More Welcoming Floors

Nov. 2, 2005
Coming to a building near you

More welcoming environments contribute to the long-term value and marketability of buildings and their interiors. That’s why the hospitality look is in demand across many institutions - from banks to schools and offices. These spaces are moving beyond their traditional moorings toward a look that is at once both comfortable and appealing.

While the interior design of medical centers may seem a long way from high-rise offices, they are, in fact, mini-metropolises that are often harbingers of change. They encompass offices, waiting areas, conference rooms, cafeterias, and coffee shops. Medical facilities, in particular, are using warmer, neutral color palettes; more comfortable furniture; and patterns, textures, light, and water to make visitors feel more at home.

Designers of office space interpret the hospitality influence in their own way, but there is a general move away from the institutional and toward the warmer feel of natural colors and finishes of a welcoming hotel.

Complex design always involves multiple flooring materials to match the purpose and demands of the space - and the experience the designer wants to create. But designers also use different flooring materials within a space, perhaps in a border or complementary pattern, to add another layer of interest and complexity to the design. Integrated into the overall décor, such detailing may help people feel more connected, comfortable, and alert.

In a signature space, hardwood floors, for example, may be used as an accent to granite, or reserved for a separate, less-traveled area that needs its own signature. An emblem or plaque might appear within that space in bronze to focus attention. Or, hardwood floors may be laid in an appealing pattern that may include hardwoods of different species, tones, or finishes. The hardwood flooring might be used throughout, or as an accent to other flooring materials to create a warmer, more natural look.

Similarly, linoleum sheet flooring permits complex designs to be incorporated in the floor design for one-of-a-kind customization. Sweeping shapes and designs with tonal contrast can create an uplifting mood for company dining rooms, as well as in reception or kitchen areas. Or, a company logo can set the tone for a lobby floor.

The desire for more welcoming indoor environments is increasing the demand for natural looks and hardwood floors in particular. “High-drama” pre-finished hardwood floors now feature distressed surface treatments, highly defined grain, and wide planks - in species ranging from oak and maple to hickory and pecan. Wide planks, combined with details like hand-scraping or beveled edges, can add a touch of country or just create a distinctive natural feel that meshes well with a variety of design styles.

It is not uncommon for an owner or architect to want hardwood flooring to create a natural or rustic feeling or a feeling of adventure, but be squeezed by budget. To satisfy those constraints, 3/8-inch engineered floors might replace more costly ¾-inch solid flooring. Or, for lighter-duty areas, there is now 5/16-inch engineered hardwood flooring.

Convincing renditions of natural stone and ceramic tile are also available in flooring laminates, luxury vinyl tile, and vinyl sheet flooring - which also offers hardwood visuals - and faster installation. Continuous quality improvements on visuals and commercial warranties put these floors in demand.

Paul A. Pearce is senior designer at Armstrong World Industries Inc. (, Lancaster, PA.

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