How can a retailer extend a store's design theme with great impact but without great expense? How can a store planner pad a store's cement floor? Patterned carpeting, say some in the industry, is an increasingly popular answer to those questions.

According to Patricia Durkan, president of Durkan Patterned Carpets of Dalton, Ga., the use of carpet as a retail flooring material provides numerous design possibilities. Her company creates custom designs based upon a retailer's own logo, product or theme; carpeting is available in a variety of grades and fibers.

"We have more than 3,000 designs in many different colors," says Durkan, whose father founded the firm. "We come out with three collections every two months, so we're always adding more." Durkan's clients include Imaginarium, FAO Schwarz, Michael Jordan Golf Co., Zany Brainy and Noodle Kidoodle, as well as United Artists, AMC and Sony Entertainment.

For Imaginarium, a science and nature store with strong appeal for children, Durkan Patterned Carpets created dinosaur footprints that appear to lead customers into and through the store. She says the same design used in the carpet can be carried over to tile and wallpaper to enhance a particular theme and image.

Patterned carpets make a particularly appropriate floor covering for stores that cater to children, Durkan notes. Birmingham, Ala.-based Parisian Inc. selected an especially bright and active Durkan carpet pattern for its children's department, replacing the plain carpeting the company had used for many years.

"As soon as the kids come in, they're having fun," says Durkan. She adds that carpet also provides sound insulation, another plus in children's stores but equally useful in any entertainment-type setting.

Jim Kappus, vice president of purchasing for Kansas City, Mo.-based AMC Entertainment (AMC) Inc., says AMC Theatres uses Durkan's 35-oz. nylon carpets almost exclusively for its movie theaters. He cites the range of designs and attention to the detailed architectural plans of each location as the primary factors in collaborating with Durkan on a carpeting scheme for its many locations.

"We develop a design concept and may use it in three or four theaters, so we're always looking for new patterns," he notes. "Durkan examines the architect's layout of the room, creates the carpet scheme based on that study and does the cuts to follow the layout exactly. The line of the pattern fits precisely with the line of the walls."

Durkan says the majority of her clients choose synthetic carpeting, but some upscale retailers prefer the more expensive 80-20 wool blends. Most retailers, she adds, choose the level loop carpeting because it wears longer and is easier to keep clean, but stores that frequently change their decor or that want to cut costs may go with cut pile.