10 Material Breakthroughs You Should Know

Feb. 21, 2014

We distill 10 material breakthroughs in surfacing, textiles, and flooring down to their most important points, so you can specify the latest and greatest, and then get on with your life.

Material innovation is happening at a stunning pace, and new technologies are pushing architects and interior designers to rethink what’s possible. Unfortunately, keeping track of all the new can start to seem as unimaginable as the products themselves—especially when complex scientific terms and concepts get involved. To that end, we’ve distilled these 10 material breakthroughs in surfacing, textiles, and flooring down to their most important points, so you can specify the latest and greatest, and then get on with your life.


 Hard Surfacing

The magic of surface innovation is often invisible—the ultimate case of performance keeping its fingers out of aesthetic. Here are some of the most recent developments we’ve come across that do more than meets the eye.

Dekton by Cosentino

In nature, metamorphic stone takes thousands of years of heat and pressure to form. With DEKTON, Cosentino has cut this process down to four hours. Made from the same inorganic substances as glass, quartz, and porcelain, DEKTON is created through a proprietary technique called Particle Sintering, in which the raw materials are compacted using a 25,000-ton press. This technology has created an entirely new type of artificial material, dubbed an “ultra-compact surface,” that is resistant to impact, scratching, and abrasion. It can also withstand thermal shock from frequent freezes and thaws, and has high color stability due to its UV- and water-resistant properties.

breakthrough vocabulary: metamorphism
Meaning “change in form,” metamorphism is what rocks and stones undergo in nature when subjected to heat and pressure (famous metamorphism: when shale beds get slammed with volcanic ash and form slate).

Hydrotect by Crossville

Crossville’s new Hydrotect coating is turning ceramic tiles into mean, green, cleaning machines. The compound is a hydrophilic photocatalyst with no electric charge. That’s a mouthful that translates to “self-cleaning tile.” Because they lack a charge, tiles coated in Hydrotect are less likely to collect dust. Antimicrobial metals contained in the coating minimize odor-causing bacteria, and the material’s hydrophilic nature attracts a thin sheet of water molecules to repel oily dirt. The kicker, though, is titanium dioxide: a nontoxic substance that breaks down nitrogen oxide pollutants such as formaldehyde when exposed to light, leaving benign nitrites in their place and improving indoor air quality.

breakthrough vocabulary: photocatalyst
A substance that, when introduced to light (photons), acts as a catalyst for a chemical reaction—in this case, a self-cleaning chemical reaction (famous photocatalyst: chlorophyll, used in photosynthesis).

LightBeton by Richter Furniertechnik

Concrete slabs aren’t typically the easiest materials to work with, but Richter Furniertechnik is changing that with an award-winning material called LightBeton (light concrete). A 3-millimeter layer of recycled mineral fiber is mixed with cement, then bonded to particleboard with a melamine resin. This creates boards with a true concrete surface that are much easier to transport and set than concrete slabs of equal size. Even better, the boards can be shaped with standard woodworking tools, without risking wear beyond that of particleboard. LightBeton was recognized by Interzum in 2013, taking home a “best of the best” award for decorative surfaces.



From advanced antimicrobial treatments to the development of potent new fibers that can withstand extreme abuse, textile innovations protect us from the elements, bacteria, and our own messy habits. Here’s a look at some of the newest developments from the fast-changing fabric world.

Ultraleather Pro by Ultrafabrics

Softness and performance have long existed on opposite ends of the polyurethane spectrum, but the new Ultraleather Pro line from Ultrafabrics is bringing the two closer together—and winning over tough customers like Starbucks, MGM Grand, and Starwood. Ultraleather Pro is unaffected by even the most difficult of stains, including ballpoint ink, Betadine solutions, red wine, and mustard, making it the perfect addition to demanding projects ranging from hospitality to healthcare. Its surface is exceptionally durable, tested for abrasion resistance beyond a half-million rubs, and stays cool to the touch, even when exposed to sunlight. What’s more, Ultraleather Pro is EPA-certified antimicrobial thanks to silver ion protection blended into the polyurethane resin, making this product a true long-haul partner.

