Underfoot innovation

As the flooring world moves away from traditional flooring types, CID looks at some funky alternatives. By Adam Dawson.

Porcelain tiles from Artistic Tile give a stunning metallic effect.
Porcelain tiles from Artistic Tile give a stunning metallic effect.

Think about flooring and the usual suspects crop up time and time again: wood, carpet and ceramic tiles, to name but a few. But with buildings in the Middle East continually vying for position as the most innovatively designed, flooring is taking its own steps in the same direction. Silver tiles, mother of pearl and leather are just some of the materials now used to inject the wow factor into flooring.


It might seem extravagant to use metals such as silver or brass as a flooring solution but given that the Middle East seldom shies away from extravagance, it is a flooring option that is making waves in the region, according to Alvaro Ziani de Ferranti, chairman of London based luxury flooring company, De Ferranti.

"This flooring is proving to be popular in the Middle East, especially the brass, which can register as gold. The silver is also popular as it seems to be more sophisticated," he says. The company recently installed its metal flooring in the Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel in London. But while it may look the part, is metal really a feasible flooring alternative? de Ferranti believes so: "Metal is durable and lasts a long time and is easy to maintain. It has a lustrous quality and tarnishes over time giving a beautiful patina. Saying this the tiles can be brought back to their original state with metal cleaners."

The downside of using metal flooring is that it is a commodity and as metal prices fluctuate, so does the price of the flooring. It is also very hard and cold underfoot. In addition it conducts heat, cold and sound, for this reason it is common to have a number of rugs placed in areas where metal flooring is present.

Another high-end product manoeuvring its way into the world of flooring is mother of pearl. More commonly used in the interiors of super yachts, the flooring is created by placing a veneer over a rigid substrate such as marble. "This type of flooring is commonly used in bathroom floors as well as accents such as cabochons or linear borders in floors, which keeps the costs down," explains de Ferranti.

If all this seems far too decadent, there are many companies now offering porcelain tiling designed to resemble sheets of metal. Villeroy and Boch's Fire and Ice range along with Artistic Tile's Ironworks collection are two such examples. The metallic effect is achieved by adding coloured enamel to the tiles before firing. "Porcelain is frost, stain and wear resistant and has a low moisture absorption so can be used in wet areas, such as bathrooms and pool decks," explains Jan MacLatchie, chief marketing officer, Artistic Tile.

"The tiles are so durable and easy to maintain that they have even been successfully used on the floors of luxury automobile dealerships." Indeed because of the high temperatures during firing, porcelain tiles are widely considered to be one of the strongest fired flooring options having a measure of hardness of six or seven out of ten - diamond being the hardest at ten.

This trend of replicating original materials in favour of cheaper alternatives does not stop at metal. You may think that the effects of a real stone floor are hard to beat but there are companies producing real-feel stone-effect vinyl flooring tiles. Harvey Maria is one such company. Better known for its quirky flooring patterns ranging from grass to sand and water bubbles, the company has recently introduced its Simply Stone range. Richard Contreras, managing director, Harvey Maria explains the design: "The tiles are made from a resilient vinyl material and with the Simply Stone range the surface has an aluminium oxide finish, which has the effect of making the floor look and feel more like the real thing." Little maintenance is also required and as Contreras adds, there are other benefits over the real thing: "This type of flooring is warmer underfoot, slip resistant and more forgiving than the real thing if you drop something on it."

If you thought leather was only for wearing then think again. Used in the Nineteenth Century as floor coverings in wealthy Italian homes, leather is enjoying a renaissance, being used as a luxury alternative in similar applications that use hardwood.

MacLatchie explains its benefits: "Leather is beautiful, soft, non-allergenic, acoustically desirable and natural. It is also warm underfoot, easy to maintain and smells great. It imparts a high-fashion look to any environment." Having said this, leather is not suitable for wet areas such as baths or showers but does make an ideal floor for bedrooms, closet interiors, low-traffic hallways, stairs and living areas.

It is also a flexible flooring type that can be combined with other materials to create a unique aesthetic effect. "You can use leather in conjunction with other materials such as wood and stone floors. Often leather floors, rather than being wall to wall are inset into stone or wood borders, like a rug," adds de Ferranti.

The Pampa Leather collection of flooring tiles from Artistic Tile consists of large-format tiles. Available in cowhide and a Natura finish in cocoa, the tiles are magnetised so that they can be installed without mortar, grout or adhesives. A layer of sheet metal between the substrate and the tile means the tiles may be changed whenever the mood strikes allowing greater design flexibility. "We change our clothing, handbags and shoes with the season so why not our floor tiles?" says Nancy Epstein, CEO of Artistic Tile. "You can change the look of a room by switching the floor from the warmth of naturally fur-covered cowhide tile to a smooth leather tile for the summer months."


Another flooring alternative that is has its roots embedded deep in history is the mosaic tile. First used by the Egyptians and later popularised by the Romans, mosaics are proving to be a popular choice with interior designers according to Tareq AbuRoza, managing director, Sicis Middle East. "Mosaics are a versatile and unique flooring type.

They are a means of communication, and an expression of trends, fashions and lifestyle. The endless variety of colours, shapes and designs make them a favourite of interior designers, adding character and value to the space where they are used." Metal effects seems to be the latest trend in the world of mosaics as illustrated by Sicis' Metallismo collection. Available in a variety of shapes and sizes including squares, bricks and ovals, the collection also comes in stainless steel and brass finishes.

Closely related to the mosaic is the glass tile. Although at first appearance it may not seem the wisest flooring solution for health and safety reasons, it can provide a striking flooring alternative that is both strong and durable as David Bilgen, director of marketing, UltraGlas explains: "Glass is far stronger and more durable than most people realise. Its compression strength is actually greater than steel while its impact resistance is comparable or greater than that of ceramic tiles. Increased thickness through lamination contributes to greater strength and impact resistance."

Bilgen also highlights the stunning visual effects that can be achieved through the use of glass flooring. "Glass flooring is unique in many ways, but the way that it interacts with natural and artificial light stands it apart.

The shimmering effects created with textured glass flooring cannot be replicated with other flooring materials," he says. Add to this the fact that glass can be impregnated with virtually any colour or combination of colours and you have a truly versatile flooring solution. Glass can also be used as an accent to other more traditional flooring materials such as wood, ceramic tile and stone. However Bilgen does insist that it should be coated with a non-slip coating for wet and high-traffic areas, for health and safety reasons.

Temperature sensitive glass is a quirky and unexpected way of bringing interaction out of flooring. UltraGlas' Ultra Bloom range changes colour through the spectrum as the temperature around it rises and provides an interesting twist to bathrooms and shower areas. The colour is reactive to all temperature influences around it, including water, steam, air and touch and is suitable for both indoor and outdoor applications.

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