People are fascinated by even the most mundane aspects of casino design. The slot machines, the air, even the chairs—all have come under scrutiny. But nothing, it seems, fascinates the public like what’s beneath their feet.
Carpets that adorn casinos look very different, but they are somehow easy to classify—a certain mixture of garish and gaudy that balances mirth with disorientation. This, perhaps, makes the public’s curiosity about them a little easier to understand.
Around 2005, I started posting pictures of casino carpets on my website. I quickly had five galleries of floor coverings from around the country and became, inexplicably, an “expert” on the subject, even though I’ve never bought a carpet for a casino, much less designed one. Eventually the people calling—first asking, then demanding—to buy casino carpet from me got to be too much, so I took down the photos. But I still get calls from reporters every now and then looking for a Grand Unification Theory of Casino Carpeting: Why do they look the way they do?
The floor covering that’s installed is to residential carpeting what the Bellagio Fountains are to a backyard Slip n’ Slide.
Terrien Hale has been designing casino carpets since 2002. A UNLV graduate with a bachelor’s degree in fine art, she had been working as a sculptor (she was on the team that added flourishes to The Venetian) when she was recruited by Ulster Carpets, an Ireland-based firm, after an art show at the UNLV Alumni Center. Now with Brintons, a global hospitality carpet purveyor, Hale’s work has appeared in casinos including The D, Red Rock Resort, Bellagio, Paris Las Vegas, The Mirage and Wynn.
So how is casino carpet created? Is there a team of psychologists mixing color and pattern to encourage more gambling? Not exactly, although the design process does not lack for expert opinion.
Usually “the casino hires a design firm that tells us what the client wants, and I interpret what they describe,” Hale says. The Bellagio, for example, started with a simple brief: “contemporary paisley.”
After that initial meeting, the designers select colors and experiment with patterns in a process that can take anywhere from a week to several months. Once the carpet designers, the interior design firm and the client agree on a pattern, they move onto hand trials, which demonstrate the finished product’s color palette and weave.
The floor covering that’s installed is to residential carpeting what the Bellagio Fountains are to a backyard Slip n’ Slide. Most casinos, according to Hale, use Axminster carpet 80/20 wool/nylon blend that’s woven into a jute backing in a U-shaped weave that extends its durability—a necessity on a surface that must bear up under thousands of footsteps a day.
“It wears well,” she says, “the colors last.” And it’s not cheap. If you’re tempted to buy some for your rec room, be prepared to shell out $35 to $42 dollars per square yard—pad not included.
Casino carpet is so distinctive, says Hale, because it’s “based on a bold commentary on the rest of the interior. It’s almost a stand-alone art piece that creates a mood for the overall casino experience.”
Above all, good casino carpets hide dirt, but there’s more than just durability. The colors need to be carefully selected to maintain their pop under the unforgiving tread of patrons. Three colors close together, for example, will “muddy up” after a while.
They also need to complement the rest of the interior. Hale describes meshing carpet with details in other flooring, woodwork and fabrics throughout the casino; one prime example is Wynn, where the butterfly motif is echoed in numerous places, including the ceiling. “If it’s done right,” she says, “it creates elegance.” Done wrong, it clashes with the interior and, at its worst, is poorly installed and rarely cleaned.
You may have seen a shift in carpets over the past decades. Partially, that’s because of technology: Red Rock’s carpet has 24 colors, where earlier looms could only incorporate 12 at most. Repeats—the sections of pattern—are also getting bigger; Hale mentioned the 10- to 14-foot mandalas in the Rio’s carpet as typical of current design possibilities.
But there have also been visionaries. In this case, as with much else in modern Las Vegas, Steve Wynn has an outside influence. Hale credits his Bellagio carpet with being the first to bring a bold, modern pop to the casino floor and praises his design team for thinking outside of the box.
This being Las Vegas, it didn’t take long for other casinos to emulate that pop. The result is a generation of casino carpets that do much more beyond concealing wear. They make a statement about the property and have become a point of pride for designers. “It didn’t used to be a priority,” Hale says, “but now firms are using carpet as a signature piece.”
Which might be the least surprising, most Vegas thing we’ve learned about casino design.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.