The World at Your Feet

26th July 2006 (Last Updated July 26th, 2006 18:30)

Flooring may not be something many guests notice, but hoteliers are taking it very seriously indeed. They are breaking new ground in both newbuild and refurbishment projects. Helen Parton looks at some recent design trends underfoot.

The World at Your Feet

The world of flooring is one of the richest, most diverse areas for hotel specifiers. Whether you are looking for tiles for reception, carpet for corridors or vinyl for the restaurant, there is an enormous range of options.

The number of refurbishments and newbuild hotels around the world has never been higher, yet there are some distinct flooring trends in evidence.

“There has been a real push towards luxuriously designed hotels, from the artworks on the wall to the flooring,” says London-based designer Helen Yardley, whose eponymously titled firm specialises in funky, colourful floor coverings.
“There’s a very aspirational element in terms of how hoteliers want them to look.”

Yardley herself is part of this drive for opulence, having worked on projects such as carpeting the lobby area of COMO Hotels and Resorts’ Metropolitan Hotel on London’s Park Lane.

The hotel was designed in 1997 by interior design specialists Keith Hobbs and Linzi Coppick of United Designers, using a diverse palette of colours from pale ivories to duck egg blues to demarcate the reception and bar areas.

This fitted in with the hotel’s philosophy to create to create something cool yet accessible that would strip back the non-essential elements of the hotel. Where there is ornamentation, it is used to create emphasis. Since then the lobby area
has been refreshed using shades of dusky plum carpet to complement the hotel’s branding.

In the Metropolitan Bangkok, COMO’s second property, Yardley used an enticing-sounding “rustic earthy shade of red carpet with splashes of acid yellow.”

TEXTURE AND FEEL

Christy Carpets has a wealth of experience in the hotel sector, ranging from large-scale projects in the Middle East to showcase boutique hotels such as Brighton’s Blanch House.

According to the firm’s director, Jo Hughes: “There has been a definite move away from patterns such as fleur de lys. For us, it’s now much more about texture, either using organic shapes like leaves or bold stripes – nothing
traditional anyway. It’s far more about the grain of the carpet.”

“There’s also been a move away from wool to 100% nylon, which besides being easier to maintain and ideal for high traffic areas, provides more flexibility in terms of the height of the loop that can be cut.”

Christy’s Perspective and Contour ranges provide an almost sculptural look to carpeting, which is proving popular with interior designers. In terms of colour, she adds: “Designers now want much more sophisticated options than the greens
and burgundies of old, with the likes of aubergine and taupe coming to the fore. Or they want a very specific colour which is custom-made for the project.”

SYMMETRY AND PATTERN

Taupes and aubergines, as well as olives, antique golds and yellow beiges, are also popular with clients of Brintons Carpets. John Bain, the firm’s global commercial design director, says that the influence of boutique hotels cannot be
underestimated: “They generally make the design statements that get taken up by the larger chains, such as the revival of pattern.”

Just as we have seen interior designers fall back in love with patterned fabric or wallpaper, so patterns have also made a comeback in flooring.

Scale has also increased and is being manipulated to create extra visual interest. “Patterns such as brocade or damask in colours like turquoise or jade are one of our strongest points,” adds Bain.

To provide visual connections in different areas of a hotel, carpet patterns can be tied in with those of other elements such as bed linen, upholstery fabric and light fittings.

But intricate patterns are not always appropriate. “When in the bedroom, say,” explains Bain, “and there is a strong pattern elsewhere, something simple is needed for the flooring, such as a line-drawing design or a series of simple
stripes.”

“To provide visual connections in different areas of a hotel, carpet patterns can be tied in with those of other elements.”

In public spaces, a new approach has been adopted, leaving behind the traditional model of a corridor carpet with two borders running along its length. Instead, there is a trend towards more colour and texture and better wayfinding around the
hotel.

“It’s an interesting departure for hotels,” adds Bain, “a way to differentiate themselves [from the rest], utilising the space in a way that is both unique and tasteful.”

Blenheim Carpets’ director Gary May also comments on the influence of boutique hotels: “They often adopt a more adventurous approach, and [with this in mind] we recently introduced a selection of silk carpets and rugs which can be coloured
to specification. These provide unashamed luxury underfoot – and though aimed at the top end of the market, they are surprisingly practical and hardwearing.”

