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Welcome to DesignFWD, a podcast series presented by Mohawk Group, where we discuss innovations in design, performance, and sustainability that positively impact the built environment. Stick around for engaging conversation with our design leaders, sustainability advocates, and progressive end users who are moving design forward. 

For our third episode, we’re discussing bringing beauty and performance to occupied spaces with luxury vinyl tile. We’re joined by Emma Halvorson, designer and senior associate from DLR Group and Phillip Jones, Senior Director of Design and Construction from Massage Envy.

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Elizabeth Bonner: Alright, hi, everyone, and thanks for joining our third episode of DesignFWD. I’m Elizabeth Bonner, Senior Director of healthcare, senior living, education, government, and hard surface segments here at Mohawk Group.

Jeanette Himes: And I’m Jeanette Himes, Mohawk Group’s Director of Design for Workplace and Retail. And for this episode, we’re discussing bringing beauty and performance to occupied spaces with luxury vinyl tile. We’re joined by Emma Halvorson, designer and senior associate from DLR Group and Phillip Jones, Senior Director of Design and Construction from Massage Envy.

EB: So there are several hard surface flooring options out there, but there’s a growing trend moving from some traditional hard surface flooring types to LVT in spaces like education and retail. I’m excited to hear everyone’s thoughts and experiences on what’s moving this trend, so let’s just get started and discuss hard surface.

Living Local Luxury Vinyl Tile from Mohawk Group

JH: Welcome, Emma and Phillip, and thank you for joining us. Let’s kick off with a quick introduction from both of you so that our listeners can get to know you a little more.

Emma, tell us about yourself.

Emma Halvorson: Sure, so I’m Emma Halvorson. I’m based in Omaha, Nebraska. I’ve been with DLR Group for about four years now, but I have been in the professional world of interior design since 2012. I was briefly in residential design, and then I transitioned to commercial design shortly thereafter. I had a brief stint in Chicago, Illinois, before finding myself back in Nebraska.  And currently I am the Regional Discipline Leader for the Interior Design Discipline for DLR Group for our Central region. On top of designing, I also manage our interior designers in three offices: Lincoln, Omaha, and Des Moines.

EB: Oh nice. It sounds like a fun path. We’re glad you ended up on the commercial side of the business so that we can talk to you today. Phillip, can you tell us a little bit about yourself as well.

Phillip Jones: Uh, Yeah. Obviously, my name is Phillip Jones. I’m the senior director of design and construction for Massage Envy. I’ve been in the construction industry my entire life, starting in the residential side and switching over to commercial over the last several years and continuing to grow with the Massage Envy brand. I have a passion for construction from being out in the field early in my days and now being in the office and really seeing where this design takes us in the future.

EB: So, Phillip, Massage Envy has recently done renovations across several locations. Can you tell us about what motivated the change in aesthetic, and particularly moving to LVT from your previous flooring choices.

PJ: Sure, yeah, with the Massage Envy brand, we have about 1,150 locations nationwide, and we’ve been going through an entire refresh program along with building new locations as well and relocating existing locations. With that, we have a lot of projects that go on year after year and with that, we did make a push to switch a lot of our areas of the clinic into an LVT kind of flooring. And several reasons for that: definitely price-point is a huge thing because we’re looking for the right price for our franchisees so they’re able to not spend as much money but still have the quality and the look and everything moving forward so they can really build their operation up from a revenue base.

The other part, honestly, with the LVT that we switched to, is really from an install process. We have a lot of existing locations out there that we are obviously going through with this refresh program to where they had existing tile in there or some existing flooring, and to save on some costs, but get the really nice look moving forward, we could overlay the LVT right on top if they didn’t have anything overlaid on top already. So that was a good value, but also being able to utilize that LVT surface. And then the other part is just, you know, if we’re doing a brand-new build and installing the LVT, it’s just the ease and comfort of the install process. Instead of laying the thinset and the grout with tile — we do have that option — but, putting adhesives down, the install process is a lot quicker and actually a little bit less labor-intensive as well.

And then the last part, why we really moved into this luxury vinyl tile — going on now a couple of years, is from the maintenance side. It’s really easy to clean up, and it keeps the whole clinic looking really nice. With this refresh process, we’ve tried to go from the bold darker colors to more of the light, vibrant, modern look and feel for the customers that come in.

EB: That’s interesting. The part where you were saying about laying it over existing floor, the ability to go in and make a quick change like that. You get to skip that entire demo process that’s gonna just eat up a little bit of time. So it’s interesting to hear that you get to drop the floor in and keep moving. And I kinda love that we’re moving in the direction of light colors, too. We’re seeing a strong trend in that direction, and that gets associated a lot with cleanability — people feel cleaner in a brighter space. But I would imagine with Massage Envy that creating the right aesthetic to relax the customer into your environment is probably an important part of what you guys are doing.

