In the current inflationary climate, one might assume that subsegments such as the ultra-high-end hardwood flooring market—defined as products that retail in the $14-$25-per-square-foot-and-up range—might take a big hit. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth as discerning consumers with loads of disposable income continue to demonstrate a strong appetite for high-end hardwood boasting equally upscale visuals and features.
“There is certainly an appetite for this kind of product and it tends to be somewhat recession resistant,” said Dan Natkin, CEO and managing director at Bauwerk, parent company of the Boen brand. “For those who can afford the best, they will always spend the money.”
Other leading manufacturers serving the ultra-high end of the wood market agree. Ron Sadri, founding principal at Provenza, headquartered in Tustin, Calif., said he isn’t surprised there’s still strong demand for high-end products. “In our part of the country we’re paying $7.50 for a gallon of gas and yet people are still shopping for high-end goods. Business is still on the rise. It’s crazy!”
Some industry observers say premium products tend to be less affected by wild economic fluctuations. “Consumers of these products are willing to cut corners elsewhere, if needed, in order to get the best possible hardwood product on their floor,” said Kevin Whaley, vice president of sales and product at LM Flooring, a division of AHF Products. “In the upper-end, hardwood still sells well and will continue to sell in the future.”
It’s not that upper-end clients are completely immune to inflationary pressure, observers say. It’s just that this category of consumer responds differently in making their purchasing decisions in such an uncertain environment.
“All industries are concerned with inflation rates and the effect on homeowners who are selling, buying and especially building homes,” shared Julie VanWinkle, who serves as designer concierge at DuChateau, a specialty, high-end hardwood supplier. “When interest rates rise and stock markets are struggling, everyone is cognizant of what’s going on—from the mainstream consumer to the luxury buyer. The luxury buyer who tends to purchase the higher-end offerings is usually more insulated. An important market to DuChateau is that ‘in-between’ buyer (between the mainstream customer and your luxury buyer), those on the edge of the high-end market that traditionally have more disposable income. That’s who I think is going to be most affected by the higher interest rates.”
Nonetheless, it’s critical that RSAs not make automatic assumptions when quoting customers for high-end wood. “When I worked on the retail side, we would say: ‘You will never offend anyone by showing them the best,’” VanWinkle recalled. “Being out in the field and training the RSAs, I would share, ‘Just because you think it’s expensive, that doesn’t mean your client thinks it’s expensive. Don’t shop your own pocket.’ I learned that lesson very early on in my career as a designer.”
High-end hit parade
The lingering impact of record inflation notwithstanding, the industry’s suppliers continue to roll out new products that hit the upper end of the price spectrum. These range from trendy, wide-and-long plank products to specialty, customized floors featuring proprietary finishes and surface texture applications. Following is an overview of some of those products.
Boen Hardwood’s Chaletino is a ¾-inch thick engineered offering measuring 11 13⁄16 inches wide x more than 9 feet long. What’s more, each plank is assembled by hand by skilled artisans and boasts a MSRP of $18 per square foot. “Chaletino is our core, go-to product in that range,” Natkin said. Chalet, the “big brother” to Chaletino, can go up to 16 inches wide x 16 feet long, he added.
New from AHF Product’s LM Flooring division is Solano. The product, which measures 9⁄16-inch thick x 7 ½ inches wide and 75 inches long, features select grade Euro white oak in a 3mm dry-sawn face. Each plank features a four-sided bevel, which is designed to frame the product’s long grain pattern with only occasional hints of character, according to Whaley. MSRP: $14-$16 per square foot.
Surfaces 2022 also served as the launchpad for other eye-catching offerings. At the Harris Wood booth, for instance, new upscale products in the Naturally Aged line took center stage. In particular, the company’s Pinnacle Collection. Dubbed as the company’s “most robust and prestigious line,” the collection features European, engineered white oak planks in a 9 1⁄2-inch-wide, random-length format reflecting today’s trending colors. The product, which sports a 4mm sawn top layer, is enhanced with wire-brushing, micro-beveled edges and a low-gloss urethane aluminum oxide finish. MSRP: $15 per sq. ft.
