The concept of flooring tile goes back thousands of years when hard surfaces of various rock forms, baked clay, and ceramic were being used. The early users of these initial tile flooring types needed something to cover their dirt floors that were of a size that could be easily carried to where the floor was located. These hard surface types of flooring preceded woven grasses and fabrics that were used to cover the ground; such as, mats and rugs. As civilization progressed, wood tiles and certain forms of metal, glass, and rubber tiles were used. Also, finely finished rocks; such as, limestone and granite, were being improved for the “now” classic look of stone tiles.
Flash forward to the mid-nineteenth century and you find the first carpet tiles being used. It was then that a small Dutch company outside of Amsterdam, Holland, made the first “true” carpet tile. The name of this company was Heuga and their initial business was making bicycle seat covers with animal hides. They purchased a needle punch machine which enabled them to use the horse and hog hair yarn to manufacture wider width fabric ideal for carpet tiles. Heuga strived, at this relatively early date, to make sure that they were using a waste by-product from local slaughter houses. Not only did they continue to cut their bicycle seats from this new fabric, but they also began to sell rugs and broadloom carpet. However, they were still concerned with using as much of the product as they could to eliminate waste. They began experimenting with putting an asphalt (bitumen) backing on their fabric to give it stiffness and further durability plus dimensional stability. They cut the fabric into 10 inch squares so the homes and commercial buildings using their product didn’t create the waste they did when cutting in a wall-to-wall carpet installation.
Heuga was a very frugal Dutch company and it pleased them and their customers that they were using by-products for the face and backing to manufacture their new carpet tile flooring product. Asphalt came from the earth and when heated flowed on nicely to the back of their face fabric and cut nicely once it cooled into portable tiles that didn’t have transporting problems as 12 ft. broadloom carpet did. Instead they had created a square 10″ carpet that fit nicely in a box. This new product spread with popularity over Europe where the majority of the population lived in smaller homes and apartments. What better way to cover their floors than by transporting a few boxes of carpet tiles to their place for an easy install. Carpet tiles’ popularity grew for use in commercial buildings as heavy traffic didn’t create severe wear. Soon, Heuga expanded into needle punching synthetic yarns into their products, as well. A limited supply of animal hair no longer restricted the growth of their popular product.
Meanwhile, 10-12 years later in the United States the first textile company to move into carpet tile manufacturing was Collins & Aikman with their “Tex-Tiles” brand. It was a logical move for them because they were already making a six foot wide carpet with a durable cushion vinyl backing they called “Powerbond”. Also in the 1960s Milliken, the most powerful textile company in the USA, bought a Lagrange, Georgia based carpet manufacturer called Callaway. This move put Milliken in the carpet business. Not only was carpet a hot product in this country, it was making noise all over Europe. Milliken took one of their young bright employees, a Georgia Tech graduate, Ray Anderson and sent him to Europe to explore their technology and further expansion into carpet. With the advice of Anderson, Milliken purchased the U.S. rights to a fusion bonding manufacturing process for making carpet tile. This particular method of making carpet tile was invented and patented by a company called Debron, a division of The Carpet Manufacturing Company of England.
It wasn’t a year later that Ray Anderson left Milliken and with a group of investors, he formed a carpet tile company initially called Carpets International of Georgia. Within nine years, in 1979 the company had grown to $80 million in annual sales of fusion bonded carpet tile. They changed the name to Interface and today that company has carpet tile sales in excess of $350 million.
Throughout the 70s and 80s USA based carpet tile manufacturing, lead by Interface, Milliken, and Collins & Aikman,successfully introduced carpet tile into the growing mainstream commercial market. Milliken and Interface, who initially pioneered fusion bonded carpet tile in this country, moved over to strictly tufted carpet tile surfaces. Collins & Aikman had always just been tufted. Tufting is faster than fusion bonding. US based manufacturers have lead the technology worldwide in the development of highly innovative tufting machines.
In 1988 Heuga, the original manufacturer of carpet tiles, was looking for someone to buy them and Interface made the purchase. Heuga had begun to sell their carpet tiles into the USA under the brand name of FLOR. Keep that brand name in mind as we continue to spin the history of carpet tiles.
The decades of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, for our country, had phenomenal growth in commercial office space. Much of this growth was high rise or skyscraper office buildings. There were several reasons buildings of this type drove the popularity of carpet tiles. Originally, this sort of construction had multiple columns to not only support the building, but also to house heating, air conditioning, and electrical wiring. Newer building techniques, with lighter but stronger steel, had done away with the need for the majority of these columns and the space between the floors housed these wires and vents. To facilitate frequent access to these electrical and heating and air functions, raised floor panels were developed. These panels are approximately two feet square and have adequate space beneath them and the ceiling of the floor below to house these functions. Rather than having a hard surface cover them, it was desirable to have a functional carpet tile that could easily be lifted to access these panels for maintenance. Also, carpet tiles could be easily transported and stored within these buildings while 12 ft. wide carpet could not. As work stations could be reconfigured in this work environment, carpet tiles could be easily rearranged, as well. Working on one small area of the office didn’t have to disrupt the other workers.
Because of this fantastic growth of carpet tile,s due to their ease of installation etc., it wasn’t long before all the major carpet manufacturers included them in their line of floor covering.
Remember the brand name that Heuga first entered the USA market with, FLOR? Well, Heuga was absorbed by Interface shortly after they were purchased. A keen interest remained in moving carpet tiles into the USA residential market. In 2003, Interface re-introduced the FLOR.com brand as their internet driven effort to reach today’s design savvy consumers and capture their desires with the functionality and style of carpet tiles. A hard charging advertising campaign, including not only their website but beautiful mail-order catalogues, was put in place.
Today, FOCUSfloors & Furnishings leads the way in making carpet tiles available to residential and commercial consumers via their website: http://www.focusfloors.com