Surface & Panel magazine would like to thank the following companies for sharing their insights on fashion trends, emerging surface designs and applications: ABET LAMINATI, ARJO WIGGINS, BRAND + ALLEN ARCHITECTS INC., CHEMETAL/ TREEFROG, FLAKEBOARD, INTERPRINT, LAMINART, LAMITECH, NORMAN ROSENFELD ARCHITECTS LLC, OMNOVA SOLUTIONS, RENOLIT, SCHATTDECOR, SÜDDEKOR, TAFISA, UNIBOARD, WILSONART INTERNATIONAL
Behind the Designs
Surface design is informed by the same forces of fashion that guide style across many disciplines. Although the connection between office furniture and women’s handbags may not be obvious, they share a common lineage of thought. Two primary philosophies that are driving décor development into 2010 and beyond are the environment and the economy. Jean Guyon, Director of Marketing for Tafisa, observes, “Currently, the most important trend seems to be the need to create elegant rooms with a good value product that meets the requirements to be considered as ‘green’.” A closer look at these concepts reveals how they reinforce each other, and in combination, affect nearly every aspect of architecture and design. While the broad view of style may seem perplexing and arbitrary, there is an underlying harmony to the factors that influence fashion.
As trends trickle into specific regions and markets, design professionals in the realm of surface materials are better equipped than ever before to meet the consumer’s increasing desire for customization. “The great thing about laminate is the fact that we are not limited to absolute reality. We can change and edit whatever our source material or manuscript might be to suit the eventual end product,” says Rick Murnane, product designer for Interprint USA. Decorative surfaces present a unique opportunity for the modern designer to have tight control over both the visual of a project and the function. Depending on the application, surfaces can be the star of a design or play a supporting role. This versatility in material makes it easier then ever to realize pure fashion concepts with different performance characteristics (“value engineering”) or to experiment within the current trend of purposefully mixing opposing styles.
The prefix “eco” comes from the Greek “oikos,” meaning “house”. But oikos is more than just a physical edifice, it refers to a household and its operation. As agriculture was by far the greatest asset to the ancients, the quality of the land played a large role in determining how sufficient the oikos was. This concept is also at the root of the economic and ecological sensibilities driving contemporary design.
Designers everywhere are feeling the demand of clients who are concerned with oikos in terms of value and sustainability. Whether in residential or commercial applications, the cautious nature of today’s market requires materials to deliver. According to Ron Gangnon, Vice President of marketing and design for Wilsonart, “Designers are looking for value oriented, proven materials at an affordable price. Technology induces innovation and new materials; Visual and performance attributes are expected to go handin-hand. If something looks good, it also has to perform. It’s expected.”
The economy is recovering, but the recent recession has re-shaped consumer sensibilities. It has also created an ideal environment for perfecting new technologies.
A definitive return to simple, elegant, classic designs reflects the cautious nature of customers all along the value chain. “This year trends driving our product development seem to be related to the economy,” says Geoff Schaefer, Creative Director, Vice President of Chemetal/Treefrog. “It may be considered unfortunate, but it’s also the reality. We’re looking more closely at variations on popular designs. We introduced “The New Classics” in spring 2009, which are variations on our classic metals.”
Just as consumers tend to gravitate toward familiar and comforting styles, many downstream companies are promoting designs that are historical best-sellers. Printers and designers are taking this opportunity to apply cutting-edge technologies to classic favorites. Laser-engraving for print cylinders, opalescent pigment layers and heightened fidelity are some of the ways that printers are bringing new realism to design. In addition, advances in texture and finish are important components in the evolution of surface design.
Technology also benefi ts the boutique end of decorative surfacing, where design is less susceptible to fluctuations of the market. In fact, the conservative nature of mainstream style sets the basis for carefully developed differentiation in the specialty markets. “We are driven to introduce products our competitors do not offer,” says Tony Damiano, President of ABET LAMINATI, Inc. “We do not seek to ride trends set by other laminate producers. Financially viable innovation is our ultimate master.”
A hybrid market, well suited to customized design, is growing out of the increasing capabilities of digital printing technology. Specialized printers, quick production and advances in coating and fi nishing technology make digital printing a cost effective method for developing original manuscripts and shortrun designs. Digitally printed surfaces are gaining popularity as focal points in projects (proprietary logos and images), as well as supporting roles such as flooring.
The underlying trend of environmental responsibility permeates design, both in terms of the origination of materials and their affect on the spaces where they are installed. Although the term “green,” has been over used to the point of spawning a new term “greenwashing” to describe the marketing abuse of the concept, sustainability remains a driving force.
Decorative surfaces carried on composite panels have always been very environmentally friendly materials. Composite panels, constructed from pre-consumer recycled wood, make wise use of materials that were once considered wood waste. While the adhesives used in the production of composite panels have faced scrutiny for the emission of VOC’s, those measurements reflect the bare panel, which is effectively sealed with the application of a decorative surface. Still the importance of environmental responsibility, from production to application, cannot be ignored. Companies that manufacture the carrier materials for decorative surfaces are changing their production methods to meet the demands of the market. “The biggest trend driving Uniboard’s new product development is our commitment to Green Initiatives in the development of our particleboard, MDF, HDF and Design Trends in the color development of our value-added melamine,” says Susan Doherty, Product Manager for Uniboard Canada Inc. Low-emitting and VOC-free products are just some of the available substrate materials that are engineered to adhere to LEED standards, CARB regulations and other environmental measurement tools.
Surfaces can also carry the message of environmental responsibility. Conscientious designers are increasingly specifying laminates that carry the visual of limited resources without actually depleting those resources. This contributes to the popularity of exotic species and old growth designs. New surface designs with large flowers and natural themes connect the interior to the outside world.
Surfacing materials made from recycled content (wood and metal) are in demand, and the visual reminder of re-using resources is also in fashion. Mark Smith, Senior Design Manager for Schattdecor/Décor USA is developing décor designs based on reclaimed materials. “The trend to recycle stems from the whole sustainability movement. The desire to conserve natural resources means more end users are looking for reclaimed materials. Designs based on wood from old barns and log cabins give a sense of history. Plus people have a sense of pride knowing they are preserving trees and beautiful wood.” Décor designs based on recycled materials are an interesting example of art imitating life. A substrate made from recycled materials carries a photorealistic image of reclaimed wood. It is a new approach to using natural resources wisely, and it meets consumer’s desires to have beautiful materials without compromising environmental integrity.
THE HOUSE OF STYLE
Contemporary interior fashion, in general, employs diverse materials for visual and tactile effects. It is not uncommon to see stone, glass, metal and wood working together to create a cohesive look. Contrast within a project is prominent, with divergent styles (shiny + matte, old + new, textured + smooth, organic + luxurious) purposefully used to add interest. In light of this, surface designs have become more elegant, with subtle tonal gradients and clearly defined intentions.
The brilliance of emerging surface design is in the harmonious juxtaposition of opposites. It draws inspiration from nature and technology. It takes advantage of the economic climate to reinvent a baseline of realism while introducing rich colors, textures and compositions that are impossible to find in nature. Although fashion’s criteria are always changing to reflect the feelings of the market, the goal for decorative surfaces remains the same: to develop great designs that will stand the test of time.
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