As part of our How To Specify series, we’re taking a look at how flooring and wall solutions manufacturer Altro continues to innovate its products to improve the well-being of those who use them.
*Thanks to our sponsor Altro for the creation of this podcast.
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Adrian Thompson: Welcome to I Hear Design, an interiors+sources podcast series. My name is Adrian Thompson, the host for today’s episode as well as associate editor for interiors+sources.
So, for those of you listening who also receive our magazine, you might have noticed a new series we’ve recently started called How to Specify. It’s where we take a look at different aspects of the environment, and how to specify the right products within the space.
One of the key areas we’re looking at for the month of March is flooring, which is not only critical to the aesthetic of an interior, but its overall functionality as well. We all know that specifying the right floor for a project can be difficult sometimes, especially considering there are so many products on the market today and that flooring has really changed over the years, especially with the help of new technology.
One company that has continued to be reliable in the flooring industry for decades is Altro. The flooring and wall solutions manufacturer continues to meet the needs of interiors, from restaurants to operating rooms. And, they actually just celebrated their 100th anniversary just last year.
For today’s podcast, recorded in partnership with Altro, I’m really excited to be joined by Susan Drew, who’s the company’s market segment manager for senior living and residential care. Susan, thank you so much for joining me for today’s episode.
Susan Drew: Thank you, Adrian. I’m really glad to be here.
Adrian: Wonderful. We’re excited to have you. Just to start off our conversation today, let’s give our listeners a little bit of background info on Altro. You guys have quite the history of looking at integrated floor and wall solutions for difficult spaces. I know the company really takes a human-centered approach when it comes to design.
Can you just explain how your products put people first, as well as some of the properties and characteristics we can find within the…that are really just human-centered?
Susan: Absolutely. I’ll do my best, anyway. Altro is third-generation, family owned. As you mentioned, we just celebrated our 100-year anniversary. We were founded in the UK in 1919. And, we’ve really been at the forefront of innovation for really the past 100 years, but in flooring for over 60.
We’re actually best known as the inventor of the Safety Floor, which we invented in 1947. We actually get our name from one of the aggregates that we put into the floor itself to not only create slip resistance, but also to fortify the material. It’s called aluminum trioxide, Altro aluminum trioxide.
So, that product was invented to create safety and hygiene in food service-type spaces. We really were looking at protecting not only the staff from slips and falls, but we also wanted to protect customers from any type of bacteria or any type of issues in the food itself.
Then in the early 80s, we introduced Altro Whiterock, which is our wall cladding system, making Altro the only resilient manufacturer to have integrated floors and wall cladding solutions. So, it’s quite a history that we’re very proud of.
At Altro, we’ve really evolved and in the past 60 years—our focus has expanded beyond safety and hygiene, which has been the backbone to our business. It’s still important. Of course, safety and hygiene are hugely important, but we also are thinking about things like acoustics and warm aesthetics and comfort underfoot, durability, cleanability and sustainability. All these things have to come into the package.
Adrian: And, it just shows your guys’ history as a company too, that you take all these things into consideration versus like you said, specifically focusing on maybe just slip and falls, just acoustics. So, having this 100-year background, you can take all these things into consideration with your experience.
Susan: Exactly. And being a family-owned business, we really have a strong sense of what we value. We’re inspired a lot by the Bauhaus. One of our factories is actually in Dessau and connected to the Bauhaus. That whole balance of quality, form and design led function that puts people and their needs at the heart of what we do.
Actually, if you look at one of our core values, it’s value our customers and valuing each other, which naturally leads us to look beyond the product itself up to the underlying human need. And, I think that’s actually why the team at Altro is seen as problem solvers. We like to try fit-for-purpose solutions, and we see ourselves that way as well. We always say we like to help people live their best lives.
The best part is when you have a resident come out when you’re touring the home afterwards, and they come out and tell you how much they love their floor and how warm and secure it is, or a staff member comes out when you’re going to the kitchen and says, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so nice. My lower back doesn’t hurt anymore since we installed this floor.’ Hearing those things, you really realize you’re impacting people’s lives. It’s not just putting a floor into a building.