So with that in mind, if you want people in the space to automatically feel physically and mentally important, are there changes that you’re making to do so with these changes and this switch towards LVT? And do you feel that the customer and staff are responding in the way that you wanted them to?

PJ: Um, yeah. I think definitely from a comfort standpoint, I think the staff is generally liking this a lot more. We already have padded carpet tiles that we’ve put in rooms, but from an easy cleanup in our multi-purpose or skincare rooms, we have the LVT in there, and it’s just an easier cleanup, comfort for the staff, but also for the customer because it gives that nice aesthetic as well for the whole feel of the room, too.

EB: That’s nice. It ties the room — as the Big Lebowski would say — it ties the room together.  Always like to think the flooring ties the room together.

PJ: (laughter) Definitely.

JH: And Emma, I know DLR Group works on a variety of commercial spaces. Can you share with us how you’ve come to specify LVT for your projects?

EH. Sure. I’ve seen the use of LVT evolve a lot in the past years. We’ve always really been about hard surfaces, especially in education and healthcare facilities, but it kind of started as maybe more VCT, and we’ve transitioned more to the LVT realm for ease of maintenance, cleanability, and overall a better design look. Especially with transitioning from different materials, we’ve just found that LVT makes it a lot easier on our design solutions and cohesively helps for a better design.

EB: And VCT does have some great attributes to it, but it is the flexibility of design that we get in LVT is the fun side, where we get to pick up and make the space anything we want it to be.

EH: Yeah. Exactly. We’ve found that not only do our clients love LVT more, but the maintenance teams are also a lot happier with the LVT products because they don’t have to do that annual waxing every summer. The maintenance is just much easier. Especially in the last year or two, with the different options, as far as LVT and the thicknesses we can now specify, we’ve been able to start incorporating the seamless transitions if we’re transitioning from an LVT product to a carpet product. Having the pile height line up directly with the top of the LVT, it allows us to omit some transitions here and there, and maintenance teams like that, just for ease of transitions, so they’re not dealing with multiple different transition pieces. Especially in one school where it might be a really massive project.

But then also, we just generally enjoy LVT as a much better look when you can pull a wood look or a stone look. Now it seems like a lot of the patterns are going kind of organic or geometric types of shapes, so it’s really fun to see where the trends go and how the LVT has evolved and the different places you can really take a design.

EB: That’s been an interesting growth point here is learning that you guys are using those products together — the hard and the soft surface products together. We’re getting our act together and being a lot more thoughtful in the way that we approach the design portions of that and making sure that we’re building them to be companions for each other and coordinates instead of giving you a bunch of random items that you have to then figure out what to do with

EH: Absolutely. We appreciate it.

EB: So I think we all know that LVT isn’t just about beauty and design flexibility. It has many performance benefits. So let’s talk about some of the cleanability, maintenance, acoustics, and durability that come along with these wonderful hard surface products. So, Phillip, from your recent Massage Envy design renovations, how has the flooring helped the space remain as a clean and quiet environment for your customers?

PJ: Yeah, it’s definitely easier. The maintenance is one of the top things with the LVT that makes it easier to clean and just more sanitary. We use different oils and lotions with our different skincare services or different services that we have in general. And with that, having that LVT, especially in our multipurpose or skincare rooms, the cleanup is so much easier. That’s a huge bonus. And then, obviously with what’s currently going on with Covid times, it’s just very easy to keep and that much easier as far as time-consuming to keep the clinic clean and sanitary, so that when customers come in, they have a healthy and safe environment for them.

EB: And Emma, from your experience on projects, do you have some insights that you’d like to add?

EH: With acoustics, I honestly feel like I’m still learning acoustics and hard surfaces, but the more I’m working with LVT and the different backing products and the thicknesses, the more we’re learning. And they’re starting to help the acoustics in our spaces. We actually have an acoustician on staff at our offices in Omaha. He’s able to take the specifications of the room — be it the floor, the wall material, if there’s acoustic baffles. It’s really cool to see what his programs can output as far as the acoustics of the space and how flooring starts to play into that because it is a big part of our projects.

JH: That’s an interesting side to hear because sound abatement is definitely something we talk about repeatedly on the development side of LVT. And to hear that it gets tested in this space with all these other products that are also meant to do the same is kinda fascinating. And the nerd in me would kinda like to see the inside of this room! 

EH: (laughter) Oh my gosh, yes. I love it. It’s so cool to see what he does, and that’s his full-time job — acoustics on projects. It’s amazing to see what he can do.

JH: And let’s not forget also that LVT provides comfort underfoot compared to other hard surfaces, so staff, customers, and other occupants don’t have as much tension on their legs and back. 

EB: I think that’s one of those great attributes that kinda gets forgotten in the mix. Especially as polished concrete comes into conversation, it makes for a beautiful finish. It’s easy to keep, but it’s not the easiest thing to hang out on all day long.

JH: Yeah, and those well-being aspects just seem more and more important going forward, too.