PUBLIC INTEREST

At the 200-bedroom Radisson SAS Liverpool, part of a 30-storey mixed-use development overlooking the Mersey, the floor plate is planned around a central atrium with lobby, bar and lounge areas.

Gareth Abbott, director of architects Aedas Liverpool, explains: “Our design objectives for this project placed key performance and atmospheric demands on the selection of flooring materials. Product detail of this kind is crucial in all
projects, but was instrumental here in [guaranteeing] the success of the public space.

“It was important for us to communicate the quality of this brand while addressing key logistical challenges, including defining spaces and managing the traffic flow of guests.” In the end, a honed natural slate was chosen; it creates the
desired warmth, as well as being a highly resilient material.

In other areas of the hotel, carpet is making a comeback. “It is still one of the best practical ways of controlling acoustics,” explains Abbott, “soaking up sound and removing the potential for reverberation.”

As such, a close pile was used throughout the corridors, wrapping around the ascending atrium. The flooring was also used to address health and safety by communicating the location of the main fire exits and ensuring a clear approach path.

Natural materials can also be a stylish addition to other public areas. For example, the restaurant of London’s Cumberland Hotel uses Capital Marble Design’s understated Gobi grey composite stone. Vanessa Yusuf of architects Reardon Smith
agrees with this back-to-nature approach. “We’re using lots of neutral shades and as few grains and textures as possible,” she adds.

Yusuf worked on the Le Méridien at Fisherman’s Cove in the Seychelles, where she chose locally sourced floor tiles for all 60 of the open-plan guest bedrooms.

“In resort hotels, everyone is barefoot, coming in straight from the beach, with sand and water everywhere, so tiles are the perfect choice,” she says, “This means that all the rooms as well as public areas use a lot of stone and
tile flooring.

“We used stone effect tiles in the guestrooms purely because of cost reasons and slip resistances. Maintenance-wise, the tiles are extremely efficient, and so the operators are happy to specify them on the walls as well as creating a great
minimal wraparound effect.”

PALE AND INTERESTING

Paler colours are definitely winning out in the bathroom, as far as Clare Harris of vinyl manufacturer Karndean is concerned: “Our new Antique Ceramic range provides a valuable alternative to real ceramics, which can be cold to the touch and are
also prone to cracking and chipping.” Vinyls, on the other hand, are warm underfoot and extremely durable.

“Larger hotels still tend to favour muted abstracts or a carpet echoing a logo or house style.”

Harris also predicts that dark woods will be increasingly popular in public areas: “Restaurants and reception areas are definitely moving towards a more rustic feel. Our Handcrafted wood range realistically replicates a natural aged wood look,
creating texture and richness.”

Just as larger tiles in natural materials are growing in popularity, so larger planks are becoming increasingly common in vinyl. Such planks are both pleasing to the eye and quick to install, causing minimum disruption – definitely an advantage
for the hotel industry.

Fellow vinyl manufacturer Amtico has responded to the demand for lighter woods and stone-effect vinyl tiles with the launch of its Blonde Oak, Ivory Maple and Savonna Stone ranges, all of which are suitable for commercial environments such as
hotels.

According to Vanessa Garrett of UK-based timber flooring supplier Broadleaf Timber: “The time of dark, exotic timbers and colonial-style floors and decor seems to have passed. Higher grade products tend to be the preferred choice nowadays, with
aged finishes chosen to create [a feeling of] decadence and drama.”

CREATING A NEW LOOK

As well as being an important area when creating new properties, replacing flooring can be key part of a hotel refurbishment. The Athenaeum in London’s Piccadilly, a sister property to the highly successful Grove in Hertfordshire, is currently
undergoing major renovation work courtesy of Fox Linton Associates.

Although it has a contemporary aesthetic, the hotel’s owners were wary of shocking the regular clientele.

“They wanted to maintain the Athenaeum’s special appeal and maintain an element of English eccentricity,” explains design director Martin Hulbert. Oak parquet flooring was used throughout the public areas to create a seamless
interior.

Describing a recent refurbishment for Blenheim Carpets, May adds: “The dining room of an independent hotel we worked on required a traditional-looking carpet to blend with original wood panelling, but it also had to look modern to complement new
furniture and lighting.”

Larger hotels, he says, still tend to favour traditional florals, muted abstracts or a carpet echoing a logo or house style.

So, whether large chain or small independent, both manufacturers and interior designers agree that, with the wealth of flooring materials available, hotel guests can expect many more exciting developments to take shape beneath their feet in the near
future.