Laminate: Taking a page (or two) from wood’s playbook

April 27, 2017

Emerging design trends mirror those of competing category

April 10/17, 2017: Volume 31, Issue 22

By Reginald Tucker

 

It’s no secret that laminate flooring suppliers are focusing their product design and development efforts on more accurately mimicking natural materials, especially hardwood. (A cursory review of the various laminate designs and patterns introduced at Surfaces bears this out.) But what is newsworthy is the rapid pace of new product development in printing, surface texturing and plating technology as well as the techniques employed to achieve a much higher level of realism with each successive product iteration.

Here are some of the main cues laminate suppliers are taking from hardwood’s design playbook.

Going wider, longer
Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.29.57 AMOne of the main trends that has carried over from hardwood to laminate is the move toward wider widths and longer planks. With the advent of more open living spaces, designers are utilizing these emerging formats to convey the illusion of bigger rooms. Laminate suppliers are not only addressing these trends from an aesthetic standpoint, but the wider, longer boards also facilitate faster installation by covering more surface area.

Case in point is the new Veriluxe line from Quick-Step. The product, which is available in 8-inch-wide planks in lengths exceeding 80 inches, is designed for consumers looking to fill these larger central living spaces with bigger-format products, according to Roger Farabee, senior vice president, laminate and hardwood, Mohawk Flooring North America. “It’s a fashion-based line that is on pace with the latest trends in premium hardwood designs and home décor.”

Another wide-plank look reflecting a high-end, upscale looks is Shaw’s Pinnacle Port line from the Repel collection—a 5.43 x 48-inch long offering in five, on-trend colors. The line also features light handscraped texturing along with the company’s water-resistance technology.

“With Repel, the look of reclaimed hardwood in a range of wide-plank visuals and rich colors becomes an easy choice,” said Carr Newton, vice president, hardwood and laminate. “Today’s consumer demands functionality without sacrificing style or comfort and water-resistant flooring is a top concern of many active households. Repel has been specially designed to take laminate to the next level in water-resistance technology and is the hottest revelation to hit the laminate industry in a decade.”

Performance enhancements
In much the same way that advancements in chemistry and manufacturing processes have vastly bolstered hardwood’s performance, ongoing improvements Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.29.52 AMin the way laminate flooring is produced have allowed suppliers to boost product performance. This includes everything from improved scuff and scratch resistance to finish technologies that resist fading as well as special treatments to the coreboards to provide water resistance.

“The water-resistance story has added value to the laminate sector,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO of Inhaus. “Although this story is not new—the initial innovations that originally created the laminate sector have improved performance in regards to moisture and general everyday use. Enhancing these features has certainly created greater value for the category.”

To ensure the integrity of its laminate products from top to bottom, Inhaus utilizes several proprietary technologies, including liquid layer technology, which merges two traditionally separate steps involving the overlay, decorative and underlay papers in the laminate manufacturing process into a single production line. According to the company, this results in a more time- and energy-efficient production process.

Beyond the core structure of the product, laminate suppliers are also applying a high level of innovation to the face of the product—those layers that constitute the design paper and wear layer—to more accurately duplicate the look of genuine hardwood. It’s an area in which Mohawk is focusing much of its R&D efforts.

“Mohawk invests back into its facilities to support the laminate product category,” which is still really strong for us,” said Tammy Perez, director of hard surface brands. “We are continuing to innovate and invest in our plant to make these laminate products better.”

The fruits of those investments are readily evident in newly unveiled offerings that aim to convey realistic, stylish visuals. Among them: Painted Charm, a chestnut visual featuring a glazed, painted style; Reclaimed Spirit, a subtle, distressed look that recalls painted and washed floors; Wood Vision, which conveys the look of reclaimed barnwood; and Artistic Creation, which boasts high shade variation and saw-cut distressing.

“Mohawk’s laminate flooring collections capture hot, high-styled visuals inspired by the natural characteristics of hardwood,” Perez said. The visuals are so realistic that dealers who first saw the products installed at the company’s booth at Surfaces couldn’t make the distinction between the new laminates and real hardwood. “One of the new products—Wooded Escape—which features wire brushing, double staining and knots was on the floor at the booth; everyone who saw it thought it was a real hardwood floor.”