EB: So now let’s talk a little bit about design trends — Jeanette and I’s favorite part. We’ll get into the meat of the conversation and talk a little bit about those trends and how they’re affecting LVT in the built environment.

JH: Yeah because there’s so many factors that are involved in designing a space. You want to incorporate branding, color, texture, pattern variety, and then just as we were saying, complementing the soft surface. And then of course now we also have to think about designing for social distancing. So, Emma, how have these factors impacted your approach to designing spaces? And how has flooring played a part in that?

EH: Yeah, I think this is a great question. And we actually have a real-life example just recently, working on a school project, and one of the design goals that our client was interested in is how the flooring could help them with a) social distancing, but b.) also organizing their students when they were in hallway — walking side by side other students and making sure they were maintaining distances. So we played around with a couple different options, and we showed our client different thought starters, and we kinda ended up with this interesting material transition, adding color like you mentioned, so we had kind of a field LVT in this space, and we’d have colored inserts and pieces. And it helped the students figure out where they should be in line, where they should be standing between. And overall, the teachers just loved this solution. It’s in construction now, so I’m excited to see how it works and how it plays out. But that’s one thing that really stands out to me.

And the same thing goes for branding. We work on a ton of school projects and workplace projects where brand and mascot of a school is really important, and the introduction of color and texture to LVT lines is huge. I think every time our rep brings in a new collection and there’s new colors, we’re all “ooh, ahh, we can’t wait to use these!” because it’s a different take on it. We really enjoy being able to use more color in our spaces, and I think our clients really enjoy being able to bring out their personality in more than just their branding.

EB: I do think that retail and education are kind of unique in that aspect, that they have a color identity if you want to call it that, that they associate with. So the chance and that openness to bring that in and be more playful with it, it gets us kind of excited too when we’re developing a line — the chance to bring in a little bit of color is always fun.

EH: Yeah, I sometimes ask our rep, “who gets to decide these things?” This is so cool that this is someone’s job to make these patterns and textures and pull these new colors. It’s so interesting to see the different trends and how they work. I’m jealous of your job sometimes.

EB: (laughter) It probably involves a little bit more fist fighting than you realize. Just kidding, but it takes a lot of input and quite often a lot of input from customers as well, so it’s never a decision that’s made by one of us, but it’s a passionate decision, I guess in some ways. Jeanette and I are very much both color people, so we get very excited to bring in and introduce new and trending colors. 

EH: Keep the colors coming — we are loving it!

EB: They’re going to fuss at me later because you’re going to build me up so that I’m gonna rush out there and ask for all these colors, and they’re going to remind me that I’m not allowed, that I have to stay in my box.  

EH: (laughter) Oh, come on. Life’s too short to stay in your box.

EB: (laughter) So all this talk about staying in our box is kinda circling us back to social distancing. And it’s brought to mind designing spaces for optimal wellness. This isn’t just a healthcare thing — it’s within all occupied spaces. So, Phillip, how have these considerations been a part of Massage Envy’s practices as you offer wellness services?

PJ: So social distancing is definitely a new trend that we’re all having to look at, and from a furniture standpoint, we’re looking at it. With flooring, the biggest thing is really being able to have that feasibility to adjust other moving parts in our clinic. It’s having those very nice, easy surfaces to move things around. It’s definitely very beneficial, but the good thing that we have with our LVT is we have the longer plank LVT that we use, and it really kinda makes that room already look a lot bigger, from a design standpoint. I think that’s something that’s very crucial with a commercial space when you don’t always have the biggest spaces, you can really make the room look a lot bigger.

JH: EB, as you lead Mohawk’s Hard Surface design team, where do you see this potential for continued innovation in LVT flooring design?

EB: So I think sound abatement is one of the big topics that keeps trending upwards every time we talk about innovation. Sound abatement, we keep getting better and better at it, which is really wonderful. As well as the introduction of better wear layers. We just introduced what we like to call Enforce Ultra, which is our scratch-resistant wear layer that is an industry leader for us. We’re extremely excited to have added it to all of the other wonderful benefits, as well as the idea that sustainability can become a part of the conversation with hard surface. We work really hard to create products while minimizing waste streams and incorporating remaining pre-consumer material back into finished product at our Dalton, Georgia facility. We are there on the Daltile side of our business, and we’re working hard to get some of our other manufacturing facilities there as well. So we’re excited to see LVT is trending that direction as well. It’s really just one of those things — it hit the market strong in the last ten years, and we just keep stretching what it is that we’re able to do with it and better meet the customer’s needs, basically.

JH: So this discussion has been awesome. We want to thank Emma and Phillip for being here and spending some time with us today. We appreciate all the wonderful conversation.

EH: Thanks for your time. This was fun.

PJ: Yeah, thank you very much. 


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See the products referenced in this podcast at the links below!

Living Local Luxury Vinyl Tile from Mohawk Group
EXPLORE LIVING LOCAL LVT