Written by: Jan de Beer 

Woven vinyl flooring is now increasingly the solution for designers for high-traffic public areas where durability and ease of maintenance are as important as style and prestige. In Europe, the floors of several old buildings – including magnificent heritage structures – are now being covered with woven vinyl, mainly because the product is so exceptionally robust and versatile.  

But what exactly is woven vinyl flooring, and how did it develop? 

Basically, it is flooring that combines the warmth of textiles with the durability of vinyl. Its origin dates back nearly 70 years when it was accidentally “invented” nearly by an enterprising Swede, Nils-Erik Eklund, who started rescuing vinyl waste from a nearby factory’s waste bins to make woven rag rugs. From what now seems a commendable but irrelevant idea, great things came and eventually led to the establishment of the world’s first woven vinyl flooring production company: Bolon. 

In the 1960s, Nils-Erik’s son, Lars, and wife, Monica, took Bolon over and continued developing the concept of the rag rug and its derivatives. Now the third generation of the family, sisters Marie and Annica Eklund, lead the company and has taken it to far greater heights than their grandfather would ever have dreamt: the company now operates from a major factory in Ulricehamn, Sweden, and has become synonymous with woven vinyl flooring.  

KBAC Flooring is the sole South African distributors of Bolon locally. 

Woven vinyl flooring is now very much on eminent designers’ selection list the world over and other producers globally have copied the concept of a woven vinyl product backed with glass fibre-reinforced vinyl. 

With versatility topping the list, there are several other benefits of woven vinyl flooring to consider. 

The flooring – available in roll or tile format – combine the appearance of a soft carpet with the practical benefits of vinyl: durable and, as stated, it can be recycled to add to today’s all-important sustainability factor. It’s flooring that does not require harsh chemicals for maintenance which keeps damaging substances from flowing into water supplies. Woven vinyl does not absorb water or stain and requires only relatively basic cleaning. For offices and other commercial installations, it is perfect as chair castors easily roll over it and its strong impact-resistance means no chair mats are needed. Woven vinyl flooring generally easily copes with all wheeled traffic, such as loaded trolleys and wheel chairs. 

Like carpet, woven vinyl is sound deadening so that items dropped or the sound of heavy foot traffic on it will not carry. Furthermore, it is naturally anti-static and meets stringent standards for fire safety. 

No wonder the product has become the preferred choice for luxury hotels, exclusive shops (locally Woolworths chose KBAC Flooring’s Bolon for its upmarket footwear section at the Mall of Africa in Midrand) and for some centuries-old historic and heritage properties overseas.

Looking at recent installations in Europe, there is a particularly spectacular installation in The Netherlands. Here the renowned firm of architects, Van Hoogevest Architecten, chose woven vinyl flooring for the magnificent interiors of Lebuïnuskerk, a Dutch church built in the 15th Century which is now a popular multi-function facility also hosting trade exhibitions, conferences, and concerts.   The acclaimed architects – who were also involved with the high-profile restoration of Holland’s Rijksmuseum – specified Bolon woven vinyl flooring for the Gothic structure because “the look and feel” of the triangular flooring tiles mimicked the appearance of the church’s old medieval stone floors.  The new flooring is installed in the central part of the church which has chair seating during church services and where thousands of visitors walk through during festive events. So, the fact that the floors would be easy to clean was a vital consideration for the architects. 

Light falling on the different directions in which the collage of triangular tiles is employed creates an impression of flooring diversity although only one type of woven vinyl tile was utilised at Lebuïnuskerk.

Other European installations where woven vinyl flooring was recently installed include: 

The National Maritime Museum in London. Exhibition designer, Plaid, chose a playful combination of triangular woven vinyl tiles for the renovation of the museum’s large shop and education area. The interior is filled with graphic light boxes, signs and colourful furniture creating a welcoming space for the many young people who meet in this area.

The National Museum of Sculpture in Valladolid, Spain. Here the architects, El Taller de GC, selected a dark grey flooring to contrast with – and add drama to – the mostly white sculptures in the treasure house of Spanish sculpture.

* The Museum of London. The flooring adds glimmering darkness to the black room where the Olympic Cauldron by Thomas Heatherwick Studio, designed for the Olympic ceremonies in London 2012, is displayed. The flooring by Bolon continues out in the entrance hall and covers built-in benches for the visitors;

The British Library in London. For the esteemed home of global treasures such as Gutenberg’s Bible of 1455 and Leonardo da Vinci’s notebook, design studio Plaid employed a pattern of three colours of woven vinyl flooring to cover a large flooring area in the library’s latest renovation.

Library in Capitole University in Toulouse, France. The design studio, Agency Tryptyque, specified grey and striped woven vinyl flooring to provide a tranquil environment for studying in the renovated library.

These are just a few notable architectural structures in Europe and the UK that now showcase woven vinyl flooring. And it all started on that day in 1949 when Nils-Erik Eklund could no longer stand seeing textile material going to waste. He’d be glad to know there is now a dedicated Bolon recycling plant to reprocess all possible production scrap – even from other manufacturers.    

All photos, courtesy of Bolon. 

www.kbacflooring.co.za