(Editor’s note: This is the second installment of FCNews’ recap of the National Wood Flooring Association’s inaugural Virtual Expo. Look for more highlights from the event in upcoming editions of the magazine and online.)
By Reginald Tucker
Keeping your finger on the pulse of consumer tastes today while simultaneously having the vision and foresight to predict how those preferences might change in the future. That was the predominant theme of the popular “Color, Style and Trends” educational session presented as part of the National Wood Flooring Association’s first-ever Virtual Expo, which took place April 29-May 1.
The live session was presented by Sherwin-Williams’ Christina Rowe, senior marketing manager, interior wood care; and Les Smith, marketing development manager for the company’s industrial wood division, which markets the DuraSeal brand of coatings, stains and finishes so popular with professional hardwood flooring contractors.
During the webinar, Rowe and Smith focused on the factors shaping trends in colors and styles of today’s hardwood flooring finishes and surface texturing, with an eye toward development of future products. The goal was to arm professional wood flooring contractors and finishers with the knowledge required to help meet current and future consumer demand when it comes to the stain/finishing selection process.
Following are excerpts of the presentation:
As part of his role as marketing development manager, Smith looks to many sources to get a feel for what’s trending. “In my role, I get to travel the world and see a lot of things—it helps explain where trends originate,” he explained. “In the wood flooring industry, we typically follow fashion colors and styles. That translates into furniture and home furnishings.”
Normally, Smith would advise contractors, designers and the like to attend major home furnishings shows and conferences to get a better, firsthand feel for the styles and designs that are trending across a broad swath of home goods categories. But with COVID-19 temporarily shutting off those opportunities, he pointed to other sources of inspiration. “Now is a great time to take virtual tours on sites such as Restoration Hardware, for example,” he said.
Smith also encouraged hardwood flooring contractors and specialty retailers to utilize the expertise of their supply chain contacts. “It makes sense to partner with a good vendor or distributor—they are attuned to style trends in your specific market,” he said. “Designers are good sources as well; they are looking at trends all day, every day.”
Hot trends to watch
Based on indicators derived from its global color and design center, Sherwin-Williams has identified several key trends hardwood flooring contractors need to watch. First and foremost is a growing consumer preference for the bleached look. “Taking natural wood and altering it using reactive stains or reactive conditioners, or by adding a white topcoat, is becoming very popular,” Rowe explained.
Another popular technique to render that look entails highlighting the texture of the wood, either through cerusing, reactive chemicals or other techniques. Another key trend is the “organic” look, which Smith defines as “not really doing anything dramatic but mildly highlighting the grain.”
With respect to the changing color spectrum, Sherwin-Williams said it sees the emergence of gray tones, whitewashes and browns, but away from traditional red tones. The company said it is also seeing an interesting play on different colors, shades and hues. “The key to color is the color translation,” Smith explained. He cited the combination of standard Sherwin-Williams’ tones such as Cavern Clay mixed with some natural green wood stains. “Installers can do a little highlighting and distressing to come up with some very interesting looks—something they can then sell.”
The role lighting plays
When advising a customer on stain selection, providing samples is only one aspect of the project. Experts say it’s important to understand how both natural ambient light and artificial illumination factor into the equation as well. As Rowe explained, “I’m sure you’ve all seen rooms where lighting looks different in the morning vs. the late afternoon. Now, when you add in all the new technologies in light bulbs, for instance, you have a whole different viewpoint on color.”
Why is this relevant to flooring? As Rowe stated, flooring is often the anchor to the entire room—wall paint and wall covering choices as well as other in-room furnishings must work well with the floor color choice. “The color can reflect onto the walls, which can then change the look the customer may have wanted,” she explained. “Ideally, you want to have the customer see the color on the floor for at least 24 hours. The customer should also view the anticipated color under artificial light so she can make the right choice.”
Texture, gloss level
Other key aspects to consider when applying or advising a customer on a particular stain/color is the gloss level. In recent years, the industry has seen a massive move toward low-sheen, matte finishes that showcase more of the natural wood graining. But like anything else, it’s not one size fits all. To that end, it’s important for the contractor to help consumers understand the options available to her. “Sheen is critical to the overall design,” Smith explained. “Be sure to match the gloss level to the design, and don’t be afraid to play with color and intermixes to get something truly unique to your customer.”
Hardwood flooring contractors have a wide range of tools at their disposal when creating custom, one-of-a-kind looks for the homeowner. Many have long used processes such as fuming, smoking or bleaching. However, today’s technologies allow even greater flexibility. “We’ve made these complex processes much more controllable,” Smith said. “These chemicals react with the tannins and the oils in the wood, so no two pieces are going to be exactly the same.”
Creative distressing techniques can also be employed to render unique looks. “There are a lot of things installers can do to alter the surface and texture of the wood—use a wire brushing machine or the old traditional wire brushing technique on a drill bit,” Smith explained. “We encourage contractors to build a distressing tool kit by looking around the shop—or out in nature—to find different materials they can use to change the surface of the wood. The key here is bringing out the texture through the distressing process.”
Why is this important?
Turns out staying on top of trends not only ensures hardwood flooring retailers meet consumer needs from a style and design standpoint. Experts say it just makes good business sense. For instance, Rowe cited the
National Association Remodeling Index, which sheds light on the connection between consumer tastes and spending habits. “Consumers indicate that finishing an existing floor provides 26% better functionality and livability, beauty and aesthetics, and just over a quarter of retailers said refinishing wood floors actually helps close the sale,” Rowe stated.