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Fuzzy side up

Roy Barker looks at how the conceptual minimalisation of flooring is failing the construction industry.

MOST, if not all, the world’s population has, at some point, walked on some version of an installed flooring system. Yet, strangely enough, the general public views the idea of flooring as a concept of required necessity required for the completion of a larger project. Often little, if any, consideration is given regarding the requirements needed to install a flooring system.

This minimalistic conceptualisation of installed flooring by the general populace is further frustrated with phrases such as, ‘it’s just fuzzy side up’ or ‘flooring isn’t rocket science’.

Phrases such as these not only denigrate the craft and industry, but also demean the manufacturers, designers, architects, estimators, and craftspeople who take an idea, and bring to life the vision that lay in front of these very same naysayers.

While yes, floors are in fact to walk on, so much more goes into the process than many ever truly understand. Arguably, some systems are easier to install than others, however, all systems require more than slapping some adhesive down and putting little squares down straight. Regardless of the system, a tremendous amount of talent, thought, artistry and craft are required for successful installations. While other trades often run into similar challenges, flooring is one of the most ‘walked on and forgotten’ trades in the process.

Take, for instance, the foyer of the CIA building, often shown from an overhead panoramic view, is arguably one of the more recognised and iconic floors of the modern day. There’s an elegance that shimmers from wall-to-wall, yet a bold strong styling of the oversized bicolor granite tiles seemingly forcing the eye to enjoy the smooth and seemingly edgeless floor-as if only one singular unblemished piece was installed.

In the foyer, boldly inset into the floor, is the CIA insignia, a symbol recognised worldwide. The inlays meticulously cut to perfection and precisely matched in a way that quietly and simultaneously demands respect, honor, and reverence.

The sheer craftsmanship, knowledge, and precision required for such an intricate floor is, and should be, an awe-inspiring work of art, no less impressive than the statue of David, The Mona Lisa, or Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling. A floor such as this requires mathematics, physics, chemistry, artistic ability, perfectionism, and a true craftsperson.

Yet, somehow, this impressive marvel, while elegantly beautiful, is simply considered something to be walked on with little consideration of how this work of art came to be. To many, a floor is just a floor – a part of the architecture that just is, well… a floor.

A strong argument exists detailing that the flooring process is one of the more complex and critical parts of any construction project yet is one of the most minimalised, trivialised and forgotten trades. As my business partner likes to say, ‘Flooring is the icing on the cake. Without the icing all you have is a stale, dry, and crumbly bread-like surface.’

While a magnificent cake draws the reverent comments of the skill required to create the masterpiece in front of them, the same isn’t the response of say, the CIA foyer. The intricacy of the cake details, the fondants, butter creams, colors, piping bags, flowers, any number of items that make it spectacular. Without these items, the cake is, well… just a crumbly exposed baked good. Sure, baking or structure is critically important, so is the structure of the building; however, it’s the icing on the cake and décor of the building that make each a magnificent masterpiece.

Consider for a moment that flooring is the only finish trade that truly covers every square foot of any building and often, many of the walls and sometimes ceilings too. As critical as the trade is to a successful project, the flooring trades are often mostly an afterthought.

For a flooring contractor to hear – all too often unfortunately – the spine tingling words, ‘we forgot about you’, ‘we had other trades in front of you’ or one of the all-time favorites, ‘order the materials and get the floor going – we’re behind’. Really? When flooring teams hear analogous phrases such as these, the disappointment and frustration can be palpable.

For perspective, consider that a standard simple one tile installation can have upwards of 16 or more SKUs all coming from different manufacturers, distributors, shippers, and locations. Add patterns, borders, wall and trim, intricate cuts, mosaics, handmade tiles and a completely different project and process emerges.

These ‘simple’ installations can be a logistical nightmare. Most of the time, a flooring contractor cannot just run down to the local hardware store and get what they need. If only it were that simple.

Currently my business partner and I are working on a project with an amazing GC we do a lot of work with. This project has seven different luxury vinyl tile/planks (LVT/P) and the whole system is done in triangular/origami shapes setting inside of a solid border.

This project will take likely two full days of just pure layout, chalking lines, erasing lines, creating geometric and algebraic equations to ensure the dimensions and layouts are correct.

The design team, the project team and our team spent nearly an hour processing each component of how this would work, down to the aesthetics the pattern would create.

It’s an exciting project, and we’re going to have fun with it and enjoy installing this system, however, this isn’t just simply slapping in some tile LVT/P.

At the end of the day, those of us in the flooring industry tend to be walked on – er, tend to have our product walked on. The industry takes great pride in seeing the fruits of their labour come together. Flooring, while truly not ‘rocket science’, requires an aptitude for mathematics, chemistry, critical thinking skills and often a bit of a designer eye.

The next time you walk into a building, a restroom, a kitchen, a manufacturing plant, anywhere commercial and industrial flooring may be utilised, stop, and look around at all the intricacies and realise that flooring is so much more than ‘fuzzy side up’.

Roy Barker is a 25-year veteran of the commercial flooring industry and currently director of sales/estimating for the flooring division of Industrial Services Group/Universal Blastco

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