Floors for public spaces

When considering flooring for public high traffic areas, for instance shopping centres, hospitals and hotels, the factors influencing the choice tend to be a need for a hard wearing floor which is easily maintained.

But what else are clients looking for in public flooring? Leading Architecture & Design approached the country’s top suppliers to find out which floor coverings are currently in favour.

Q: When it comes to flooring for use in a public space, what are clients primarily looking for?
Tracey Ewing, Barrow Flooring:
Floors play a much bigger role now than they ever have when it comes to design and determining the atmosphere of a space, but together with aesthetics, clients are looking for durability, cost effectiveness and low maintenance.

Frank Moffat, Belgotex Floorcoverings: Going green is now a mainstream criterion in the choice of products. And that criterion includes the product, its functionality and the manufacturing processes involved in the origin of the product. Floor coverings are required to play their part in reducing pollution and conserving scarce resources while remaining durable, comfortable, non-slippery and on trend in terms of style.

Public high traffic areas in particular demand attention to noise reduction, safety underfoot and insulation. Unrivalled on all three counts, the installation and maintenance of the hardy new SDX (Solution Dyed Nylon for X-treme Conditions) tufted carpet tile range is simple and cost efficient. 42% of hospitality and corporate projects last year specified carpets, thus indicating the growing consciousness of these elements in public environments

Frida Tugnoli, Italtile: When shopping for a floor for a high traffic area, the specialists require long lasting, hard wearing, low maintenance and easy to install materials. Depending on the application, full body porcelain tiles (natural or polished) or glazed porcelain tiles are the correct answer, because they are durable, hard wearing and do not require any special treatment after installation.

Unfortunately, product requests are far too often accompanied by a low budget, which sometimes reduces considerably the variety and compromises the quality of the materials. Porcelain tiles from Italy are still the best in terms of quality, and when a problem arises the manufacturer and their SA partner (Italtile) assists on site. The same cannot be said of Chinese tiles, which are often of lower standards, and Chinese manufacturers, who don’t offer any kind of after sale service or support.

Angela Cook, Sika: There are four main criteria that clients look at when choosing these types of flooring; fit for purpose, aesthetics, durability and cost.

Craig Irvine, Tile Africa: They are looking for durability as well as aesthetic appearance. This is normally a product that is suitable for commercial application, yet it should blend in and complement the appearance of the area. One should also consider slip resistance and easy cleaning as it is normally large areas. One must also remember that the customer in a shopping centre is paying attention to the surrounds and the item they are wanting to purchase, the last thing they are conscious of is to watching their step, That is why architects and developers in the industry are looking for a variation of interesting solutions. Some shops want the same tiles everywhere so that their merchandise can be better displayed, where another profile would consider a side walk café with a fluent inside/outside application in a weather durable stone product.

The natural look and porcelain products are also used frequently. The size of the tile has changed somewhat and larger formats are very fashionable.  Porcelain tiles are preferred for the corporate environment because of the available larger tiles, their timeless durability and aesthetics. Many insist on full body porcelains as they are the same colour throughout the tile, and therefore a chip in the tile is not noticeable, as is the case with ceramic tiles.

Bernd De Smedt, Van Dyck Carpets: Functionality and design. It is important to have the right floor for the project in terms of quality and performance within the budget parameters set by the client, and that the floors look good from an aesthetical point of view. There is also an increased demand for products that are environmentally friendly, in terms of the composition of the products and the manufacturing processes used.

Q: How have trends for public flooring changed over the years?
Barrow Flooring:
Now more than ever, designers are focusing on global trends and people are changing the looks of their living or commercial spaces more often than before. The range of flooring available is vast and new ideas for flooring are being developed constantly. Generally though, the products being used don’t change much, but the variety of designs of the products are updated regularly.

Belgotex Floorcoverings: Belgotex Floorcoverings is experiencing continued growth in demand for natural stone and wood-look options of cost-efficient, high quality cushioned vinyl. This trend is prompted primarily by the higher price for natural products and difficulties with colour matching for large tracts of floor area.

The recycled rubber floor covering brand Sportec Colour is also finding growing interest in the hospitality industry with its ‘funky’ colour chip look, excellent soundproofing and non-slip, sprung feel underfoot.

In terms of carpets, commercial installations are making greater use of Nexus carpet tiles due to the design flexibility for colour mixing that they offer, but also because you are able to selectively replace areas of heavy wear.

Conservation consciousness is driving style towards highly textured, organic designs, while on the opposite extreme, others opt for bold and striking stripes and geometric or linear designs. Likewise, colours emulate the natural world in soft neutral greys and tans as well as the deep earthtone reds, chocolates and golds, or vibrant brightly coloured hues, depending on the desired effect.

At the same time, there is a call for ‘wow factor’ designs in large pattern plush and luxurious carpets particularly in installations featuring large expanses of glass and double volume ceilings. Nexus recommends its new SDX ranges of carpets installed with Blue Undercushion in these instances where echo tendencies, high UV exposure and insulation are marked problem areas.

Italtile: Trends in public flooring have changed following the general trends of the market. For large high traffic areas, such as hotels, airports and shopping centres, the extra sized porcelain tiles, up to 1m x 3m, are more and more popular.

Sika: Over the past few years specifiers have gone from specifying tiled floors to seamless epoxy/polyurethane coatings. This is due to replacement costs and ease of repair once damaged. From a hygiene point of view, the seamless floor is prepared over tiles and is also aligned with international health and safety standards.

