Trends in Interior Products

Feb. 7, 2006

Requests from facilities professionals regarding interior products frequently become design directives

Blend aesthetics and functionality. Make sure the product is sustainable. Oh, and it should be easy to install and operate, as well as allow enough flexibility for some level of personalization. Sounds like a tall order, doesn’t it? Surprisingly, manufacturers of interior products are incredibly agile in their ability to respond to the market. The requests from facilities professionals and end-users frequently become design directives and, as product suppliers strive to deliver on their mounting demands, some succeed in revolutionizing the world of work. The options are many, but the trends are surprisingly few.

Furniture and Seating
Sustainability. The industry continues to search for ways to produce products that are not harmful to the environment - during manufacture, when in use, and even at the end of their useful life. Suspicious and wary, facilities professionals are anxious to hear just exactly what makes a company and its products so green. Descriptions of systems furniture components and chairs provide detailed information about the percentage of recycled content (both industrial and post-consumer) and sustainable materials. Manufacturers realize the devastation resulting from logging and have responded by using Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood. Alternatively, some companies are manufacturing products made from annually renewable products such as wheat straw.

The ability to multi-task. Facilities professionals are asking their furniture and seating to do more. Walk in to any workplace and you’ll find small groups of people gathering informally to brainstorm, collaborate, and share information. Recognizing that much of an employee’s day isn’t spent working autonomously, systems furniture is now being designed to function as easily for one as it does for two or three. In the June 2005 issue of 360, a publication from Grand Rapids, MI-based Steelcase, the company explains: “A significant body of evidence substantiates that working in pairs is the foundation of better learning, improved negotiation, problem-solving, and - most importantly - innovation.” Even seating solutions are multi-tasking. A workstation chair easily doubles as a training seat - and even works in a conference/team environment.

Easier installation and operation. Churn is inevitable, costly, and a productivity inhibitor. FMs want furniture systems that are easier to install and that contain minimal parts to facilitate smooth asset tracking. While the quest to meet these needs has been ongoing, most suppliers are making real headway. FMs are thrilled with the results and are reminded each time a reconfiguration is necessary as to just why this characteristic is so important. Additionally, office chairs are becoming simpler to operate - and as users everywhere can attest, the new designs are a welcome change compared to the confusion caused by levers and locks. With manufacturers using words/phrases such as “intuitive” and “automatic functionality” to describe their new seating lines, the days of discomfort are numbered.

Carpet and Flooring
A carpet or hard-surface floor in disguise. Sisal took residential design by storm, and it wasn’t long before commercial interiors wanted the look as well. Facilities coast-to-coast loved the woven appearance but not the fraying and tearing. Manufacturers began working to develop innovative solutions that could replicate the look of rattan, basketry, and even tribal weavings without compromising durability and performance. New carpet designs and woven vinyl floorcoverings were introduced recently to placate this desire for texture. And for facilities where wood flooring is preferred but not practical, sheet vinyl options replicate the look of fine and exotic wood species - complete with embossing to further trick the eye.

Make selection a no-brainer. Carpet manufacturers are making it easier to select their products - one company even offers the ability to match products to the Pantone color library. Others market tile and broadloom in color families and pair their lines with hard-surface offerings to make designing - from the café to the conference room - a snap. And, if you can’t find what you’re looking for in resilient flooring, customization provides an infinite number of possibilities. By providing your design to one manufacturer, you can literally create the perfect flooring for your environment. Another company allows you to create a unique, customized carpet on the Internet from 20 colorways and more than 150 design options.

Sustainability is a priority. With developers rallying around the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System®, product suppliers have been steadily producing more environmentally friendly products. Carpet and flooring manufacturers were among the first to answer the call, and have responded by making and marketing products with sustainable materials and recycled content. Specifying carpet used to be more about looks and durability than sustainability; but today’s FMs want it all without having to compromise performance. Questions about stain resistance are frequently followed up with inquiries about recycled content. Carpet manufacturers are quick to rattle off percentages of recycled fiber and nylon, and even offer end-of-life programs to keep old tile or broadloom out of the landfill. Reclamation programs provide the opportunity to have carpet waste recycled, downcycled, or repurposed. Likewise, ceramic and glass tile manufacturers are offering product lines containing recycled content. If you’re looking for the ultimate in sustainable resilient flooring, investigate how post-consumer waste from tires can deliver comfort underfoot. These recycled rubber floors deliver style, durability, and ease of installation - as well as credits toward LEED certification. Additionally, cork is becoming popular again for reasons beyond aesthetics. The material offers durability, is easy to maintain, and is both natural and renewable.

Inspired by architecture, infused with the look of metal. Many carpet products launched recently hail city skylines and industry as their inspiration. Taking cues from construction materials like steel girders and concrete as well as glass façades, new carpet collections reflect the architecture of buildings through simple yet sophisticated patterns. Noting consumers’ desire for cars, phones, and lighting in metal finishes, resilient flooring manufacturers are offering commercial flooring in a variety of metallic or metal-inspired colorways.

Offer style without compromising acoustics. Suspended ceilings that just hang there are old news. Products have evolved from an acoustical necessity to a design element. You can now mask the plenum; provide all the right CAC, AC, and NRC ratings; and have an overhead view of blue skies and fluffy clouds. If you’re more interested in replicating the look of embossed tin ceilings, that option is available, too. The grid is getting less and less obvious as manufacturers develop lighter-weight products that are offered in larger panels.

Increase the durability. While it’s not exactly news that FMs want durability and expect appearance retention from their ceilings, manufacturers continue to make significant advancements. Products are becoming more impact- and scratch-resistant, and the mold-resistance characteristics of some ceiling panels are generating interest from facilities professionals in high-humidity environments. Even suspension systems are becoming more durable, with at least one manufacturer using hot-dipped galvanized steel to reduce rusting and corrosion.

Jana J. Madsen ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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