"Eeek! Which one is me – and if I am here, how many of me are there?!" The kaleidoscope installation in Hall 9 at DOMOTEX 2018 challenged the personal reality of many of the visitors who passed through it. The installation, an array of movable mirror boxes and textile surfaces complete with a giant mirror kaleidoscope titled "Endless Uniqueness", challenged visitors to engage with the " UNIQUE YOUNIVERSE " keynote theme. By viewing their own multiplied likeness in the kaleidoscope as they interacted with and rearranged the mirror boxes and floor coverings inside them, visitors were able to briefly create and experience their own endless uniqueness. It was a confronting and visceral experience that cast the quest for uniqueness and personalized products amid an increasingly globalized world into sharp relief.

The kaleidoscope installation was part of the special "Framing Trends" showecase, where artists, architects and manufacturers were given free rein to express the individualization trend in their own unique ways. The display was grouped into four main zones. In one of them, the "Art & Interaction" zone, Michael Acapulco invited visitors to embrace the conflict between individual and objective reality by gazing in through a house window and viewing not a domestic interior, but the Earth as seen from outer space. Also in the "Art & Interaction" zone, artist Jette Hampe had sewn countless cut-up and reconstituted photo portraits onto a "flying carpet", the idea being to encourage viewers to think about their individuality and their place in history, life and nature.

In the "Flooring Spaces" zone, designer Konstantin Landuris collaborated with floor coverings manufacturer Classen to create an LVT floor digitally printed to look like marble. The LVT was the centerpiece of an installation that explored Landuris’s vision of a living space from the future. The "NuThinkers" zone, meanwhile, was devoted to lateral thinkers and innovators, and featured such stand-out installations as "Individual Motion Space", a VR application developed by students from Mainz University of Applied Sciences that enables users to design individualized objects and even entire rooms in real-time using their own body movements.

Photoreal one-off print originals

Not that ingenious incarnations of the "Unique Youniverse" lead theme and trend were the exclusive preserve of the creative types at the "Framing Trends" display. The manufacturers in the main halls, too, had plenty to show on the subject. And the variety was simply mind-blowing. For instance, providers like Amorim, Beaulieu International Group and Classen were inspired by the new creative possibilities of digital printing technology to capture deceptively real-looking photo motifs on LVT and laminate. There was an absolute panoply of amazing printed design possibilities for homeowners, interior designers and architects alike. Highlights included a sand print for bathroom floors, a giant aquarium motif for children’s bedrooms and even a wall motif patterned with coins. These exquisite digitally printed creations are available in large formats of up to four meters in width (rolls) and in small production runs. According to Beaulieu International Group, these kinds of custom-created, large-format prints are highly sought after among high-end customers such as boutique hotels. The printed products on show at DOMOTEX were a testament to the transformative power of digitization.

The steady march of digitization is of course also transforming design and sales processes – a fact made powerfully manifest at DOMOTEX in the form of innovative virtual reality applications. For instance, carpet manufacturer Paulig Teppiche presented a new augmented reality app that is designed to get domestic and commercial customers more closely involved in the carpet design process. Using their smartphone or tablet, customers take photos of the rooms they are working on. Using the app, they then superimpose a virtual carpet which has been previously custom-designed to their requirements. This enables them to preview what the carpet might look like once installed and helps them reconcile their visions with reality.

Off the floor and onto the wall

Several providers of flooring products have ventured into radical new territory: walls. It’s part of the overall trend towards integrated design that has been gaining momentum in the interiors sector over recent seasons. These crossover providers include names like Beaulieu International Group, Tisca and Objectflor. Thanks to special-purpose installation systems, adhesives and primers, they are now able to affix LVT products and carpeting to walls.

One of the DOMOTEX highlights here was from Beaulieu International Group. Using just two different shades of gray, the Belgian-based provider succeeded in transferring the iconic image of lunching construction workers perched high above the New York skyline to a tufted wall carpet. These kinds of wall carpets can be custom made and supplied in large formats, making them ideal for office and hotel lobbies. Similarly, Tisca’s customers can design tufted and ribbed wall carpets in their own choice of colors, materials and structures. They can also create relief patterns and even integrate their own company logos by specifying differing loop lengths.

Natural looks and intricate patterns

The natural wood effect remains a top seller and is an enduring favorite in the flooring industry. Whether it’s LVT, laminate or the real thing – parquet – the market is moving away from the used look and rustic charm in favor of raw naturalness. For instance, this year Ter Hürne showcased parquet with hand-planed surfaces that were anything but smooth to the touch. Alongside the large-format planks that have been big over the past few seasons we are now seeing more patterns comprising small constituent blocks, such as herringbone and mosaics, as well as greater use of varied stains to create ship planking effects. Ter Hürne (parquet) and Swiss Krono (laminate) are exponents of this trend. In the LVT segment, Objectflor can create individualized mosaic and inlay finishes on all of its LVT products using a special water jet technology. With these new customization options, the floor is now a blank canvas for all manner of eye-catching patterns and designs.

