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Designing the Floors – All Over the World

By Guan Tan

Traditional carpets dress the floors at Four Season St Petersburg's lobby.
 
Brintons
Traditional carpets dress the floors at Four Season St Petersburg's lobby.

If you travel widely, you've probably stepped on one of Julie Bjork or Sarbajit Guha's designs. From airport terminals and hotel lobbies to restaurants and casinos, Bjork and Guha's carpet designs are remarkably invisible to the public eye. 

More often than not, people don't notice the carpets they're treading on. Some people don't even realise that they're walking on woollen yarn. The designers smiled when asked, "Why are the designs and patterns so haphazard?" 

"I'm glad you notice them!" Bjork exclaims.

"At least you look at the carpets," Guha adds, letting a wide, toothy smile.

Both work for the 234-year-old British carpet house, Brintons. In 1958, the company was awarded the Queen's Royal Warrant of Appointment. Since the prestigious decoration, they've had a fancy coat of arms badge stamped above the logo. And more importantly, they have been laying the floors of the Buckingham Palace.

BrintonsSilhouettes of cherry blossoms imprinted on the carpets at Signiel Hotel Seoul.
Silhouettes of cherry blossoms imprinted on the carpets at Signiel Hotel Seoul.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their business. Beyond the gold-rimmed fences of the Palace, they are busy dressing the floors of the Westin, Hyatt, Hard Rock, Shangri-La, Four Seasons, Marriott, Ritz-Carlton, Crowne Plaza, and W hotels. Then there's London's posh Burlington shopping arcade, retail stores, Manchester United's Old Trafford, the Church of Scientology, and Changi Airport's terminals three and four. 

Back to the question, "Why are the designs and patterns so haphazard?" Bjork and Guha swallowed the question in an abrupt fit of laughter and good faith. To them, it boils down to the design process, user traffic, and practicality. 

Changi Airport GroupGeometry dominates the carpets at the newly launched Changi Airport Terminal 4.
Geometry dominates the carpets at the newly launched Changi Airport Terminal 4.

According to Bjork and Guha, the process of designing carpets begin with the digesting of the floor plan and architecture. "[Carpets] complement the interior – it's a relationship," Bjork explains. 

"Every different building has a specific purpose and the carpet reflects it," Guha chimes in. 

If there are recurring lines or shapes in the architecture, the geometry is translated into carpets in a continuum. If it's Four Seasons Kyoto for example, then stalks of peonies will be injected. If a hotel like Pan Pacific Singapore wants an urban, energetic atmosphere, pops of lime green will be considered. 

"Do you do photoshop?" Bjork asks. "It's the same in carpets... the layering of textures."

Think of the process in layers. All the necessary elements are built up, layer by layer. Once that's done, Bjork and Guha insert more layers to create depth and texture to the carpet – giving the design a conventional optical illusion-like look to the carpet. Preliminary idea to finalised design requires approximately four months of research and development.

Felicia YapOn the left, Guha and Bjork on the right.
On the left, Guha and Bjork on the right.

Bjork admits that the layering also serves another purpose. Thousands of shoes stomp on these carpets each day. In airports, the traffic triples or quadruples. It's the dirt. These seemingly "ugly" textures will conceal the dust and stains collected over the month. 

"I'm from Delhi, and a lot of people don't like the carpets there. My friend they go to the airport and tell me don't like it," Guha continues, laughing. He designed the carpets for Delhi international airport. To the untrained eye, carpet design won't make sense. It comes across as ugly at first sight. Yet, there's more than meets the eye. 

Hotel lobbies and airports are spaces that operate round the clock. It makes regular cleaning a tall order. Likewise, they don't get to update the carpets as often either. 

"Fashion changes every season. Carpets you don't change... We do utilise colours that have a certain longevity that will serve an interior like this," Bjork quips. Basically, the hotel or airport will let them know a timeline for refurbishment, and the carpets will be designed to last until then. "Refurbishment used to be 10 years. Now it's [about] three to five years."

Felicia YapGuha showcases swatches of high-definition coloured woollen yarn. The designers reduce the colours but up to 16 or 24 shades of one colour may be used at any one point to create depth and dimension to an otherwise flat piece of carpet.
Guha showcases swatches of high-definition coloured woollen yarn. The designers reduce the colours but up to 16 or 24 shades of one colour may be used at any one point to create depth and dimension to an otherwise flat piece of carpet.

The urgency for change cues at an increasingly hectic schedule for carpet designers like Bjork and Guha. 

"Busy? Very," they exclaimed. 

Working alongside the duo is a team of 50 to 60. They develop designs, do mock-ups, photographs, weave clusters of yarn into carpets, and install. Apart from the flurry of activities within the company, Bjork looks out for inspiration and trends. As you read this, she is in London, en route to Europe for the next few weeks.

"For the Maison shows," her public relations manager cuts in. 

"And London design week," Bjork continues. "You've to be methodical about it. What you are looking at, how you are recording it so it makes sense when you are back." 

Bjork is right. Fashion and carpets are two vastly different trades. Most strikingly they are differentiated by the three-month-long and three-year-long cycles of change. Yet, these two trades share one common trait – inspiration. Like a stem cell or embryo, inspiration is a universal language. It's what you do about it that counts. 

If you're travelling up for the Spring 2018 fashion weeks, keep Bjork and Guha in mind. You'll find them in your hotel rooms' carpets. But if you want to meet them in person, that's possible too. Watch out for a woman with her eyes glued on the floors. Bjork exclaims, "We always look at the floors!"