Floors for all

As the Middle East moves away from its obsession with ceramic flooring for commercial spaces, CID takes a look at some functional alternatives.

Maple wood flooring. Courtesy of National Wood Flooring Association.
Maple wood flooring. Courtesy of National Wood Flooring Association.

As the Middle East moves away from its obsession with ceramic flooring for commercial spaces, CID takes a look at some functional alternatives.

Within the Middle East it used to be the case that flooring in commercial areas, such as offices, was predominately ceramic tile.

Times are changing though and far more emphasis is being placed on the function of the space and the most suitable flooring to go with it.

Aesthetics still plays a part in this image conscious region but it seems that trends and fashions are being heavily imported with the growing expat community.

Angela Schaschen, managing director, Deutsche Messe Dubai, organisers, Domotex Middle East explains: "In the past and still to an extent now, office flooring was predominately ceramic tile or marble."

"But because of the number of expats bringing their tastes with them we are seeing an increase in wall to wall carpet, resilient flooring, as well as more wood and laminate."

Shahriar Khodjasteh of Al Aqili Furnishings explains the trend many offices in the Middle East are experiencing with relation to flooring: "In hallways you might see parquet and then in the management offices and boardrooms you'll see a mix carpet, which is sometimes custom made, and parquet to give an expensive and stylish look."

"Then in the communal areas where people relax you might have a more homely type of carpet." Wood has reigned supreme in Europe and the US for centuries in both the consumer and contract markets.

Its entry into the consciousness of Middle Eastern designers and developers is a relatively new thing but it is now viewed as a practical alternative to ceramics, marble and carpet in the region.

Nikolaus Gregorcic, area sales manager, Admonter outlines the benefits of choosing wood. He says: "As flooring is one of the central elements of interior design the first question is what kind of atmosphere the designer wants to create." Wood is comforting and warm.

"It creates a balanced room climate. It is also a beautiful piece of nature, which allows almost unlimited design possibilities." Being a natural material wood has a few limitations, which must be taken into consideration.

The most important quality criteria to check are the hardness of the wood floor, the dimensional stability, finishing and the maintenance.

"The most suitable wood for high traffic commercial areas are strong hardwoods such as Robina, Oak and Ash," adds Gregorcic. Interior designers should shy away from short-term finishes like polyurethane or UV oil in high traffic areas, if sanding is to be avoided.

Maintenance issues also go hand-in-hand with the installation of a wood floor. A natural oil finish ensures the longevity of wood flooring. The floor can be easily refreshed when necessary by applying a new coat of oil.

High-solid oil finishes perform very well in high-traffic areas. According to experts in the field, darker woods are setting the trends in today's commercial market.

"One strong trend we see in many different markets is towards dark flooring," explains Gregorcic.

"As exotic wood species are very limited, thermo-treated wooden flooring is catching up quickly."

Thermo-treated floors like Admonter Mocca are more stable than untreated species and are ecological products from sustainable forest management.

The naturally dark colour comes from caramelising the sugar in the wood.

Ian Mercier, director of sales Nordic Homeworx, agrees with this trend but admits that times are changing. He says: "Aesthetically the current emphasis is being placed on dark wood floors."

"However, all trends are cyclical and we are starting to witness a gradual return to the traditional classic English country home look of naturally aged distressed oak floors."

Antique wood flooring is also rising in popularity within the commercial market.

Features like hand-scraping, heavy brushes, big bevels and distressing give the floor the appearance of having matured over some decades.

In high traffic areas this effect also limits the recognition of additional signs of wear and tear.

Carpet, whether wall-to-wall or tile, is a convenient and effective form of flooring that can be used in most applications.

Ranging from bold, patterned designs for corporate branding, through to muted colours that create the illusion of space, the popularity of carpets is growing.

Amanda Doyle, development manager, Interface-Flor, Dubai believes that in commercial spaces carpet tiles are especially functional.

"In high traffic areas modular carpet tiles should be used because it is easy to selectively replace tiles where required without having to replace those areas that are not affected."

