By Reginald Tucker The longest-running trend in hardwood flooring visuals—European white oak planks with clean lines and less-aggressive character marks—doesn’t appear to show any signs of abating, according to industry observers and trend spotters.
“Designers and consumers can’t seem to get enough of white oak,” said Sara Babinski, senior design manager, AHF Products. “It is a beautiful domestic species that fits nicely into the minimalism trend and has a bit of a European flair. The graining has a tight knit, and the undertone can range from a warm, buttery color to slightly green. It can easily be scraped, wire-brushed or distressed. Plus, oak is one of the more durable hardwoods, so it has a good performance story.”
Suppliers say white oak floors exude subtlety and elegance, making it a top choice for many consumers today. Among other attributes, they cite the prominent wood graining that provides a natural, earthy color spectrum ranging from light beige to grayish brown. “European oak is doing very well, mainly because what is trending is lighter, more washed, natural white colors,” said Adam Ward, senior product director, wood and laminate at Mohawk. “European oak does very well in that regard. It’s just a great off color.”
The consumer’s love of European white oak, experts say, can be traced to the Scandinavian bleached wood trend that has emerged in recent years. Based on the current demand, experts say this trend will continue well beyond 2021. “Lighter, natural blonde wood looks are continuing in popularity,” said Cristen Del Bove, director of residential styling at Mannington Mills. “Consumers can mix the lighter, natural wood tones with another trend—long, wide planks—for a room that instantly feels larger and brighter.”
Although there has been a general move toward the lighter palette, darker hardwoods are still popular in certain applications, Del Bove added, citing farmhouse and traditional interiors. One surprising color that is emerging for 2021, she noted, is light brown. “Brown tones can create a balance and harmony and look great with both white and darker cabinets and furniture,” she explained.
But while popular, oak is not the only game in town. There are other homegrown species in high demand today, including North American hickory and maple. “We believe these species are popular for flooring, not only because of their appearance but because they are high-quality U.S. species sourced from the Appalachian region,” said Paul Stringer, vice president of sales and marketing at Somerset.
And let’s not forget about hard maple, another popular species. It’s the featured species in Villa Pointe, a popular collection offered in Mohawk’s Karastan brand. “The product is a character-driven maple that has been very popular for us this year,” Ward stated.
In terms of design, color and finish, the industry is beginning to see a transition away from high variation in stain color to a subtler, monotone color palette. “Darker and vibrant gray tones are now giving way to more natural, muted taupe and tan stain colors with more refined characteristics, including fewer knots and mineral streaks,” said Jamann Stepp, vice president, hard surfaces, The Dixie Group. “What’s more, heavy lime-washing and hand-sculpted finishes are continuing to lose ground to a softer wire-brushed technique that is less rustic but still provides an elegant and sophisticated floor.”
This shift in palette extends beyond U.S. and European hardwood species. Emerging South American species such as Tauari and Sucupira—both imported from Brazil—are trending as well. “Tauari looks like a rift and quarter-sawn product and is inherently cleaner than a normal U.S. oak,” said Jodie Doyle, vice president of U.S. sales at Indusparquet. Meanwhile, Sucupira’s color offering ranges from brown to gold. “Those are the next big colors based on what you hear from designers. They’re warm, and the grain is beautiful.”
Then there are products like Imperial Pecan, a 2020 introduction from Anderson Tuftex that continues to generate interest—and sales. John Crews, director of premium brands, hard surface product design and development, cited the collection’s raw characteristics. “As future design trends pull more inspiration from nature, Imperial Pecan is subtle and natural, but it is also an expressive and lively solution,” he explained. “It is a perfect balance between color variation, texture and knots that brings a renewed sense of character to the home.”
Another trend that has proven its staying power is the allure of wider/longer hardwood flooring planks. That’s evident in two top-selling lines from Provenza Floors—Tresor and Vitali. The products’ visuals, rendered on European oak species, shine through even more prominently thanks to their ultra-wide/long plank formats. “Ultra-wide and long plank collections deliver a product that can fill an interior space with the natural beauty of hardwood without the visual interruptions that occur with narrower planks,” said Ron Sadri, principal. “These ultra-wide plank floors can make any interior appear larger, and are suitable for both traditional and contemporary settings.”
Laminate emulates wood
With the vast majority of laminate designs striving to more accurately mimic hardwood, it should come as no surprise that the predominant trends seen in laminate flooring are mirroring that of real hardwood. For example, at the higher end of the price spectrum, laminates are increasingly offered in the beefier, 12mm format (as opposed to the thinner, entry-level 7mm, 8mm and 10mm options) to more closely replicate the heft of solid hardwood flooring as well as thicker engineered hardwood flooring.
“We’re definitely seeing the trend toward thicker laminate floors,” said Art Simonyan, owner of Los Angeles-based Modern Hardwood Floors, which counts Republic Floor among its top-selling laminate brands. “It’s a more stable product than the thinner laminates out there—and because it’s thicker there’s less of a chance of separation of the locking system after it’s installed and walked on. Plus, it looks like real hardwood.”
That strong end-user demand is one of the reasons why Republic is investing so heavily in the laminate flooring category, according to Rotem Eylor, CEO. “We definitely see laminates coming back, so we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” he said. “We’ve just come out with a big line of laminates at a time when some companies don’t even produce laminate anymore. In fact, looking at our total sales, laminates represent about 30% of our business. And coming off a year when some were down, our laminate sales were up 8%.”
Another company that reported brisk laminate business is Mannington, which operates its own manufacturing facility in North Carolina. Utilizing state-of-art digital printing technology and embossing techniques, the company said it is able to more closely replicate popular products found in its real hardwood collections. “We started using digitally printed laminate paper the last few years; it’s more expensive but it gives us better design capabilities,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate. He cited the visual realism found in its top-selling Anthology line, a product inspired by Triumph, a Mannington wood offering, which features European white oak, hickory and maple all on one plank. “We have an oversized press; instead of just using one print repeat, we can actually do a double print repeat. Most manufacturers have four, eight or 10 planks; this gives us the ability to do 20 planks in an 8-inch design. That amount of variety makes it look so much more realistic.”
Mohawk is also ramping up its laminated wood offerings in a big way, courtesy of expansions to its popular RevWood, RevWood Plus and RevWood Select offerings. From best sellers such as the Boardwalk, Rare Vintage and Antique Craft lines to brand-new additions such as Bellente, Cypresta and the new and improved Pergo laminated wood (see story on page 10), the trend is clearly moving toward more genuine wood looks.
The industry-wide drive to more closely reproduce genuine hardwood is providing opportunities for laminate suppliers to leverage their respective technological capabilities. Case in point is Inhaus, a company well regarded for its German engineering prowess. In developing new laminate looks, Inhaus designers seek out real wood planks that they then scan into a computer for further digital enhancement. It doesn’t end there. Depending on the desired look, Inhaus designers can tweak the texture and gloss levels from plank to plank or within a single plank.
“Over the years, laminate production, particularly with our proprietary processes, has become quite detailed in its ability to mimic real wood,” said Derek Welbourn, CEO. This not only pertains to the natural visual characteristics of wood (mineral streaks, knots, graining, etc.), but also beveling and texturing. “Today’s laminate production processes actually use real wood as the base to which further enhancements are added.”