The vast array of floor coverings available today has freed up designers to develop ever more outlandish flooring schemes. It is often specialist floor finishes that bring the entire design concept together, introducing not just the practicality of a floor covering but also the final tick in the box from the architect. Paul Thompson reports.

In offices across the country, staff can expect to be ushered to their work stations, discussion pods and breakout zones on a cornucopia of different floor coverings in a variety of materials, shapes, sizes and colours. Similarly, in the retail sector where floor finishes have become an important part of the design package, helping lead shoppers into retail nirvana, there is a bewildering array for the design team to look upon.But such is the level of specialism in some of these flooring methods that there can be some difficulty with stretched lead-in times. This can be particularly difficult at the end of a project when all parties are desperate to get the scheme completed and signed off.

Preparation is the key to avoiding any such issue, according to Michael Page, joint managing director of workplace consultant Saracen Interiors. He said: “The use of flooring can be one of the most cost-effective, striking and compelling ways in which you can transform an office space. It’s great because it can be a relatively cheap way to make a huge impact or, at the very least, add the final flourish to a job. Ultimately though it all comes down to time.”

If the design is finalised at an early enough stage then contractors and suppliers are able to line up the delivery of flooring products, safe in the knowledge that they will have enough to complete the scheme. Later changes in the design can cause havoc with lead-in times.

“Many a project has come unstuck at the end thanks to a missing box of carpet tiles. Different coloured tiles are manufactured in batches. If you are short you could be waiting weeks until that colour tile is manufactured again. If you are sourcing from abroad then you have to factor in shipping time too,” added Mr Page. “The key is to be precise when it comes to procurement. Allow the usual percentage for waste but then make sure you add to this if you know you’re looking at a long lead time. Allow a margin of error and, crucially, manage client expectations.”

The manufacturing process is something that is often forgotten about when designers start to look at different coverings, patterns and textures. While the myriad of potential materials may be appealing to those putting the finishing touches to a project’s design, they can be difficult for manufacturers to manage.

Andrew Jackson, marketing director at flooring manufacturer Shaw Contract, said: “We hold some of our most popular products in stock for a quick turnaround, but other than that, it will be on a six-week lead-in. There are too many options for us to be able to stock everything. There is also a difference between ‘made to order’, which is where one of our designs is not stocked but has to be made up, and ‘custom made’, which is an absolutely bespoke product.”

Holding material and products in stock is a luxury that other areas of the flooring sector do have. With demand for floating and acoustic flooring systems on the rise from developers working in all sectors, system manufacturers have the benefit of being able to rely on stock to help draw them out of any potential lead-in issues.

“Our products are capable of being used in most applications – if in doubt ask – and that means we tend to get a very steady
demand with products ready for ex-stock delivery. Obviously, the more notice we can get on a large order the better, but generally we can help our suppliers to source immediately,” explains Fermacell technical manager Andrew Richardson.

Receiving notice and bringing the suppliers and designers onto the project as early as possible is still key for a seamless development. And although the UK market is mature enough to recognise the importance of early involvement, the pressure to get to final completion puts more pressure on the flooring specialist.

“On new build schemes, we tend to get brought in earlier in the delivery schedule because the client might want a bespoke product. With refurbishment schemes, it can be much more time challenging. Either way you have to get your manufacturer on board as early as possible. That is the key to project success,” said Mr Jackson.

It is a point with which Mr Page at Saracen Interiors agrees. “I cannot emphasise enough the issue of time,” he commented. “Time affords you the opportunity to experiment and to consider some varied and individual finishes that will really make an office stand out. Ultimately, it is all down to the phasing and, as flooring is last to go down, with a little considered
planning, time can be on your side.”