This year, the latest rigid vinyl flooring products generated a lot of attention at the show. For example, the innovative "rigid board" products launched by Unilin and others have four layers, so they’re ultra-thin (only 5 mm) while still offering superior resistance to telegraphing. This unwanted effect, whereby unevenness in the substrate shows through, is certainly not a problem with products by Egger. The Austria-based company’s "comfort flooring" range has two integrated cork layers, making it supremely warm, soft and quiet to walk on. Meanwhile, Swiss Krono unveiled Swiss Aquastop 48 h, an innovative protective layer system that makes the use of wood-effect laminate flooring in kitchens and bathrooms an even more attractive proposition. Flooring with Swiss Aquastop 48 h can be continuously exposed to liquids for up to 48 hours without staining, warping or suffering any other damage.

Interiors in muted pastel with hand-made charm

The interior design world’s love affair with the Scandinavian hygge lifestyle ("hygge" is Danish for a feeling of coziness and content) looks set to continue into 2018. That was especially clear from the Tisca stand, where Swedish star stylist Lotta Agaton created an entire room interior in natural white. That’s furniture made from light-colored wood, soft furnishings in understated tones, and GOTS-certified hand-woven rugs from Tisca’s "Olbia" line.

Looking at the stands of many of the exhibitors at DOMOTEX, it was abundantly clear the interior design world still places considerable store on pastel colors. Pastel colors add lightness and space – an important consideration given that the spaces we live in are getting smaller and smaller. Architect Jutta Werner, who does work for Dedon, Vorwerk and Rolf Benz, plays with this trend in the hand-woven rugs she designs for her own label, Nomad, by combining pastel-colored yarn with a silvery yarn made from recycled candy wrappers.

Modularity for flexible interiors

Growth in demand for textile floor coverings has sparked a resurgence in the use of fitted carpets, particularly in the form of modular systems like carpet tiles and planks. This is especially the case in public areas and office buildings. In these settings, fitted carpets have advantageous acoustic properties. And, being modular, it is easy to achieve the perfect fit and create highly individualized designs. Geometric patterns that are color-coordinated with the rest of the interior are a great way to inject a splash of variety into otherwise drab office environments. Hence the current fashion focus on tactile textures, structure and depth. The new "Layers" carpet tile collection created for Fletco by designer Sebastian Wrong is a prime example of this. The creations on show featured exciting tactile structures and a "faux uni" design – carpet that at first glance appears to be a solid block of color but which on closer inspection surprises with a rich profusion of colors.

Another alternative to broadloom for fitted carpeting is custom-cut tufted carpet. Fletco offers a line of carpets that can be cut to any shape the customer wants. It’s all made possible by new lasercut machines. Tisca also uses this technology. As well as custom cutting carpet tiles, the machines can be used to custom create inlays for broadloom tufted carpets.

Installation: when time is of the essence

In retail, office and home interiors, regular design makeovers are becoming the norm, meaning that time is often of the essence when installing flooring. Consequently, fast-drying solutions were among the highlights at the installation and application technology section of the show. For instance, adhesives manufacturer Uzin Utz presented several smoothing and leveling compounds which are ultra-rapid drying, thanks to a novel, reactive combination of binding agents and an innovative drying additive. Proper sealing of luxury vinyl flooring in wet areas is another key focus in the installation and application systems sector. Adhesives and sealants specialist Mapei has risen to this challenge with its "Shower System 4 LVT1" solution, which consists of a waterproofing membrane and a one-part silane adhesive.

Multiple routes to sustainability

In recent years, manufacturers of carpets and luxury vinyl flooring have gone all-out to rid their floor coverings of bitumen and phthalates, which are potentially harmful to human health. Building on this, several providers are now stepping up their efforts to transition to sustainable materials and processes. It's all about "healthy homes" – to use the buzzword that was doing the rounds of the stands at this year’s show. And while everyone agrees that healthy homes are a worthy goal, there is considerable variation in the routes taken to achieve it. For instance, Windmöller has a "Wineo Bioboden" line of organic resilient floor coverings that are based on a natural polyurethane made from sustainably grown castor and canola oil. The product is doing so well that Windmöller is now marketing its polyurethane under the brand name "Ecuran". Then there are parquet and cork flooring products, which have a natural advantage in the sustainability and naturalness stakes. Amorim, for example, has already notched up multiple "Blue Angel" eco-label certifications for the cork floor coverings it markets under its Wicanders brand.

Tradition, sustainability and individualization in hand-made carpets

Factors like tradition, sustainability and individualization were also very much in evidence in DOMOTEX’s hand-made-carpets section. Traditional aspects featured prominently at the Carpet Design Awards, where Lila Valadan took out the "Best Flatweave Design" award for "Vague Harmony" – a dark, heavy nomadic rug woven from goat hair. Similarly, Art Resources received the "Best Transitional Design" award for "Blue Star", a modern rug that reinterprets a traditional Islamic polygon motif using just two colors.

On the sustainability front, the Berlin-based Dutch designer Salem van der Swaagh received the "Best Studio Artist Design" award for "Golden Fade", a voluminous, long-pile carpet made using recycled materials. The carpet is proof that there is a place for upcycling and sustainability in the high-end, hand-knotted carpets segment. Indian carpet maker Obeetee also explored sustainability themes with "Biophilia", a collection of contemporary textured designs in jute, hemp, organic cotton and nettle. Hand-knotted rugs are also hard to beat when it comes to individuality. A prime example of this is "Mediterranean Capo Boi", a wall carpet custom crafted for a hotel by Sardinian carpet label Mariantonia Urru. The carpet is a sophisticated creation that complements the hotel architecture perfectly – an achievement that earned it top honors in the new "Best Interior" category at the Carpet Design Awards.