February 1/8; Volume 30/Number 16
By Reginald Tucker
Heavy on the mixed widths and longer planks with a dash of wire-brushing and double-staining, but ever so light on the gloss levels. That pretty much sums up the dominant trends in many of the new hardwood flooring rollouts on display at The International Surface Event (TISE) in Las Vegas last month.
“The days of the shiny furniture tabletop finishes are over,” said Sylvia Bulanek, marketing manager for Hallmark Floors. To illustrate her point—and the overall trend seen across the category—Bulanek pointed to one of the standout offerings installed at the booth: the new Organic Collection, a low-luster, oil-finished wide plank product designed to showcase more of the wood’s natural character.
That same emphasis on matte finishes was evident all across the show floor. At the Armstrong booth, for example, representatives conducted side-by-side demonstrations of panels featuring the same species but with varying levels of gloss on each product. The differences were crystal clear.
“With certain species in particular, especially maple, you can really see the difference between high gloss and low gloss,” said Justin Hypnarowski, wood quality manager at Armstrong World Industries. “The matte finish just brings out more of the natural depth and character.”
For Armstrong, there is an added benefit to emphasizing low-gloss finishes beyond aesthetics. Thanks to the company’s proprietary acrylic-impregnation process, which is featured on select lines, species that were traditionally considered “soft” can now be coated with an oil-look finish without adversely affecting performance or aesthetics. “Acrylic impregnation makes certain species such as walnut harder,” Hypnarowski said. “And now that we’ve gone from high gloss to low gloss, the products featuring a low-gloss finish can take an even greater beating.”
Other major suppliers are hip to the trend. At the Quick-Step booth, for instance, the spotlight focused on the company’s new Q-Wood line of engineered hardwood flooring products. “The beauty of this product is it has the Opulux finish, which has the look of oil but the performance of urethane,” said Harry Bogner, senior vice president and general manager, hardwood, Unilin. “In the past, oiled floors needed refinishing every year, but with these floors you don’t have to deal with all that maintenance.”
It’s a trend that retailers are definitely noticing. “We really needed that low-gloss look—it just makes it more realistic visually,” said Gary Ketterhegen, owner of Ketter’s Flooring in Milwaukee. “Some of the higher gloss products that came out previously were not that attractive. Here in the Midwest it was really hard to sell it.”
While many manufacturers are incorporating more low-sheen, oil-look products in their lineups, it doesn’t mean they are all taking the same approach. Take Mohawk’s American Vintique and American Design collections as examples; both lines feature the double-staining technique preferred by many homeowners but by no means are these me-too products.
“Our product teams continually look at what we can invest in from a manufacturing perspective, and when you have your own factories you can install special equipment to make custom products,” said Tammy Perez, director, hard surface, at Mohawk. “We’ve taken the popular wire-brushing method and added a double-staining technique whereby we go across the board with the finish, come back across the board and re-sand it along the grains. Then we add a secondary finish, which gives you multi-tonal colors. It’s a very European look.”
Some very creative finishing and color treatments were also on display across the hall at the bustling Mannington booth. While much of the buzz coursing through the space centered on the company’s Centennial Celebration, visitors to the space were similarly dazzled by what they saw underfoot in the hardwood flooring department.
“Mountain View has really been the hot product for us at Surfaces as it hits on a lot of the trends we are seeing,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products. In developing the natural, rustic-look line, Natkin and his team focused on the minute details. “We put in little saw marks to give it the look of rough-sawn lumber, and then we applied a very slight wire-brushing in the hickory and the oak species. The other thing we did to accent the character of the wood species is mix different stains; this helps create a certain visual interest that you really can’t get normally in hardwood.”
Another noteworthy feature of Mannington’s new rustic line is the fact that the stains are pressed into the wood by hand. According to Natkin, the final result is truly dramatic as it plays out differently across all the various species.
Proprietary technologies and customized manufacturing methods are also behind many of the latest introductions at DuChâteau, a specialty, high-end producer and marketer of hardwood flooring products and wooden wall coverings. All eyes were on the Atelier Series, which features a variety of hand-sculpted and hand-scraped techniques developed by Tom Goddijn, renowned master craftsman. The collection also entails a hard-wax oil finish that, according to the company, features all-natural ingredients.
“This is our highest-end floor,” said Jose Alonso, creative director, citing a MSRP range of $25-$30 per square foot. “It’s not a mass-produced floor; it’s all custom order and we hand-finish it.”
Brett Bentz, owner of Harrisburg Wall and Flooring, Harrisburg, Pa., liked what he saw amongst the bevy of hand-sculpted offerings. “The manufacturers had a lot of what I call the ‘cross-over’ products—West Coast styles that could work in our market here in Pennsylvania,” he said. In particular, he cited the semi-handscraped line in 4- and 6-inch widths from Provenza. “It’s not too over the top like some of the 9-inch-wide products that are out there.”
Mixing it up
Stunning oil-look finishes and creative color/stain combinations weren’t the only attractions turning heads at Surfaces. Many hardwood flooring manufacturers also used their respective spaces to demonstrate the many installation possibilities available by actually mixing products of different widths.
“For our Q-Wood launch, eight of the SKUs are 7 inches wide, and then we have five additional SKUs in a multi-width format,” Bogner explained. “In essence you have 4-, 6- and 8-inch-wide products all in the same carton. By design we’ve left a lot of the rustic looks within the wood, and you can really see it on the multi-width hickory species with all the graining and burled knots.”
Mixed-width flooring options were also on full display back at the Armstrong booth. Available in the company’s solid offering are multiple widths within one box, specifically 5 inch, 3 ¼ and 2 ¼ all stained at the same time in such a way that if the installer keeps the rows the same, he’ll never run out or have excess product. The general idea, according to Hypnarowski, was to “give designers something that could develop into a really big trend.”
Ketterhegen believes the manufacturers might be on to something. “I really like the wider engineered planks, especially the 5- and 7-inch-wide products. I think that’s going to be a huge seller.”
With respect to color, manufacturers definitely identified gray as the hue du jour. But we’re not talking about “battleship” gray here, but rather a mixed of grayish tones across that end of the spectrum. “We’re definitely seeing the emergence of more gray tones,” said Bruce Hammer, sales and marketing, flooring division manager at Elof Hansson. “At the same time, some of the traditional colors (i.e., browns, white oak, maple) are still popular.”
Some interesting stains and shades are also appearing on a few niche species, namely bamboo. David Keegan, president of Bamboo Hardwoods, said consumers in the market for this unique species now have more choices than ever due to advances in staining and finishing technologies. Improvements in product quality as well as an increased presence at the retail level are also driving interest. “We offer four grades now with a lot of tones in between, including gray stains,” he said. “We have a few smooth finish products, but most of the lines feature some kind of wire brushing or handscraping and distressing. It’s something you wouldn’t normally expect to see in bamboo.”