Interview with Armstrong designer Heike Rittler

Behind every new flooring collection, there are a lot of creative minds. During the development of Lino Art, Armstrong designer Heike Rittler was there from the beginning – from the initial inspiration and wild ideas, to the reaction from the architects, to the technical development and launch. We asked her what kind of work goes into a really groundbreaking collection.

Question: Lino Art introduced a completely new concept in linoleum design. In addition to color and pattern development, totally new materials were integrated. How did the idea come about?

Answer: We follow developments in architecture and interior design very closely, stay in close contact with architects, planners and designers, and look for inspiration at trade shows and exhibitions. The timeless beauty and the dignified aging of diverse raw materials and metals have fascinated us. On the other hand, we know linoleum in its materiality. Linoleum is a very authentic material, of course, but also a little stubborn. Every idea cannot be implemented, but it is fun to work with linoleum. You have to always keep the production process in mind in order to create new patterns and looks. That’s also how the idea to intersperse metal came about.

Question: And then a full-fledged design emerged from the idea to intersperse metal?

Answer: Yes, I was fascinated by the combination of classic, somewhat dull linoleum with shiny flakes, which give the material a shimmering elegance by reflecting light. In order to provide architects with free associations, we developed and added an accordion-fold booklet to the collection as a source of inspiration with all kinds of ‘rough to refined’ images and also including dignified aged industrial design combined with sculptures made of weathered steel.

Question: The approach sounds exciting. Was it difficult and how long did it take to put the product into production?

Answer: We came up with the first ideas in 2008, tested a wide range of interspersing configurations and introduced the first prototypes at BAU 2009. Based on the architects’ reactions, we determined the size, density and amount of the flakes. We could also get immediate color feedback from the architects. With the help of colleagues in the Delmenhorst shop, Marco Dowidat Eskes in particular, I produced the interspersions myself on the production machine. It was fascinating to see how the shimmering mass ran over the machines.

Question: Did everything work right from the start?

Answer: Finding the right interspersion density was not easy – neither was distributing it evenly. The next challenge was the wide array of quality testing the material had to undergo: durability tests, how the material reacts to moisture, how it stands up to wear and tear, are there color changes, etc. The final adjustments had to be made from the results of those tests.

Question: How many ideas do you develop? What challenges are there with respect to technical implementation or market resonance?

Answer: We really have a lot of ideas, always in intensive exchanges and in conversation with the architects. But linoleum is a very stubborn material, it has character – and that’s why I love it, but it must be understood. As a natural product, it matures very unevenly, just like a good wine or cheese, – that requires one thing most of all: patience.

Question: Does that mean that the material itself is also inspiring?

Answer: Yes, many ideas come to me when I’m making, kneading and working with dough, that’s also when I see firsthand how the material reacts. Many creative approaches are simply not technically feasible. A lot doesn’t make it passed our rigorous quality control. As we go through the development process, it is important that I never lose sight of how the product will be used because we don’t want to develop great flooring that can’t be used anywhere.

Question: With the last DLW linoleum collection, greater importance was placed on a coherent color system. How does Lino Art fit into this system?

Answer: We clearly developed Lino Art as an added architectural tool. The color palette now comprises 18 shades of blacks, grays and browns. We consciously expanded the real metal variants and bronze tones around Lino Art Star and Lino Art Linea to create a coherent color system. The individual hues were designed with Uni Walton and fiber-bonded flooring in mind and can be best combined with their colors.

Question: Armstrong put its new Lino Art collection on the market at the beginning of 2010. What were the first reactions, how has the collection been received in the meantime?

Answer: The collection was very positively received by our customers, architects and planners. There are a variety of associations with concrete, wood and patina. The ease of combining it with Uni Walton and fiber-bonded flooring is also a plus.

Question: Where did you originally see Lino Art being used and where has it been implemented to date?

Answer: We thought that it would primarily be used in public areas, in museums, office areas, showrooms, and retail areas. We were surprised that the collection was requested for a kindergarten and for nursing homes.

Question: One last Question-, does Armstrong have something new in the pipeline?

Answer: Of course, we have a lot of ideas and there is plenty in the pipeline. But I’m not going to divulge just what right now. Just this: Soon there will be an exciting DLW linoleum launch of DLW Linoleum Form.

Thank you very much for the enjoyable interview!

Box: Heike Rittler has been a designer at Armstrong DLW GmbH in Bietigheim since 2007. Collaborating closely with architects, external color designers and specialists at Armstrong, she develops new colors and ideas for DLW linoleum, fiber-bonded and vinyl homogenous flooring. Among other things, the textile design engineer had previously worked in Switzerland for 10 years as head designer at Calwer Tuche GmbH.