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Floors: more than surface

Surface, the world's largest annual floor-covering trade show, recently introduced the latest in flooring fashions to industry attendees hungry to pick up new trends. Manufacturers from around the globe convened at the Sands Convention Center in Las Vegas to show off a host of new floor-covering looks and styles, ranging from glazed Moroccan tiles to hand-chiseled hardwood.

Here, according to retailer group World Floor Covering Association, is what was hot:

Overall, the biggest floor covering trends include vibrant colors, plush textures, luxurious looks and customized rugs that are works of art in themselves.

Tiles designed for offices, dens and bathroom floors were presented in a wide variety of materials, including glass, porcelain, cement, rubber, brightly colored aluminum — and even pony hair — from such manufacturers as Venice Art Tiles, www.venicearttiles.com, and Johnsonite, www.johnsonite.com.

Many manufacturers displayed one-of-a-kind pieces.

Hand-painted tiles measuring from a half-inch to a full foot were shown in a variety of settings. There were also leather tiles in flat jewel tones and animal prints for homeowners looking for lively accents.

Carpets and area rugs were on display in nearly every color, material and look imaginable, from hand-woven silk at Oriental Weavers, www.orientalweavers.com, to leather at Monti Rugs, www.montirugs.com.

If all these sound expensive, think again. There were stylish products for every budget.

Topping the charts in both price and desirability were gorgeous, highly detailed, pure wool rugs from New Zealand, www.woolsnz.com. Available in a variety of shades, textures and patterns, these carpets and rugs were a real feast for the eyes. However, retailing at $30 or more a square foot they are not for everyone.

Much more affordable are synthetic silks, cottons and other plant fibers, which were shown in tight weaves; in thick shag with strands wider than a half inch; and with long feathery tufts that came in shades of fluorescent pink, emerald green and bright yellow — amusingly reminiscent of fluffy doll hair.

As in previous years, banana leaf and sisal were also shown in abundance. Basket weaves and knotted rugs appeared among coverings for patios, living rooms and sun rooms.

Woods from such exotic locales as South America and Thailand were exhibited by Natural Cork, www.naturalcork.com, and Anderson, www.andersonfloors.com, among other manufacturers, as wide planks, reclaimed antique and stalks of natural bamboo laid side by side.

Many companies publicized their efforts to create flooring using sustainable materials, and to replenish the forests by planting trees in the names of each customer who makes a purchase.

In addition, a number of manufacturers offered a variety of "green" products, including cork, bamboo and linoleum. Only the bark is used in making cork floor coverings, so the rest of the tree is left intact. Cork comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. Bamboo has been on the floor-covering scene for a number of years, but recent advances present the product in finer detail and darker shades.

Linoleum, which has been enormously popular for well over a century, is manufactured from renewable sources, such as linseed oil, resin, wood flour, cork powder and pigments. Linoleum's durability — up to 40 years as flooring — makes it very suitable for high-traffic areas. It is also naturally biodegradable, meaning it won't add to waste problems. And because linoleum is naturally anti-bacterial, no chemical agents are needed in its manufacture or maintenance. It's available in almost every shade on the color wheel, another factor in its long popularity.

More home improvement tips and information are available on the Web at http:www.onthehouse.com or by calling 1-800-737-2474, Ext. 59.