Never a haphazard proposition, specifying flooring materials in a shopping center or store requires careful analysis and thoughtful deliberation. There is always a reason for using a particular type of material over another, depending on individual situations.

Following are six case studies that show how flooring materials can direct customers through a store, contribute to the theme of a center or simply brighten up a place. Whether for construction or renovation, each flooring decision demands a thorough examination.

Flooring guides customers FAO Schwarz on Fifth Avenue in New York wanted to create a boutique-type area surrounding its Marvel Comics display, with flooring options of prime considerati on.

The boutique itself features a wall of 25 video screens, a life-size Spiderman and other Marvel memorabilia, says Mary Docker, CEO of Amtico International Inc., an Atlanta-based luxury vinyl tile (LVT) manufacturer specializing in custom-designed floors. Silver Beaten Metallic flooring, Meteor DMP38, has the appearance of beaten metal and offers a modern but unintrusive background to the area's bright, oversized graphics. Special accent colors spelling out the words "thwip," "aargh" and "snikt" on the floor also are featured, she says. Customers walk over one of the graphics, triggering a sensor in the ceiling, and the sound of the word is heard.

The interactive floor is just one of the elements in the toy store's installation. "Because the Marvel Shop is located on the second floor and set back from the escalator, we needed a device that would lead customers to it," says Dik Glass, senior vice president of store development for FAO Schwarz. "We decided on a 'yellow brick road' concept leading people to the proverbial Oz, or in our case, the Marvel Shop."

In addition to the "road" designed with the store's signature hobby horse and the interactive floor in the boutique area, the floor at the top of the escalator sports an Amtico World Motif - a large globe design created in primary colors and jewel tones.

"Aesthetically, the flooring designed by Amtico is impressive," Glass says. "But even better, we were able to introduce our specified design elements into the floor successfully." The Amtico floor allows for a level of variety not possible with standard flooring materials, he says. "With this type of vinyl floor, we can custom-design anything for the floor that we can create on a computer screen."

FAO Schwarz has used Amtico's products in its other two flagship stores, in Las Vegas and Orlando. "People expect a lot from our stores," Glass says. "We have to be on the cutting edge."

Geologic stone brightens food court Renovation projects often require special flooring attention. At Mill Creek Mall in Secaucus, N.J., owners Hartz Mountain Industries, Secaucus, N.J., wanted to appeal to lunchtime crowds created by the recent growth of office personnel in the surrounding area. Working with staff architect John Prince, the company revamped the 10,000 sq. ft. food court, concentrating primarily on flooring.

"The original color of the food court was burgundy and beige, making the area quite dark and uninviting," Prince says, adding that the flooring was a dark beige color. Lighter flooring colors were selected to make the area, renamed The Eatery, a more pleasant environment.

To accomplish the goal, Prince turned to GranitiFiandre, a manufacturer of porcelain-fired surface materials. The company, based in the Italian province of Reggio Emilia, primarily uses Itasca, Ill.-based Trans Ceramica Ltd. to distribute its products in the United States.

GranitiFiandre's geologic stone surface materials, under the category Geologica, were specified in the food court renovation project. Specifically, Graniti in Adamello ties the renovation to the original burgundy; GranCorindo in Paraiso, with its vibrant specs, provides a more updated appearance; and cream-colored Onici Naturali serves as an accent product with its textured look.

Prince describes the renovated food court now as fun, playful and colorful. "It's a couple shades lighter and a little less serious," he says. "For the price, it's comparable with ceramic tile but much more durable."

Variety also was key to the architect's selection of GranitiFiandre. The company offered patterns and colors that couldn't be found elsewhere, Prince says, adding, "The range of colors was the best we had seen."

Geologica, a new product category offered by GranitiFiandre, is created by melding natural stone ingredients and rare mineral ores. The result is a 100% natural, homogenous material that emulates rare and exotic stone.

Concrete topping creates desired look The MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas was searching for a flooring product for its Studio Walk shopping area. Chosen for the project was Ardex Inc., a Coraopolis, Pa.-based engineered cement company. "The MGM Grand was the consummate model for introducing the Ardex SD-T self-drying, self-leveling concrete topping," says David Fabyonic, national accounts representative for Ardex.

Terry Dougal, owner of Pasadena, Calif.-based Dougal Design Associates, which designed Studio Walk, was limited in flooring choices in this application. "Studio Walk is on the second floor, yet we wanted to create an atmosphere reminiscent of Hollywood Boulevard," he says. A great deal of time was spent deciding on how to emulate an asphalt street. In the end, a monolithic pore material provided by Ardex was specified.

"It looks very Hollywood - the look we were trying to achieve," Dougal continues. "Other flooring options destroyed the ambience we were trying to create." Graphics were painted in a cubist, Picasso-like design on the surface of the non-porous material, then a sealant was applied.

According to Fabyonic, the designers and engineers were looking for durability and easy maintenance; fast-track installation with minimal demolition of the existing substrate; and the ability to meet existing elevations at individual shop entrances.

The Ardex application pleased the owners and design team, says Mark Balogh, president of ArCon, a Las Vegas-based specialty flooring contractor responsible for installation. "As a design contractor, we have to find the best fit for each application," he says. "Ardex met the owner's criteria."

