Unconventional uses for traditional materials
Jan 4/11; Volume 30/Number 14
By Nadia Ramlakhan
More and more consumers today are coming up with creative, out-of-the-box ways to install flooring products—some use hardwood for a kitchen island façade or to reface their cabinets, while others put carpet in the trunks of their trucks during hunting season. Dealers can capitalize on this opportunity to sell a little more and make a bigger profit, all while going the extra mile to give the customer exactly what she wants.
No longer just something to walk on, the business of selling flooring has become increasingly dependent on fashion—particularly when it comes to hardwood. Design trends go as quickly as they come with new styles, colors and surface textures creating endless opportunities for fresh looks. “Given hardwood flooring’s popularity with consumers, it is no surprise that they are finding nontraditional ways to incorporate it into their spaces,” said Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing for Mullican Flooring.
The most common alternative use for hardwood has been on walls in a horizontal fashion, although some end users have used it vertically as wainscoting. Recently, designers and homeowners are finding new ways to make hardwood the focal point of a room.
“Our favorite example of hardwood flooring being used as an alternative design element is something crafted by one of our own staff members,” Greenwell said. “Her master bedroom features a bed [frame] built with hardwood flooring from Mullican’s San Marco Collection.”
Mullican’s hardwood is no stranger to innovation; it was also used in HGTV’s 2012 Urban Oasis home in Miami. Designers chose Driftwood Oak from the Castillian Collection to extend from the headboard onto the ceiling in the master bedroom.
According to Greenwell, the Castillian Collection is one of the company’s most diverse collections available, which is why it is so attractive to designers and homeowners alike. The engineered products are available in 12 colors and 6- and 7-inch widths with hand-sculpted and wire-brushed surface treatments; the solid collection offers nine colors in 5-inch widths and includes smooth and wire-brushed options.
“Interior designers tell us the collection’s different surface treatments go well with the crisper, cleaner lines of today’s contemporary interiors,” he said. “To best serve the needs of their customers, dealers should be knowledgeable about the products [they carry] and have an understanding of how those products may be best used to achieve the appearance and functionality the customer desires for a particular project.”
Many flooring dealers who have had experiences with these types of unconventional home improvement projects agree there is an untapped market filled with opportunities. Mark Nassis, partner at Woodchuck Flooring in Toronto, pointed out that “flooring is only one surface. When you take into account that you also have four walls and a ceiling, you’re only looking at 1⁄6 of the business opportunity. In other words, if you’re in the market we’re in and you’re only looking at floors, you’re being narrow- minded about where you can put product. That’s the big thing a lot of companies miss out on.”
From accents on walls to smaller decorative pieces such as headboards, reclaimed wood looks are popular in non-traditional spaces where consumers aspire to create a specific kind of atmosphere. “Walls, ceilings, coffee tables—it’s everywhere,” Nassis said. “That distressed look is all the rage with designers right now.”
In fact, Erinn Valencich, interior designer of Erinn V. Design Group, her Los Angeles-based firm, has used flooring to create a unique ambience. “I used flooring on the face of an island to cover up the generic white paneling the builder had used,” she explained. “It gave the island a fresh, cool look and instantly changed the feeling of the kitchen and dining room. Flooring can also be used on a ceiling inset to give the room some character. I love to use walnut or oak on an inset ceiling or soffit in a bedroom, dining room or living room.”
Artistic Floors by Design in Denver has specialized in high-end custom wood flooring for the last 23 years. To branch out, the store started a custom wood flooring bar project that served as an art piece in addition to functioning as a bar, according to co-owner Joe Rocco. “We wanted to try to push the envelope where the wood floor would lose its utilitarian nature and become more of an art piece. Obviously we can do that with inlays or borders, but we wanted it to be part of the floor and part of the bar.” In the project the 5-inch wide wood flooring planks curve upward out of the floor to support a handscraped walnut slab bar top.
For some dealers, increasing their average tickets, adding to the sale or going above and beyond in design isn’t always the highest priority. Instead, they focus on “extras” to help build trust and create lifelong customers. “It’s all about relationships,” said Brad Coty, sales manager at Carpet Brokers of Missoula in Missoula, Mont. The store hosts an ongoing sale on remnants, or any parts and pieces of rolls that have been cut to fit certain shapes, special design needs or go around a staircase.
“These odds and ends get people through the door,” Coty continued, “and you can introduce yourself to potential customers. We’ve seen them used to make scratching posts, cat trees, pond liners to protect against rocks, doghouses, doormats, etc. A $10 remnant can end up being a full house of carpet in the long run.”