Tile Africa: Yes, we now have a wide range of products to choose from as we are capable of sourcing product worldwide which are specifically suitable for individual requirements. For example, trends such as minimalist, clinical finishes are required in certain areas whereas in other areas a more eco-natural look is wanted.

The trends have definitely changed in that a few years ago most of the malls were very dull and boring with very little floor patterns and most tiles available were ceramic matt tiles. Today most malls have spectacular floor designs with a combination of matt and polished floor tiles in many different shapes and sizes. Generally, the base colour is neutral and bright colours are used as accents.

Companies are taking advantage of these trends by using their style and colours to enhance their corporate identity and match the colours of their logos and corporate colours.

Van Dyck Carpets: Not dramatically, but there is an increased trend to use different flooring types in the same project. Wood, laminates, ceramics and carpets can work nicely together when properly selected.

Q: Do you believe that the flooring industry is oversaturated at the moment with too many choices for both clients and designers? And if so, does the quality of the end product suffer?
Barrow Flooring:
I do think that you can never have too many choices for both the clients and designers – it is an area that thrives on innovative designs and expressions of individuality – no-one wants the same floors as everyone else. However, it is important to note that with so many suitable options for the same type of product being offered, there will definitely be low-end knock-offs of high-end products.

Belgotex Floorcoverings: A recent survey amongst designers indicated unsatisfactory service levels rather than dissatisfaction with the range of choices. Inadequate or misinformation about installation specifications and ‘greenwashing’, i.e. unsubstantiated claims pertaining to environmental manufacturing practices, were all cited as primary budget blowing factors. Substitution of the specified product by an inferior alternative due to lack of supply capacity was also a major gripe.

Belgotex Floorcoverings make it its business to provide clarity and transparency with full technical services. These include the free Instant Floorplanner preview available on the Nexus website, full costing calculations and installation advice and the Nexcare after sales maintenance programme.

Italtile: The choice of products available in the market is huge at the moment, but that in itself does not constitute a disadvantage for the client. What compromises the quality of the end product is the need to cut costs to make higher profits. Reputable manufacturers will keep on offering superior quality tiles and reputable importers will keep on guaranteeing the best after sale service, yet problems arise when a cheap product by a not so reputable manufacturer, and imported by a fly-by-night local operator, are selected for a project to make a bigger profit. Italtile is not interested in this kind of game: quality and service are and will always be available at Italtile for good value for money.

Sika: No, there are only few internationally recognised epoxy and polyurethane producers in South Africa. The flooring job spec in the industry is very specific and the quality of epoxy and polyurethane needs to meet with these requirements. 

Sika has extremely user-friendly epoxy and polyurethanes resulting in superior finishing and durability. Sika produces a range of epoxy and polyurethane floor coating for all requirements which the industry may need – these include our SikaFloor 261 range, SikaFloor 66ZA PU Coating and the Purcem range which includes PU self leveling screeds and PU mortars.

Tile Africa: With so many players in the market, it is difficult to distinguish between companies that do supply quality products from those that don’t. But in the end the proof is in the pudding. Once a contractor has seen your product and installations done over the years, your company has secured a life-long relationship in the industry. The reputable companies in this industry soon learn that quality is of the utmost importance. Never settle for second best, it will cost you in the long run.

This industry is not saturated yet. The construction industry is still booming in South Africa – we are building stadiums for 2010 and the hotels and other supporting structures to support this event are enormous. Then one must remember that each application has a different décor and specification need. The game lodge will have a very different look and feel to the high-tech office building, and completely different demands than the latest shopping mall. This is also where the quality of the tiling company plays a huge role. We are no longer just looking at only the best quality products, but we also need expertise on the design side.

Each of Tile Africa’s over 40 branches is a distribution centre, because of the large volume of products stocked. This is an important benefit to the contractor who is opening or revamping a chain of stores nationally. Tile Africa’s sister company, Johnson Tiles, manufactures a wide range of tiles locally, including porcelain tiles. Because Johnson tiles are locally manufactured, the risks usually associated with imported tiles, such as quality issues and late delivery dates are no longer a concern for the contracts’ industry.

Tile Africa’s range of imported tiles is selected with the utmost care and is subjected to rigorous quality inspections.

Van Dyck Carpets: There are plenty of choices with regards to flooring, but the market is not oversaturated. It is advisable for clients to call in flooring specialists who can assist them in making the right product choices, and no compromises should be made with regards to the quality of the flooring. Short term gains might otherwise end up being long term pains.


* Barrow Flooring – 011-444-8500 or www.barrowflooring.co.za
* Belgotex Floorcoverings – 033-897-7500 or www.belgotex.co.za
* Italtile – 011-510-9000 or www.italtile.co.za
* Sika – 031-792-6500 or www.sika.co.za
* Tile Africa – 011-970-2124 or www.tileafrica.co.za
* Van Dyck Carpets – 031-913-3800 or www.vandyck.co.za

Flooring1.jpg: Sportec Colour flooring at Harvey Wallbangers. Pic courtesy Belgotex Floorcoverings
Flooring2.jpg: Hard wearing flooring at the new Pick ‘n Pay Centurion Lifestyle Centre. Pic courtesy Tile Africa
Flooring3.jpg: There is an increased demand for products that are environmentally friendly, in terms of the composition of the products and the manufacturing processes used. Pic courtesy Van Dyck Carpets