Showcasing Regional Perspectives: Custom Carpet at Tampa International Airport

Jessica Smith, NCIDQ

Jessica Smith, NCIDQ

While much of air travel seems to be back to business as usual, new passenger demographics and destinations provide an unusual challenge to the way we help passengers get on the move. This is the third post in a series where we’re exploring how design strategies are changing the way we deliver and design projects in the post-pandemic world. Read the first and second post in the series.


Grounding the ticket counters at Tampa International Airport (TPA) is a new custom carpet, designed specifically to represent the region and all that the community has come to love about the area and the airport itself. Carpet, like so many other specialized interior design elements, is a prime opportunity to capture a passenger’s attention and create the desired ambiance in the terminal from the moment they step off the plane. Our goal is to make an emotional connection with passengers and remind them why they want to come back!

But custom carpet at airports isn’t a new phenomenon. In fact, its frequently used in terminals across the country. So, why do airports spend so much time and effort watching what they place at your feet?

The answer is simpler than you might think: the airport is everyone’s home.

In the case of TPA, the terminal has been viewed for decades as “Tampa’s Living Room,” presenting guests with a quiet and calm sense of place as one of the guiding principles for interior design at the airport. Carpet is the first view a passenger gets of the region and indicates they have arrived. It’s a sign of the community they just entered, and the adventure they are about to take. Custom carpet is just one way to make that journey memorable, but it’s an important one.

Designed to reflect the Tampa Bay region, Tampa International Airport worked closely with our designers to develop a carpet that encompasses hints of the landscape and natural environment surrounding the airport.  The carpet design is not only a nod to the beautiful beaches and waterways but aims to engage existing interior finish themes within the terminal of driftwood, sand, and the boardwalk. Capturing a truly regional perspective, we translated these concepts into a sleek and modern design aesthetic.


The Process for Getting to ‘Truly Custom’:

Our interior design team began by re-visiting what the airport identifies as “quintessential Tampa”— a fresh, calm design which reflects the outdoors – and understand the airport’s desire for a carpet with a darker base color, large scale patterns, and a non-directional aesthetic. Understanding what was important to TPA and how the airport wanted to be recognized externally, we proposed several themes which highlighted the surrounding landscape and natural environment, and eventually landed on a theme that focuses on the iconic local waterways of the Tampa Bay region.

From there, we generated renderings for a number of organic and geometric design options—nearly 100 in total. The airport was looking for a sophisticated interpretation and embodiment of the iconic local waterways theme; using our suite of software tools, we developed a stylized design, working stitch by stitch through the carpet. This process included identifying the color palette of fibers, with recognizable shades of blues and greens, mimicking the waterways passengers see from their plane as they approach TPA. We also utilized organic patterning inspired by the landscape of the coastline to form the non-directional look the airport was seeking for maintenance purposes.

It’s important to note that since the custom carpet is a unique design, we cannot simply place an order for a sample and expect a quick delivery turnaround. So, once the digital exploration was complete, the team moved on to full-size paper mockups. These samples were printed in color and measured 10 feet long by 6 feet wide—to give a true representation of the look and feel of the final product.

We were able to place the full-size paper mock-ups within the space, and through a collaborative review process with key stakeholders we were able to evaluate each proposed design option on site. Here, we were able to compare the color palette against the surrounding ticket counters and lobby and the client selected from the paper mock-ups for production of physical carpet samples.

Custom samples were ordered and manufactured. With physical samples in hand, we headed back to the airport, rolled the carpet samples out side-by-side, and once again collaborated with stakeholders for the final decision-making process. Before moving into production, the airport’s stakeholder group ran through a final evaluation:

  • How did this carpet work with the circulation and flow of passengers?
  • Did the placement align with the goals of the lighting and surrounding elements withing the space?
  • Any final thoughts on future patch or repair needs and seaming to aid installation?

These steps were equally important to the process to make certain that all aspects of the design and placement had been considered. Finally, after more than a year, countless unique designs and visits to the airport, we had arrived!  The final concept was sent the carpet to the mill to be manufactured. From there, it made its way to TPA for the final install and big reveal.

Enhancing the Passenger Experience:

Above all, TPA wants arriving passengers to know what makes Tampa so special, and the many reasons to return. The airport showcases the Tampa Bay region as a sought-after travel destination with a rich history and culture, and a strong connection to the outdoors and nature. The new sophisticated custom carpet design reinforces that message.