That is the opinion of several rug exhibitors at NeoCon 2017, the international contract furnishings market, which just closed (Wed., June 14) at Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Traffic at the market appeared to be heavier than in 2016, according to rug purveyors, with attendees coming from as far California, Europe, South America and Asia.
The Surya exhibition at Neocon 2017 featured a range of products including rugs and accessories from pillows to lighting, wall art and more.
Although rugs have claimed a piece of the contract furnishings business for years, the category is now catching fire, prompted in part by the rise of LVT. "This is an alternative to [wood and stone] flooring in Europe," says Joseph Sultan, architect and executive at Chilewich, "but it is starting to happen in the U.S."
Color and pattern, too, are catching on. Neutrals and tonals still reign, but commercial clients are starting to seek out bolder color, more complex designs and a variety of textures and constructions.
To capture a larger share of the commercial business, Surya created a dedicated contract division, and high-end rug house, Lapchi, has added a tufted rug capability to provide quick ship delivery and a broader price range. Others, such as Summit Flooring International, the exclusive U.S. distributor of Germany's Object Carpet brand, have come up with a huge color selection and technologies that allow clients to experiment with custom color and design combinations, and to mix coordinating rugs and broadloom in contract projects.
Bold color and pattern define the award-winning RugXStyle program by Object Carpet, on view at the Summit International showroom.
While the hospitality segment has been the bulk of the contract business for rug companies, exhibitors are looking to expand business in healthcare, education, retail and corporate.
The definition of "rug," however, varies among exhibitors at NeoCon. For years, many mills have created rugs from their broadloom offerings or designed rugs from arrangements of carpet tiles, but fewer actually designed area rugs specifically for contract.
Surya Grows Dedicated Contract Effort
Alice Serres and Allen Parker of Surya Contract show designers the company's range of 107 available colors and customizable rug styles at NeoCon.
Surya, which launched its hospitality division in 2013, rebranded the group under the Surya Contract label last year. Indeed, two years ago when designer Alice Serres came on board, Surya's contract business was primarily rugs in hotel lounges, seating areas and public spaces. The new Surya Contract was formed to develop a distinct commercial brand and expand business in other segments.
At NeoCon, Serres was joined by Allen Parker, who comes to Surya Contract with a background in product, sales, marketing, operations, furniture and flooring.
"There has been a tremendous transition to hard-surface printed tiles (luxury vinyl tile), so now instead of wall-to-wall carpeting, specifiers are using tile," Serres says, which opens the door for contract rugs.
"Alice is brilliant at putting design into commercial end use, at interpreting existing designs to create high-traffic, commercial products," Allen says.
In addition to translating some residential rug designs and custom options for contract application, Surya Contract now emulates the parent company's retail merchandising approach and serves as a one-stop resource for coordinated lamps, pillows, wall art and other accessories for the commercial sector.
Surya Contract is offering a range of rug price points: a flatweave at $5 to $10 a square foot, hand-tufted Tencel; and a hand-tufted New Zealand wool in the $15 to $30 square foot range. At the higher price point are hand-knotted Persians at $27 to $54.
Building on innovation, design and customization, Surya Contract offers rugs for the hospitality market and other contract commercial sectors.
Lapchi Adds Tufted Capability to Cut Lead Times
The popular Dapple design (foreground), prominently displayed at Lapchi's showroom for NeoCon, is a 100-knot Tibetan weave of 45 percent silk, and was specified for a recent contract lobby installation.
Designer Nathan Tucker at Lapchi has seen strong commercial growth in the last few years, due in large part to timing and new tufting capability. The high-end design firm has placed its hand-knotted rugs of Chinese silk and Himalayan wool in residential and commercial establishments around the globe, but lead times had sometimes been prohibitive for domestic and overseas clients.
However, Tucker explained, most designs lend themselves to Lapchi's hand-tufting quality --which allows shorter lead times and has opened new markets for the brand. One example is the Tibetan weave Mirage design shown at NeoCon, a new addition to Lapchi's quick ship program, and available in 3x5, 8x10, 9x12 an 10x14.
Lapchi's Samarkand (left) is based on an early 1900's rug, a custom commission for a client, produced in 100 percent ghazni wool with a very low shear by Lapchi's Texere weavers in Pakistan.
Chilewich Rugs Top Alternative Flooring
Joseph Sultan and Sandy Chilewich, co-owners of Chilewich, moved their company toward the contract market when Sultan, an architect, saw the need for stylish commercial rugs and flooring.
Founded by Sandy Chilewich to provide placemats, handbags and floor mats to retailers, the company has seen marked growth in what is now a flourishing woven vinyl carpet business. They also offer custom fabrication.
Joseph Sultan, Sandy's husband and company executive, says, "Early on I saw the potential for woven floor mats in commercial flooring installations as people kept asking for custom rugs as flooring." Today, 17 years later, Chilewich's sophisticated tonal rugs are being installed everywhere from a residential mansion to a cafe chain in the Dominican Republic.
"We have good distribution in Europe, where LVT is an alternative to flooring," he said, "and it is beginning to happen in the U.S." Companies like Chilewich are warming up that alternative flooring with low-profile rugs for contract applications. The company's NeoCon introduction, Shade, a tight twill weave, is offered in three colorways as wall-to-wall flooring, tiles, planks and custom area rugs.
