Remember Woody Allen’s Zelig, the Chameleon Man, whose features changed to blend with those around him? No one did a better job of fitting in. Photos proved it. Zelig was a member of a Dixieland band, looking like a sideman. He was posed with the officers of Hitler’s high command, looking every inch the fascist. He was with fellow stockbrokers, prosperous and celebratory in an up market.
Jim Burns has a Zelig theory. He believes that wall carpet is the Zelig of finishes; that wall carpet takes on the characteristics of spaces where it is used, in both form and function. Burns should know what he’s talking about.
“Wall carpet is a background,” says Burns, vice president of Eurotex, a Philadelphia-based carpet supplier. “In fact, it disappears into the background. You have to know it’s there and then look for it in order to see it. It completes a picture by enhancing a look. The enhancement is subtle, but it’s definitely there.” Burns describes the look as “corporate cool.”
Wall carpet is most widely used in corporate interiors and, by extension, in conference centers, convention halls, and even corporate aircraft. Used in this environment, it adds a little texture and a suggestion of restrained elegance. It also absorbs sound and helps reduce operating costs because of its durability. The Federal Aviation Administration has stringent regulations regarding wallcovering products used in corporate aircraft or, indeed, in any plane. Any wall carpet used in an aircraft interior would probably have been made with a flameproof back in order to have passed these tests.
Pursuing the Zelig theory into the theater and other public spaces, it can be said that wall carpet is like the stand-in; the performer whose name won’t be found in the playbill. Like many building finishes, wall carpet is nearly invisible in the dark, but its acoustic attributes and resistance to normal wear and occasional abnormal abuse are invaluable.
In hotels, you’ll often find a card on your desk that will tell you the name of the person who makes up your room. Wall carpet is in a similar category, nearly anonymous and unseen, but making a contribution to a crisp, clean, well-scrubbed personal space. On a larger scale, wall carpet does the same job in around-the-clock environments like casinos or cruise ships.
In schools and colleges, wall carpet takes on the aspect of the conscientious librarian with finger raised to lips and constantly urging “hush.” In fact, wall carpet does cover the walls of language labs and other classrooms, assembly halls, corridors, as well as critical areas within libraries. Students hear what they need to hear without the distraction of unwanted noise.
In hospitals, wall carpet does some of what the building maintenance crew does 24/7, only without the name cards and badges. In healthcare facilities, wall carpet is often used as wainscoting beneath a rail. It protects walls from damage that could otherwise come from scrapes and hits from rolling carts. What noise reduction comes from this limited coverage is a welcome benefit, but in this environment, durability is more significant.
In retail interiors, Burns admits that wall carpet is the anti-Zelig. “It contributes to a pleasant shopping experience,” he says, “but it’s the opposite of the ‘Attention, Shoppers!’ fellow on the speaker.” Again, noise reduction is important.
Wall carpet, lighter-weight pile fabrics, and even flat, woven textiles will reduce measurable sound within a room and sound that would leak through walls from one room to another. Most wall carpets are in one of three differing constructions, each with its own set of features and benefits:
Woven – precise textural definition, optimum appearance retention.
Fusion-bonded – cuts easily and precisely in any direction without raveling at edges, making it ideal for wall graphics, cut-outs, and custom wall treatments.
Needlepunched – most economical.
James R. Harper is vice president of Harper Hadley Alexander, a marketing communications firm serving clients in building products and construction based in Newton Square, PA.