Adrian: I’m sure you see this day-in and day-out, especially in your segment of senior living and residential care. Which just leads me into my next question for you, Susan. I really just want to talk about a real-life application that kind of shows how Altro’s flooring products provide more than good aesthetics, like you said, with value, comfort, care for people, especially people who, like elderly people, they’re in more of a fragile state, they might need a little more attention, and this floor can provide all that for them.
I know you guys recently completed an interesting project at The Village, which is a new senior living care facility in Langley, British Columbia, Canada. Can you just describe the large use of resilient flooring that you guys used within this large space and the positive properties that provides for the residents there?
Susan: Absolutely. This is actually one of my favorite projects, and I know that it’s going to be presented by NSDA, the architects at Environments for Aging in Kentucky in April. So, I will be excited to attend that event. The Village is the first dementia village in Canada, and it was inspired by the dementia village in Holland that we’ve heard a lot about.
It’s actually on the site of an old elementary school, Bradshaw Elementary, that closed in 2007. And it’s a five-acre campus with a secured perimeter. There’s six cottages, or bungalows, on this space that house each about 10 to 14 residents.
Photo: The Village, Langley, Altro Wood; Credit: Altro
Each cottage is like it’s a home. So, you walk in the front door into the kitchen and living room space. And then there’s just 10 bedrooms around this kitchen and living room. So, it feels just like a home that you and I would walk into our own home. There’s no locked doors. They are unlocked by the wristbands of the residents. That really creates the opportunity for the residents to go and explore, and it gives them a sense of freedom but also provides them with more care that the complex dementia residents really need.
So, when this was being developed, NSDA Architects collaborated with the project managers of The Village and Canbrit Development and ourselves to ensure that we were recommending fit-for-purpose solutions for flooring into this environment. So, we needed to really take into consideration some of the unique physical and perceptual challenges that are faced by the dementia residents. It is a unique environment, but we still wanted it to feel warm and home-like. We wanted it to feel like a home that you and I would walk into.
Adrian: Right. I was just going to say that taking those things into consideration, you have to design for memory care for these people. What kind of products did you guys use to help with this space, and that just went along with the care that it was trying to provide as well?
Susan: Well, working with the architects, they selected Altro Operetta and Altro Wood for the living, dining room, common spaces as well as the residence rooms because they really liked the warm aesthetic of the wood look. Slip resistance was important. There’s some challenges. I always say that the product is thickened juice-proof. So, thickened juice is something that you often see in these environments because people have trouble swallowing. And so, they have to thicken their juice and that becomes a little bit like WD40 on the floor. It doesn’t create slips and falls.
We also have hygienic considerations we have to think about, and most importantly, the non-glare matte surfaces, because we don’t want anything to glare and to interfere with the perception of the memory care residents.
They also selected Altro Aquarius for all of their in-suite, three-piece baths, all of their spot areas, any of their wet environments, because it provides both shoed and barefoot safety. So, it keeps the care providers safe if they’re doing any type of assistance or lift. They won’t slip and fall with shoes on, but also the residents can walk barefoot—even a diabetic resident can walk barefoot on this floor, and it won’t hurt their feet. So, it’s a great solution for them.
Photo: The Village, Langley, Altro Wood, Altro Aquarius; Credit: Altro
And then into the more traditional environments, they chose Altro Stronghold 30 for their kitchen. Not only does it provide that traditional safety and hygiene that is our history, but also it provides anti-fatigue properties for the staff that is working in there and standing on their feet all day.
Adrian: I think that Altro Aquarius is so interesting because most people when you think of flooring, especially in commercial spaces, we think of shoes on, not shoes off. Unless it’s residential, of course, where you are a little more comfortable, but that’s incredible that it’s just safe enough for barefoot applications as well.
Susan: Actually, there’s very few spaces that you see that are only barefoot or only shoed traffic. You see mixed use a lot, even in spaces outside of senior living, such as recreation, around pools and in locker rooms. It’s amazing. Until you get involved in that, you don’t realize how often it happens.
[More from our How to Specify series]
Adrian: So, looking ahead, Susan, I know Altro has an exciting new product line in the works. It really is using this adhesive-free sheet flooring technology. What makes this product stand out from the rest? And, what types of environments would designers possibly specify it in, in the future?