"I would also suggest using Random Pattern tiles as these are non-directional and therefore can be replaced easily without requiring expert carpet fitters."

Iris Seiffer, director, Object Carpet Middle East agrees with this design tip, adding: "Random patterns hide much more dirt than single-coloured carpet and dark colours are less sensitive than light colours."

Object Carpet also uses Invista fibres, which are hallow, resulting in less visible dirt due to increased light scatter.

Although initially more expensive than broadloom, the cost of carpet tiles is offset by the lower installation costs.

According to Doyle, ten percent of broadloom is wasted during installation.

Added to this is the fact that broadloom carpets require large areas of flooring to be replaced at a time - a costly exercise that needs to be repeated frequently.

"I would not recommend broadloom carpets or modular carpet tiles that are surfaced dyed as the colour will fade due to transfer of dye with heavy foot traffic. It is best to opt for 100% solution dyed nylon, which is completely colour fast and suitable for heavy contract use," adds Doyle.

Issues regarding cleanliness and safety should also factor into the type of flooring companies choose. "Health and safety isn't something that comes to many people's minds out here in the Middle East," admits Khodjasteh.

"But it is something that you should think about. There is the perception that carpet is dirty and hard surfaces contain less bacteria. This isn't true."

"If carpet is vacuumed twice a day then it can be very clean. Harder surfaces can contain cracks where bacteria manifest, proving difficult to remove."

Current popular carpet styles include reworked designs from the 1950s through to the 1970s in striking designs.

Contemporary floral shapes are currently dominating as Damasks and botanical patterns.

Popular carpets include busy patterns, basic geometric concepts and abstract forms to create dynamic effects.

Colour trends are taking their cue from the environment according to Doyle: "Colour trends from interior design to fashion often take their inspiration from the environment."

Colours remain bright and clean but are treated to look sophisticated.

"The key is to use muted tones with a dash of accents to bring unexpected interest." But while other parts of the world have embraced the full spectrum of carpet colours now available, the Middle East has been slow to catch up and traditional reds remain widespread.

Zaid M Al Abdallat, sales and marketing director of the Mada Carpet Company says: "Beige and dark red are still dominant this year and are more favoured in the Middle East."

The conservative nature is still the most effective factor in the slow change to modern designs and strong colours. The change is coming but not as fast as you might think.

Once solely the choice of flooring for medical establishments, vinyl is now a real alternative for companies who want inexpensive long lasting floors.

Especially good in high-traffic areas, vinyl is resistant to scuffs, cleans easily and offers many styles ranging from neutral patterns to bright, highly saturated colours.

Richard Contreras of Harvey Maria explains: "The cost of ownership is low as vinyl tiles require very little maintenance. They are easy to clean and are one of the most hygienic flooring materials available."

Vinyl is also a versatile material that can be used to replicate other flooring types such as stone, porcelain and metals, without the associated costs.

With proper surface preparation, it can be installed over concrete, old ceramic tile, wood or non-cushioned vinyl flooring.

Stability and water resistance make vinyl a good choice.

Woven vinyl is now proving to be popular with companies such as Bolon and Chilewich reintroducing to the market woven designs instead of tufted, which have the benefit of not showing wear patterns.

And to inject real wow factor into any space there is no alternative to marble.

Often overlooked because of maintenance and cost issues, marble provides an elegant look that cannot be easily replicated.

"Using marble provides a space with a decorative beauty that turns the flooring into a type of artwork," enthuses Antony Varghese, general manager, Alshaya Trading.

However, the natural stone is susceptible to wear and tear, moisture, weather and chemicals from cleaning products.

With Marble being positioned at 4 on Moh's scale of rock harness (diamond is 10, granite 7 and chalk 2), it proves it's not as durable as people imagine, losing its natural luster and strength quite easily.

"After the initial wash and treatment, that is aimed at removing any laying residues and building grime, the routine maintenance must be carried out regularly with neutral products that will not damage the protection provided by the initial treatment," adds Varghese.

Whether wood, carpet, resilient or marble it is important the flooring should fit the function of the space in question with regards to materials, costs and maintenance.

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