EverStrand polyester fiber carpets are made from recycled… (Handout Photo, Baltimore…)
In my dreams, the hardwood floor in my living room is partially covered with a warm, off-white, subtly patterned area rug.
But in reality, the thought that salsa, barbecue sauce, a beagle with muddy paws and all manner of dirt might somehow appear on that floor makes my dream quickly turn into a nightmare.
The good news, I've learned, is that there are plenty of great-looking, kid-proof, pet-friendly, slob-resistant rugs and carpets available today. New fiber technologies and the time-tested qualities of wool mean you don't have to sacrifice your lifestyle for style.
And although the popularity of wall-to-wall carpeting seems to have taken a back seat to longer-lasting, more durable wood, stone and tile, there's no arguing that carpeted surfaces absorb noise and also add luxury, sophistication and, well, softness to a space.
To combine the benefits of hard and soft surfaces, interior designers often spec a wood floor like mahogany or cherry for the main surface and then have carpet cut and bound to create area rugs customized to fit each room.
I could have gotten this information from my wife, who sells commercial carpet, but I don't like mixing business and pleasure.
So to learn what styles and colors of carpet are popular, I talked to Jim Farrell, president and owner of Mercer Carpet One, which has locations in Westminster and Ellicott City.
"Half of my clients are going for classic cut pile in a solid color, almost as a background to show off furniture and art," Farrell said. "The other half are buying patterned carpet to complement or work with the furnishings."
And while beiges remain popular for carpet, Farrell also notes a shift toward a broader natural spectrum.
"People are staying away from really bright colors," says Farrell, "but blue sells … more of a muted sky- or water-blue. And greens are popular, too, in subtle, more natural tones."
Equally as important as color and style are factors like durability, resiliency and stain-resistance.
For thousands of years, and even today, wool has been the go-to fiber for high performance and beauty. But in part because wool relies on the likes of sheep, shepherds and overseas transport, "the better-quality wool can be 50 percent more expensive than man-made fibers," says Nick Jarosinski of Greenspring Carpet Source in Timonium. "Still, our opinion is that wool is the best, cleans the best and lasts the longest."
Why? Because what we now call wool was growing on animals as far back as 2.5 million years ago, and over the years, a complex natural fiber has evolved to be naturally stain-resistant, easy to clean and extremely resilient.
Modern stockbreeding practices further enhanced these qualities, and today the best wool comes from New Zealand. "The fiber itself of New Zealand wool is longer, more resilient and has less defects," says Farrell.
Of course, man-made fibers are cheaper because production isn't limited by such pesky constraints as herd size, rates of reproduction and the time it takes for wool to grow back after shearing.
Fortunately, years of technological advancement have resulted in synthetics that aren't just less expensive, but can compete with the softness and other natural benefits of wool.
Better yet, with new materials and manufacturing technology, synthetic fibers are greener than ever before.
Bob Wolf with Bode Flooring, which has stores in Columbia, Ellicott City, Annapolis and Pikesville, says the best synthetic-fiber carpets for easy care and long-term durability (not to mention eco-friendliness) include Stainmaster-treated nylons; SmartStrand carpet from Mohawk (manufactured from a Du Pont fiber made of 34 percent corn sugar); Mohawk's Weardated line of carpets and EverStrand polyester fiber carpets (made from recycled plastic bottles); and Beaulieu Carpet's nylon with Magic Fresh stain protection (which boasts improved indoor air quality).
Farrell adds to the list of high-performance synthetics Shaw's Anso nylon fiber. Designed to be recycled and certified with 25 percent post-consumer carpet content, Anso nylon carpet is highly resilient (bounces back), soil- and abrasion-resistant (shows less wear).
The two most revolutionary fiber technologies, according to Farrell, are Mohawk's SmartStrand and Shaw's Anso nylon.
"Anso is one of the highest-quality nylons available, and Shaw essentially took the top third of Anso fibers from a quality perspective and improved it as much as 40-100 percent," Farrell says.
Like New Zealand wool, the Anso fibers are nearly flawless, resulting in a very soft, very easy to clean material with a 20-year texture retention warranty and a limited lifetime stain warranty.