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Going Underground

Shaw Contract Group looks below the surface to find inspiration for its Unearthed collection of carpeting

By Janet Wiens

Shaw Contract Group looks below the surface to find inspiration for its Unearthed collection of carpeting.

From rocks that hold the colors of the rainbow to minerals that catch and disperse the rays of the sun, the earth is filled with beauty that is all too often difficult to put into words. For the design team at Shaw Contract Group, the earth's beauty—especially those wonders that are found underground—served as the impetus for the company's Unearthed collection.

"We define design by appearance, performance and sustainability," says Paul Young, director of healthcare markets for Shaw Contract Group. "When we began discussing a new line for the healthcare market, those principles guided us as we sought to develop something unique and beautiful."

The design process began with some basic research into the prevailing healthcare design trends of the day; for that, Shaw's team turned to designers at four Perkins+Will offices across the country. Participants were asked about pattern, scale and contrast as it relates to healthcare flooring; their unique needs regarding coloration, carpet specification and construction; and general questions about the trends they are seeing and creating in the field.

The designers from Perkins+Will all agreed that clients are more interested in materials and products that create soothing and natural environments, but they also indicated a need for more abstract motifs that allude to the natural world, as opposed to more literal interpretations. The designers also reported a need for greater flexibility in creating varying scales within a space for delineation and wayfinding, and noted that the use of an 18- by 36-inch tile would open up opportunities for creating new patterns and scales.

With that feedback in hand, the design team at Shaw developed the foundation for what would become Unearthed. Young notes that the team started with more patterns, including some with larger scales and forms, and gradually winnowed the options down to the four that now form the collection.

The Design Process

Images of various minerals found in nature, shown at top, served as the impetus for Unearthed. Shaw’s designers gradually narrowed down the colors and patterns that would make up the collection, and ended up with four versatile patterns that can be mixed and matched to create any sort of space. At bottom, Agate, Quartz and Mica tiles are all used together.

"We drew numerous images from different minerals based on the healing properties that they have," says Young. "We were drawn to images of agate, jasper, quartz and mica because of their subtle patterning, and the ability to enhance the abstract and organic nature of these patterns to create a product that allows the user to create a visual expression of calmness and comfort on the floor."

Quartz has a striated texture and Agate an organic movement that mimics the ribbon-like textures found in a cross-section of agate stone. Jasper was inspired by the linear and horizontal striations found in banded jasper, while Mica has the largest scale of the group, mimicking its shards and rock layers to form a dimensional organic pattern. All of the tiles except Quartz incorporate a high-luster accent that takes its cue from metallic mineral tones.

Ashley Ginn, Shaw Contract Group's design manager in its healthcare and education studio, notes that the collection's 12 colorways reflect the earth's colors, including amber, cinnabar, gypsum, olivine and galena. "The patterns and colors enable our clients to mix and match to create defining spaces within a larger space, such as an atrium. The resulting designs create a visual calm while also hiding soil and wear."

Unearthed is also notable for its performance and sustainability attributes—a Shaw trademark, but also a nod to the collection's earthly origins. The tiles feature Shaw's EcoWorx® high-performance non-PVC backing, which has five times the tensile strength of traditional backings and a lifetime commercial warranty. As part of the company's environmental guarantee, Shaw will take back 500 yards or more of EcoWorx material at no cost to the customer and recycle the product into new backing—a service that contributes to EcoWorx's 44 percent recycled content.

Each pattern is Crade to Cradle Silver certified and constructed of Eco Solution Q fiber, which itself contains 45 percent recycled content. The line can also contribute points toward LEED for Healthcare credits, including those for recycled content, low-emitting materials and innovation in design.

"Through our research, we developed many different visuals based on the study of minerals and geologic formations, and the response to Unearthed has been very positive since it was introduced at the 2012 NeoCon Show," says Ginn. "The final patterns that were selected are the result of many client presentations and interactions, and we believe they offer a good balance of pattern scale, pattern flexibility and coordinating textures. In addition, the shimmering of the minerals reflected in the yarns that we used and the colorways provide great design opportunities for our clients."


For more information on Unearthed, visit

Janet Wiens is a freelance writer based in Memphis, Tenn. She was formerly a marketing manager for HNTB and now works with industry clients to address their marketing and public relations needs. She can be reached at