E-screen Fabrics with KoolBlack by Hunter Douglas Hospitality

Hunter Douglas Hospitality’s new line of E-Screen fabrics with KoolBlack promises to make the task of controlling the sun’s rays a little easier. Developed by Mermet, KoolBlack technology enhances heat management by reflecting light in the near-infrared spectrum, which represents over half the heat energy contained in solar radiation. Before its introduction, shading systems required light-colored or metalized fabrics to optimize control of heat gain; dark E-Screen fabrics with KoolBlack can provide up to a 25 percent improvement in Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC), while still providing clear views through the shade and superior exterior aesthetics—as well as lower fabric costs in many cases. How’s that for progress?

breakthrough vocabulary: solar heat gain coefficient (shgc)
The Solar Heat Gain Coefficient (SHGC) is replacing the Shading Coefficient standard as a way to measure the solar energy transmittance of a window or door. Expressed as a number between 0 and 1, the lower a product’s SHGC, the less solar heat it transmits—a significant factor in determining the cooling load of a building. (For reference, a typical double-pane IGU has a SHGC of around 0.70.)

Crypton 2.0 by Crypton

Not many sequels top the originals, let alone 20 years later, but Crypton 2.0 has done it with style. Thanks to technology advancements and changes to Crypton’s machinery, Crypton 2.0 reduces the fabric’s rigidity and stiffness, increases its loft, and maintains its compression recovery, giving it an improved hand and rendering it virtually undetectable from other fabrics. What’s more, Crypton 2.0’s moisture barrier is now made with renewable, farm-grown sources, including corn, helping it to reduce reliance on petroleum-based materials and CO2 emissions during the production process— all without affecting the durability or cleanability the brand is known for. That makes this sequel a win-win for tough spaces and the environment.

TENARA Fabric by SEFAR Architecture

Created by W.L. Gore & Associates, the same company behind the popular apparel fabric GORE-TEX, SEFAR Architecture’s TENARA Fabric is putting the same level of performance in the hands of the A&D crowd. This woven PTFE fabric captures and filters light without making a space gloomy, folds and drapes beautifully, and lasts for years—even outdoors. Its ability to stand up to damaging UV rays, acid rain, salt water, and other environmental challenges make it an ideal choice for luminous tensioned fabric structures, retractable roofs, air-inflated sculptures, and more. Since TENARA does not degrade during its useful life, it can be reprocessed and used in other applications.

breakthrough vocabulary: ptfe
PTFE stands for polytetrafluoroethylene, which is the most inert fluoropolymer known today. Due to their extremely strong carbon/fluorine bonds, fluoropolymer fibers are highly resistant to chemicals, extreme temperatures, and UV radiation.


A new generation of hybrid floors is blurring the lines between hard and soft flooring, and offering designers new performance attributes that were unthinkable just a few years ago. Here’s a look at three of the most notable options on the market.

Kinetex by J+J Flooring Group

Kinetex® from J+J Flooring Group is poised to give every other type of hard-surface flooring a run for its money. This textile-composite fuses knitted polyester fabric with a cushioned polyester felt backing under high heat and pressure to create a product with a lifecycle cost of ownership that’s approximately 30 percent less than rubber flooring, 35 percent less than LVT, and almost 50 percent less than VCT. It’s also the picture of good health, as the line reduces postural discomfort, leg stress, and fatigue; has one of the highest noise reduction coefficient (NRC) and impact insulation classifications in the industry; and sequesters airborne allergens until they can be removed through vacuuming. As if that wasn’t enough, Kinetex resists nearly every common stain and has the highest coefficient of static friction of any flooring surface option, for increased slip-and-fall protection.

Powerbond by Tandus Centiva

While many of our products focus on newer innovations, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention a tried-and-true staple that’s served thousands of interior designers (and facilities) over the years: Powerbond from Tandus Centiva. First introduced in the 1960s, this hybrid resilient flooring continues to make headlines with some installations still performing at a high level after more than four decades. Constructed of nylon and a closed-cell cushion fused together, the product’s seams can also be chemically welded to ensure moisture impermeability. Powerbond features between 7 and 29 percent recycled content with a minimum of 7 percent post-consumer content, and is 100 percent closed loop recyclable.

Svelte by Bolyu

Svelte is the first product from Bolyu’s hybrid flooring line, level, and it promises to be a game-changer in the contract world. Offering up the best of both hard and soft surface flooring, Svelte consists of a fabric laminated to a precision- performance backing, giving it a luxurious, suede-like feel. It improves acoustics within a space as well as thermo-insulation, and greatly improves roller mobility versus traditional carpeting, as Bolyu developed the product to address the fact that most commercial environments encounter wheels of some size or shape. It is not a tufted product, so it doesn’t trap dirt or the fluid required to remove dirt. It also plays nice with others: as it has the same maintenance process as carpet, the two can be mixed together on the floor.

breakthrough vocabulary: thermo-insulation
Thermo-insulation refers to the reduction of heat transfer or the transfer of thermal energy between objects of differing temperature. So, in other words, it helps keep rooms either nice and toasty or nice and cool.

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