Attracting strong traffic at Chilewich, its NeoCon introduction called Shade is a tight twill woven with a unique rotation of two color yarns to create a subtle ombre effect in the warp.
Noure's Finds New Contract Markets
Dariush Netghi of Noure's finds lots of commercial interest from the hospitality industry for rugs in hotels and restaurants, and more recently, in the residential condo market.
Noure's Oriental Rug clients have been primarily in the hospitality industry -- hotels, restaurants -- but more recently, Dariush Nateghi reports growing commercial interest for public spaces in residential condos multi-family construction. Noure's rugs are ADA compliant and meet LEED criteria.
Nateghi says that hotels, restaurants and the public spaces of condo developments are looking for color and complexity. As to Noure's rugs being specified for LVT flooring, he laughs and quickly replies: "We see a lot of rugs being used over tiles in Florida."
"They're doing interesting things with printed tiles," he notes, "such as Frank Lloyd Wright and Shah Abbaz-inspired designs." The tiles are printed on proprietary materials, are higher end and good for medical facilities, he adds.
Watson Smith Offers Range of Commercial Rugs
At Watson Smith, Nicholas LaCalamita shows a beige hand-woven Sunbrella sample (left) and two new UV-treated recycled PET rugs with the look and feel of wool, popular with contract designers.
Watson Smith, which represents several carpet, rug and hard surface producers, offers contract specifiers a wide range of textures, constructions and price points in its permanent Merchandise Mart showroom.
The company can provide specifiers with rugs created from broadloom designs or create custom designs, says Nicholas LaCalamita. At NeoCon, the company showed a range of rug samples, including a hand-woven beige Sunbrella fiber quality with strong textural contrast at the high end, running up to $90 a square foot. At a more modest price point are the hand-woven, UV-treated recycled PET rugs with the look and feel of wool, which net out around $50 square feet.
Among its rug offerings, Watson Smith represents Nourison, Dynamic Rugs, Tamarian, Renaissance, and Couristan in its Chicago showroom.
Atlas Carpet Mills Plans Brand Refresh
Atlas Carpet Mills' Greg Sinzheimer and Suzanne Zurfluh take time out on a very busy opening day in the Atlas showroom during NeoCon 2017 in Chicago.
Contract has long been important to Atlas Carpet Mills, which added carpet tiles and rugs about 10 years ago, says Suzanne Zurfluh, who was recently named the company's first marketing director. But Atlas had not specifically zeroed in on growing its commercial business; the business just kept coming in.
This fall, Zurfluh, who's CV includes 20 years at Shaw, will spearhead a broad brand refresh program, introducing new architectural folders, redesigned website and other marketing tools.
In the past, Atlas has focused on coordinating broadloom and tiles, but the company is now looking at rugs independently. Inspired by Pritzker-prize winning architects Tadao Ando and Zaha Hadid, the rugs are Antron Lumina, tufted and for the most part, solution dyed.
Contract rugs sales currently are strong for installation in public spaces of residential condos and multifamily facilities.
Entering the Atlas Carpet Showroom at The Merchandise Mart Chicago, designers see rugs for commercial application.
Summit International Flooring/Object Carpet
Marc Becker, national sales director for Summit International Flooring, shows off the extensive color and custom options with Object Carpet's Freestile commercial broadloom and rug program displayed during NeoCon 2017.
Color and technology advantages are helping propel growth for Summit International Flooring's exclusive brand, Object Carpet, says Marc Becker, national sales director for Summit.
So much in commercial flooring is monochromatic that the Object line is a colorful surprise, Becker explains, noting that color and pattern are driving growth in corporate and retail markets. Big clients of the Object Carpet line include Spotify, Porsche and Google.
Technology is also boosting growth for this luxury brand: the company's big innovation for 2017 is its award-winning RugXStyle rugs, which enable zoning in commercial spaces, creating clearly defined areas without the need for structural boundaries. Made from recycled PET and available in six designs, the rugs are complements to Object's popular Freestile broadloom, which comes in an extensive color range as well as coordinating patterns. The new RugXStyle Object Carpet Configurator allows the potential specifier to try out various color and design combinations.
Eco-friendly RugXStyle by Object Carpet is used for zoning in office and retail spaces, shown here in the Amsterdam design .
Innovation and Awards
RugXStyle received the Red Dot Award in 2017 and won the AIT Innovation Award for Textiles & Objects at Heimtextil. In addition RugXStyle by Object Carpet was among the four finalists in the hospitality flooring category at the fourth annual HIP Awards at NeoCon 2017. Other HIP finalists were Durkan's Raffish collection and Tufenkian Artisan Carpets' Rabat rug. Shaw Contract's Active collection won in the category.
A hospitality rug finalist in the HIP Awards at NeoCon, Tufenkian's new Rabat in the natural/black colorway is a modern interpretation of a Berber.
Another HIP award winner, Bentley Mills' Outskirts collection won in the Workplace Carpet category. The new line, launched at NeoCon and billed as 'blurring the lines between home and office, personal and professional' also won The Best of NeoCon Silver Award in the broadloom category.
Los Angeles-based Bentley Mills received two awards for the Outskirts broadloom collection introduced at NeoCon 2017.