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Often, the floor in a room is considered a neutral or unifying element without much possibility of drama. But with the artistry of inlaying, either on an area rug or wall-to-wall carpeting, that notion can be discarded.

Nearly any design that can be put down on paper can be translated into a carpet pattern, according to dealers. Easiest and most common is putting in borders. That's been done to outline a room, set off a pool table or define a conversation area.

But in the hands of skilled craftsmen, the technique isn't limited to straight lines. One of the most dramatic examples, done by Richard Kubiak of Fiber Concepts, is a large floral pattern on a black background that stretches throughout a Buffalo condominium and looks more like Hollywood than Western New York.

As if the pattern weren't bold enough, there are hundreds of tiny fiber optic lights embedded in the carpeting. When a connecting wire is plugged into a projector, which can be tucked behind a piece of furniture, a "thousand points of light" sparkle throughout the carpeting.

Besides being sprinkled over the expanse of the carpet, the lights can also be used to outline an object such as a flower to give it more prominence. The lights can remain white or be made to change colors since they are controlled by the projector.

Explaining the popularity of the inlay technique, Sherri Kubiak, owner of Fiber Concepts, says: "It's like trying to outdo Mrs. Jones. People want something designed for them that nobody else has."

People are tired of plain, no-pattern carpeting, says Mike Gradolph, vice president of Buffalo Area Rug.

"They want to make a unique statement," he says.

Customers have done that by bringing in their family crests, a sample of upholstery or wallpaper, the carving on a piece of furniture or a room's architectural elements to be duplicated. Even a solid piece of carpeting can be made to look richer with carving or beveling, two techniques related to inlay.

One family duplicated the ducks on a birthday card from Grandma on an area rug for their child's bedroom. Pattern books suggest ideas or store personnel can sketch a design that works with the room. Suggestions include clouds in a sky, a city at dusk, the outline of the Chrysler Building, fans, a checkerboard, a breeze of ribbons and a design that looks like abstract paintings.

But these are only for starters. Area rugs can be done in different shapes, such as a shell, so that a conversational grouping of several pieces of furniture can sit perfectly on a rug to define its borders.

The inlay technique has been popular in Florida and throughout the South for several years and is starting to gain popularity here. Experts advise that the best quality carpeting should be chosen because the colors are richest and because it is an expensive process.

Combining different types of carpeting such as nubby plush, Berber, looped surfaces and unusual combinations of pile can be practical as well as pretty, Sherri Kubiak points out.

At her store, for example, commercial carpeting is used next to the door to collect the water, mud and snow that customers track in. Joined to that in an undulating pattern is a finer, plusher grade of carpeting to add richness to the showroom. The same principle is used in residences, she says, with customers using tougher carpeting in a foyer and switching to a more luxurious type for adjoining rooms.