The Portland cement-based, non-gypsum product, when mixed with water, becomes a pourable mixture that seeks its own level, Fabyonic says. In hours, it provides a high-strength surface and has enough resiliency to accept heavy foot traffic as well as rubber wheel forklift traffic.

"Ardex SD-T also is very durable and offers freedom of design," Fabyonic says. "It can be used straight out of the bag (mixed with water) to provide a natural gray finished floor in a retail warehouse. Installers can combine pigments, hardwoods, colored metal strips and other design elements to create one-of-a-kind flooring for any retail store, restaurant or similar project."

Rubber flooring ties into design Designers of the Nascar Thunder retail store at Atlanta's Gwinnett Place Mall knew that creating a successful retail concept meant considering all aspects of the store design. For this project, architect and conceptual designer JGA Inc., Southfield, Mich., specified Ever-Roll, Dodge-Regupol's recycled rubber flooring.

"It was chosen becaused recycled rubber has everything to do with the concept we were trying to achieve," says Tony Camilletti, vice president of JGA. "It was very intrinsic to the design."

Distributed by Lancaster, Pa.-based Gerbert Ltd., the flooring has grotto gray flecks and resembles an asphalt speedway, further contributing to the image of the racetrack-themed store. "The environmental story behind Ever-Roll, made from 100% recycled tire rubber, also ties nicely into the store concept," says Andrew Dodge, president of Gerbert.

The feel of rubber underneath customers' feet enhances the image and is comfortable, too. "It captures the dynamic essence of experiencing the racetrack," Camilletti says.

Ever-Roll has been installed in at least 20 Nascar Thunder retail stores across North America. It has been used similarly for design and imaging in such national stores as Sears Automotive, City Sports and Silicon Speedway Video Arcades, Dodge says.

Stone natural for upscale installation Five-story Eaton Center in Montreal was completely renovated several years ago. "We were starting over from scratch," says Norman Stein, tenant coordinator for Eaton Center. "We terminated all tenants and rebuilt the structure from the ground up. It was the perfect opportunity to choose a new flooring that would work best for the center."

The architectural team opted for true granite tile because of its aesthetics and durability. Montreal-based Ancor Granite Tile Inc., was chosen for the installation.

"What is generally accepted now as the best choice in shopping center flooring is low-maintenance tile," says Maurizio Favretto, president of Ancor. "And granite floor tile looks good forever while being simple to maintain."

Ancor's granite flooring is most frequently used in more urban, upscale locations, Favretto says. "There's an appeal to natural stone that simply cannot be matched by lookalikes or conglomerates," he says. Shopping centers like Eaton Center, Cam-bridgeside Galleria in Cambridge, Mass., and Sparks Street Mall in Ottowa, Ontario, have installed Ancor flooring with positive results, he says.

"For high-traffic areas, we recommend the use of a honed, finished tile that doesn't show wear and traffic patterns as polished granite does," Favretto says. "Then, where greater texture is required, for design considerations or increased slip-resistence, thermal or sandblasted tiles are a natural choice because of their rougher, textured surface."

Ancor's granite tiles are fully calibrated to tolerances of better than .5mm, so they may be installed thin-set as ceramic tiles on interiorr surfaces or in accordance with guidelines supplied by tile councils and marble institutes, Favretto says. Many years ago, natural stone tiles weren't calibrated for evenness. Now, granite tiles can be gauged and calibrated to meet exact specifications, and a thinner mortar bed can be used, thus allowing for a thin-set application, he explains.

Achieving design, color with concrete For mall owners and retailers unable to decide whether to lay carpet, tile or stone over their concrete slab floors, there is an alternative. "Dressing up the bare slab can create an attractive yet durable floor," says Sandra Zaldana, marketing director at Escondido, Calif.-based Progressive Concrete. Arte Povera, the company's coloration system, has a wide variety of design applications.

At Grapevine Mills in Grapevine, Texas, concrete flooring was used at the entrance areas and courtyards within the mall to break up the continuity of carpeted and wood floors, says general manager Gene Condon. "Concrete gave us the ability to achieve designs not available with other flooring materials," he says, adding, "We were able to use a lot of color in our concrete flooring."

The main entrance to the mall includes a 10,000 sq. ft. map of Texas that begins 60 feet above the ground on the vertical face of the building and continues into the pedestrian plaza area. Simulated bronze metal plaques naming cities, regions and counties were created at a fraction of the cost of actual bronze plaques, adds Frank Klemaske, vice president of project development for Progressive Concrete.

Grapevine Mills, which is divided into different zones and is merchandised specifically for each zone, sports numerous concrete patterns that identify those areas. Football designs, for example, were incorporated into the flooring in the sports area. "These accents wouldn't have been available in other flooring materials," Condon says.

The Arte Povera MWS topping used at Grapevine Mills is a combination of a liquid polymer and a colored powder mixture. It can be applied with a squeegee troweled onto a surface at a thickness of approximately 20 mils, which is less than the thickness of a credit card.

The two-part, cementitious material bonds to virtually any stable substrate, including concrete, asphalt, wood, metal and plastic. A wide range of colors can be applied to create uniformity or blended to create variegation in the finish.

No wax, a high-performance floor system from Cleveland-based Master Builders Inc., provides a decorative appearance while meeting ADA surface safety coefficient values and offers cost savings over the life of the floor. It can be cleaned with a non-caustic, biodegradable cleaner. Standard and custom colors are available as well as light-reflective, energy-saving versions.