Tile Presents a Softer Side to Commercial Design
June 28, 2007
The look and approach to commercial architecture has shifted in recent years. While form and function are still high on the list of design objectives, aesthetics are also taking on a more significant role. As a result, when it comes to the material selection process, designers and their clients are opting for products that not only withstand wear and tear, but ones that will also present a high-quality image.
And when searching for just the right floor or wall material for places such as offices, medical facilities and other commercial spaces, it is only logical that tile would be an obvious choice. With the numerous tile collections on today’s market, there is a style, color and size to meet all design requirements and budgets.
Because commercial spaces have a tendency to be the center of heavy foot-traffic, durability remains a priority in the criteria set for selecting floor material in these areas. But due to the latest technological advances, practical doesn’t mean that aesthetics has to suffer. The wide range of colors and finishes that are now available are giving tiles a dressier and softer side, but still maintain the hardness that is needed in a commercial application.
“Commercial design is going into interesting textures and patterns,” said Sandra Becker, Senior Interior Designer, of Ellerbe Beckett in Minneapolis, MN, adding that her firm primarily works on commercial projects. “There are glass insets, which look like little jewels. I’m also seeing more large formats more than ever before. People are getting used to them, and they are not a hassle in installation anymore.”
Replicating a stone feelRecently, Becker and a design team from Ellerbe Beckett worked on the interior design of the atrium of the Target Northern Campus in Brooklyn Park, MN. The nationally recognized retail giant wanted their expansion to create “the best corporate campus ever,” which meant to develop a sense of community and a campus environment similar in quality to the Target offices in downtown Minneapolis.
“Their motto was ‘Expect more but pay less’,” said Becker. “They wanted a high-end product, but at an affordable price - that ruled out stone. But, they wanted something that would give that feel. That was porcelain tile.”
The designer explained that they chose a large-format tile for the floor in the atrium because that was most typical of a stone floor. “There are some very sophisticated looks [in tile] now,” she said, adding that they chose 24-by-24-inch Italian tile from Ceramiche Caesar tile, which was supplied by RBC Tiles & Stone in Minneapolis. “We were a little hesitant to go larger. We were hesitant to break that ground.”
The atrium is a key component to the newly constructed 250,000-square-foot office building, which was split into two wings of 100,000 and 150,000 square feet. It provides the connection between the two areas, and serves as the heart of the employee community. As a result, it was important that the tile floor would not only hold up to heavy foot-traffic, but also assist in creating an attractive design.
According to Becker, the design team presented two different material options to Target representatives. “This is the one that they preferred and liked best,” she said. “We chose [the Italian tile] partly because we wanted something that could introduce pattern into a fairly modular pattern. [Also], we were attracted to the accent tile. We all fell in love with it. We used it on a diagonal motif. There is diagonal in the building structure already. These modular strips are offered from 1 to 12 inches. We could take different bits.”
The designer further explained that the atrium’s unique floor pattern was based on the geometry and organization of the two sections of the building. The diagonal red lines follow the direction of one wing and the main tile pattern follows the alignment of the other.
“We wanted the feel of a monolithic floor surface with some interesting detail,” said Becker. “We introduced the color red - characteristic of our client’s brand - by cutting 1/4-inch diagonal lines into the field of tile and filling these lines with red grout.”
In addition to the thought that went into the product selection, a great amount of time was also dedicated to the installation, according to the designer. “We spent a lot of time up front with the installation,” she said. “At first, we were considering a groutless installation. We had meetings with everyone who was involved with the tile - the tile representative, the contractor and those on the installation end. We went through the process and brainstormed. We could not find anyone in the U.S. who had done that [with large-format tiles]. We spent a lot of time prepping the floor to get it smooth and as perfect as it could be. In the end, we didn’t go with groutless joints, but they were very tight ‘credit card’ joints.”
At completion of the project, all those involved - including representatives from Target - were pleased with the final result. The tile floor enhanced the appearance of the atrium as well as proving durable. “We don’t even look at anything that isn’t for high-traffic areas,” said Becker. “All of our work is commercial. We make sure [the products we choose] are as durable as can be.”
Completed in the fall of 2006, work on the project took about 15 months. Recently, Ellerbe Becket’s work on the project won the firm first place in the “Commercial” category of the Ceramic Tiles of Italy’s annual design competition for the best use of Italian tile.
A soothing environmentAnother example that illustrates the durable yet elegant side of tile is the design of the St. Vincent Orthopedic Center in Indianapolis, IN, which also incorporates large-format tiles in its floor pattern. Limestone Honey and Limestone Walnut 24-by-24-inch tiles - supplied by StonePeak Ceramics, Inc. of Chicago, IL - were mixed with 12-by-12-inch granite pieces for a soft, sophisticated design.
The design objective was to create an atmosphere that provides comfort, convenience and wellness to the center’s patients, as well as great care and skilled surgeons. The project was actually a redesign, as the building was formerly a Family Life Center.
“The soft curve of the building facade invited the interior space to incorporate gentle curves, adding a softness and interest to the lobby,” stated the design team at Carson Design Associates in Carmel, IN, the design firm for the project design. “The 12-foot-wide water feature of textured glass adds to the comfort of the space, which is finished in natural materials and rich toned colors.”
According to designer Stacy Kennelly, coloration, size, cost, location appropriateness, slip resistance and sub-floor condition were all factors to consider when choosing a floor material for the 120,000-square-foot orthopedic center - of which 3,500 square feet was tile. “The original selection was too contemporary for the client’s liking,” she said. “A more transitional approach was preferred. After receiving comments on the initial presentation, we refocused efforts to provide a design with more traditional materials stated in a contemporary, but softer, manner. This approach was well received.”
In addition to the first floor lobby, the tile and granite floor pattern continues into adjacent spaces such as the café, restrooms, elevators and second floor lobby. “Creating the soft arc of the tile was challenging for the installer,” said Kennelly. “Drawings were provided to scribe the appropriate arc on the floor. The installer did a beautiful job providing a sweeping curve with square pieces. They were very talented and efficient.”