid them out on the floor in the space. We then left them in Karsten's office for several days and then came back with a stunning oak floor - there was no comparison. Karsten saw the light and u-turned on his decision, with no regrets. I still tease him about it.

The space looks fabulous; smart, classic, classy, and the floor has not worn one bit. The oak has a natural finish, so is regularly re-oiled to avoid getting those nasty, dark, wear marks you often see where the lacquer has scratched off a timber floor

This article was first published in fx Magazine.

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