Susan: Actually, Adrian, it’s not a new technology. It was introduced in 2009. Altro actually spent five years developing and testing the product because they really wanted to make sure that the product could deliver the quality and reliability associated with Altro. It was introduced in Europe, and we’ve had it for years and a slip-resistant version.
It was actually used in the 2012 London Olympics for a number of venues, but the best story is that it was in the world’s largest restaurant. It was put down as a temporary space, the slip-resistant version, and then afterwards, it was taken up and then donated to schools and to senior living communities. So, I love that story.
It’s actually a sheet flooring that goes down with tape, but it can be heat-welded, so it actually creates a monolithic floor. So, you have all those hygienic and safety aspects to it. It was originally launched in our slip-resistant version to solve the problem with moisture in a slab. We see that a lot across North America and this can actually be installed up to 97% relative humidity without it popping, which is one of the things with sheet flooring and wet slabs—they can be a problem.
But even beyond that, now what we’re seeing is architects and designers and even building owners using it for other reasons, such as encapsulating asbestos tile or other flooring. So, they don’t have to do the destruction, which is so difficult, creates a lot of dust and disturbance.
And then also, they may have a population that has an aversion to adhesives, so this can be in senior living, but also in healthcare—we see that a lot. So, there’s no adhesives. You don’t have to worry about that.
The other piece is when you need to be in and out quickly. Because there’s no adhesive, there’s no setup time. You can literally go in, put the floor down, heat-weld, and you’re done. Which is amazing. So, when you think about spaces like residence rooms, even residence bathrooms, because you can go right into—we can cove it, just like a normal resilient floor. It can go into corridors without even shutting the corridor down, which is amazing. There’s no downtime.
Adrian: So, it’s really good for people who want to keep things flowing within a space and don’t want too much disruption during perhaps a renovation or a new build.
Susan: Exactly. So, it’s much better for anybody, whether it’s a senior living resident or healthcare patient or a student. Whether you’re in education, healthcare, no matter what area you’re in, you’re not going to disturb the people there in those spaces. You can keep schools open; you can keep corridors open and residents happy. They don’t have to be out of their rooms for weeks on end. It really has endless possibilities.
Photo: The Village at Langley, Altro installation; Credit: Altro
And what’s new now over this technology that we’ve had over 10 years, is that we’re introducing a new smooth product that not only has acoustic properties, but also has that adhesive-free sheet. And it will come out with a number of visual patterns, including a wood look, which is hugely exciting for the senior living market.
Adrian: Yeah, and I know that just kind of circles back to what we talked about earlier in our discussion, just taking in those different properties and characteristics into consideration for flooring within the space. We don’t only want it to look good, we want it to do good as well. And that’s great with the acoustics, of course, slip-resistance—all these different things are being taken into consideration with this new product. And, I also think it’s great you guys are doing wood. That’s been a super popular look last year, it’s definitely going to be popular this year. I’m sure it’ll just continue to fit in with that natural trend people are liking which also I think just provides a sense of comfort, which really goes well with those senior living environments.
Susan: Exactly. And also, on top of all of that, because you’re not using adhesives, you not only can reuse the product—so you can take it up and put it down and take it up and put it down—that when it’s end of your life with that product, it’s completely recyclable.
Adrian: Well, Susan, we’re excited to see this product in the future. I believe you guys are having it on display at Environments for Aging coming up?
Susan: We are. We’ll be at Environments for Aging in Kentucky in end of April. I think it’s April 25-28, and I will be there in person.
Adrian: Well, that’s exciting. For anyone listening who is attending the show, of course, you can stop by and see Susan and see these products on display.
Susan, thank you so much for joining us for today’s podcast. We look forward to seeing more that Altro has to offer throughout the year.
Susan: Thank you, Adrian. It really has been a pleasure.
Adrian: Absolutely. So, those listening, you can learn more about Altro and its many flooring and wall solutions at Altro.com. I also encourage you to continue to follow along with our How to Specify series, including our most recent installment that covers the falsehoods and truths when it comes to flooring and that gives expert advice by president and CEO of Resilient Floorcovering Institute Dean Thompson, found online at interiorsandsources.com, as well as in our March issue.
Otherwise, thank you for those who are listening. We hope you tune in again for another episode of I Hear Design.
About our guest:
Susan Drew is the market segment manager of Senior Living and Residential Care for Altro Americas.
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