Fabrica Wood, part of The Dixie Group, continues to refresh its upscale hardwood flooring offerings with products that aim to stand out from the pack—both in terms of visual appearance and performance characteristics. Recently voted best in category in FCNews’ 2022 Award of Excellence competition, Fabrica’s latest hardwood flooring line extensions speak directly to consumer tastes and demands for wood flooring product that are not run of the mill. At Surfaces earlier this year, the company unveiled more than a dozen new collections across three platforms—Relic, Fortress and Bastion. Relic is a sister product to the top-of-the line Chateau Collection, which Jamann Stepp, vice president, hard surface, described as a “wide-bodied,” 9 1⁄2-inch product with a 4mm sawn face and 5⁄8 total thickness. Relic is that same build but in a clean ash species in a total of eight colors. Then there’s Bastion, which is a European white oak with a 2.2mm face that’s 6 1⁄2 inches wide—real “clean and contemporary looks,” Stepp noted. Fortress is a 7 1⁄2-inch wide rustic ash. To date, the company offers 45 SKUs in the hardwood program. Retail prices start at about $13 per square foot and climb from there.
At the sprawling Mohawk booth, the spotlight was on the high-end Karastan brand, which was extended in 2020 to include upscale hardwood flooring offerings. The ongoing success and expansion of the line, dubbed “BelleLuxe,” continues to demonstrate there’s still a strong market for higher-end wood amid the sea of entry-level and mid-tier products.
“Karastan is the most coveted, most protected luxury brand in the industry,” said Seth Arnold, vice president of residential marketing. “We are evolving the brand to serve as a total flooring brand for the new generation to better serve consumers and our retail partners alike.”
Not to be outdone, Provenza put the spotlight on its Dutch Masters Collection, a high-end hardwood flooring line available in planks measuring nearly 9 inches wide x 82 inches long. With an overall thickness of 5⁄8 -inch, the prefinished engineered offering boasts light to heavy wire-brushing coupled with a multi-stain process that is hand finished by Provenza master wood crafters in its Tustin, Calif., manufacturing facility.
“It’s a wide-width, long plank option featuring European oak, which offers a very clean and natural look for end users who want a more contemporary visual,” Sadri explained. “It’s mainly for residential applications, but it can be used in new high-end homes or light commercial installations.”
At the Best of Surfaces award-winning space, Shaw Floors displayed several new upper-end hardwood collections: Grand Estate and Joinery—both from the company’s upscale Anderson Tuftex division. Grand Estate is an oil-finished collection, a first for A-T, that launches in 10 trendy colors. The line is nearly 10 inches wide in random lengths up to 86 inches. MSRP: $23 per square foot. “It’s that clean, European white oak visual, thick veneer, but has that oil finish that gives it that low luster,” said Charla Pettingill, director of creative product design – hard surfaces.
Joinery, by comparison, offers a wood floor with an inlay design inspired by a Japanese woodworking design element. How it’s made: The inlays are actually done before staining, which is achieved through a reactive process.
Mullican Flooring, which prides itself on its Made-in-the- USA status, offers products that span several levels of the market. At the upper end is its Castillian Premier line, which comes in the popular 9 ½-inch-wide platform and spans 8-feet long. The top wear layer, which measures 4mm thick, boasts a dual-stain process in an ultra-low-gloss, aluminum-oxide finish. MSRP: $15 per square foot.
Another eye-catching Surfaces introduction was the new Timbertop Deluxe Series from Urbanfloor. Made from Western European Oak, the line comes in a 9 ½-inch-wide plank format with a micro-beveled edge and lengths extending up to 96 inches. The wear layer in the Deluxe version has been enhanced with a thick, 6mm-wear layer for an overall thickness of 13⁄16-inch.