Suppliers that play in both the hardwood and laminate flooring categories believe they are uniquely positioned to leverage that design and manufacturing expertise. Case in point is Armstrong, which boasts one of the industry’s broadest selection of products across various hard surface platforms.

“Our premium laminate business is strong, driven by our cutting-edge designs, realistic looks and great performing products,” said Morgan Hafer, product manager-laminate. “Buyers love our laminate floors because they are able to get premium hardwood visuals that are not necessarily available as an option in natural woods due to the high cost or impracticality.”

Rustic, reclaimed all the rage
“Shape is clearly increasing as a trend—i.e., multiple widths and lengths, but other unique visuals are also driving the laminate category,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, wood and laminate, Mannington. High on the list are new looks that tap into the trend of natural, reclaimed woods in muted, less saturated colors.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.30.02 AMMannington is addressing this demand via the addition of three new flooring designs into its popular Restoration collection: Historic Oak, which has been expanded to include slate, a warm gray hue that also features realistic saw marks, nail holes and wood grain variation; Blacksmith Oak, an 8-inch-wide European white oak look that evokes images of gently time-worn flooring in French chateaus; and Seaview Pine, which aims to capture the aged look of rustic pine that has been weathered by sand, wind and sea.

Laminate suppliers are going to great lengths (pardon the pun) to get their hands on original materials that might serve as a source of inspiration for a design that could be used on mass scale. Such is the case at Kronospan, where Mark Bircham, head of design and product management, scours the globe in search of that rare find. As a case in point, he cited decades-old hickory beams uncovered in a dilapidated structure in rural Pennsylvania.

“Sometimes we can get our hands on real reclaimed material to use for inspiration in product development,” he said. “The hickory beams we found were aged but clean, so our carpenters were able to make planks from the material. Then they applied different effects such as chisel and chatter marks to get the look we wanted. We were then able to scan the planks into the computer and render several laminate designs.”

These high-tech touches—some of which are proprietary—allow manufacturers to tweak various elements to achieve the desired effect. “Our hickory product, which is selling well globally, features a multi-gloss level finish with a nice soft screen effect on it,” Bircham told FCNews. “The goal was not to make it ‘bling-bling’ shiny, but add just enough gloss and dimension to capture the different light effects on the floor as you move around. This multi-gloss look across the plank was designed to mimic the natural attributes of real wood.”

Climbing the walls
Laminate is not only tracing wood in terms of look, feel and performance. The category is also following hardwood “up the walls,” so to speak. Venerable hardwood brands such as DuChateau, Provenza and Johnson Hardwood, to name a few, are believed to have jump-started the trend; now it’s taking off in laminates.

Screen Shot 2017-04-27 at 11.30.09 AM“Wood paneling is back, but in a big, new way,” said Sara Babinski, design manager, hardwood and laminate, Armstrong. “We typically see these products being used as accent walls, installed horizontally, vertically or on the diagonal. The look is natural, with a beautiful accent of warmth, texture and color.”

Other prominent design professionals attest to the trend. Erinn Valencich, celebrity interior designer and pitch woman for Quick-Step laminates, has personally specified laminate flooring for wall applications on some of her projects. What initially gave her the idea, she said, was when she first utilized wood paneling to spruce up the generic, bland, builder-grade white paneling installed on an island-style kitchen countertop for a home she designed. “The look instantly changed the feel of the kitchen,” she recalled. “The homeowner loved it.”

Since then, she has looked to use flooring materials in unconventional ways. One of her favorite uses is an accent wall, which entails covering an entire side of one of the walls in a room with laminate flooring planks. “It’s smart, chic and surprising,” she explained. “From rustic to natural wood, I can pick the look that works best for my design plan.”

Reclaimed wood looks for the floor and wall is especially hot right now, Valencich said, based on the dramatic effect it provides. But she admits genuine reclaimed wood is not always practical or budget friendly. “I can get that same look by using Quick-Step laminate instead,” she said. “It comes in multiple widths and there are so many styles and color variations from which to choose.”

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