Wood: Latest trends inspire product development
By Reginald Tucker—Out with the gray tones and heavy texturing; in with warmer brown hues, a greater focus on patterns and designs and much more subtle surface treatments. These are some of the prevailing trends that hardwood flooring manufacturers are seeing in the North American market today.
“What’s trending this year is a downplay of grays, which are starting to cool off a little bit,” said Joe Kujawski, global director of marketing and business development at Sherwin-Williams, which manufactures finishes OEM suppliers utilize in their manufacturing processes. “What’s taking its place is more of a warm, brown color. As far as texture goes, we’re seeing a decline of handscraping—that’s really not that much en vogue these days. Wirebrushing is still popular, but it’s not deep wirebrushing; it’s more of a shallow/subtle brushing.”
Suppliers attestation to the shifts in hardwood trends. “The trend continues to be toward soft, neutral colors absent of red,” said Dan Natkin, CEO and managing director, Boen. “Naturals, pale whites and mid-brown tones all dominate. Dark gray tones have begun to fade in favor of more transparent, lighter tones.”
Across the board, it seems, color palettes in hardwood are trending softer. That’s in keeping with a general move away from the rough, handscraped looks that were all the rage in years past, designers say. “The wood that’s popular now doesn’t have super deep scraping, and the wirebrushing is lighter and more refined,” said Cristen del Bove, director of residential styling, Mannington Mills.
In terms of species, white oak still reigns supreme. “It’s still the most wanted look for its refined grain and its whitish undertones that allow a subtle light stain to beautifully enhance the wavy patterns of the growth rings,” said Marie-Joel Bossé, product manager at Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage fire of wood floors.
Many of these emerging trends were on full display earlier this month at Surfaces, as evidenced by the scores of product samples being showcased as well as the range of hardwood flooring installations at the different booths.
At Mannington’s space, for example, the overarching trends in hardwood were reflected in new lines as well as extensions to existing product offerings alike. Top-selling collections like Maison, Triumph and Sanctuary, for instance, have all been updated and enhanced to address the consumer’s ever-changing tastes. The Provence collection gets a new color, Blanc, which leans toward the lighter end of the spectrum. “Blanc shows all that character of true hickory with a bit of chatter marks, spalting and a hand-sculpted bevel,” del Bove explained.
In that same vein, Mannington’s Triumph collection—the popular product line that features multiple species in one board—is getting a refresh with more trendy colors. “One of the things we wanted to do this year was to add colors that are ripe for the remodel market,” del Bove explained. “We often hear that the trendy new colors coming online don’t look good with people’s existing cabinetry or furniture. Some people are very traditional and they want a color that they grew up with or that their grandmother had—ie, the 3-inch oak in gunstock. Our new copper color gives them something like that, but with a fresh, updated take on it. We’re also adding a ‘raw’ visual, which doesn’t have a stain on it—they are completely natural. It’s for the consumer who wants a lot of rustic variation.”
Other major suppliers have tweaked their hardwood offerings to better align with consumer preferences. Case in point is Mohawk, which sampled its full array of hardwood offerings across its popular UltraWood, TecWood and Mohawk-branded lines. “Our customers have been asking us for a little bit thinner products and more traditional colorations,” said Paige Osborne Nichols, product director. “We think that’s coming from this re-emerging trend of mid-century modern style and design. Gold colorations and fixtures are really driving the market right now, whereas two years ago you saw more heavy silver-grays. Today, we’re seeing more copper tones and raw, natural colorations like creams and beiges.”
Some of these shifts are present in several of Mohawk’s new hardwood introductions. New to TecWood is Islandair, a 6½-inch-wide, sliced European oak available in lengths up to 75 inches. Built on a 38-inch platform, the product sports a 1.2mm face with what Nichols called “nice, light” wirebrushed texturing. “In year’s past, it was heavy texture—more sunken knots and splits,” she explained. “This is a more refined, cleaner visual. A little bit of character in there but not dominant.”
Nature-inspired tones are also driving product development at companies like Mercier Wood Flooring. “The colors we’re offering today are more pure, organic and warm,” said Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, USA. “Light-colored wood floors, whether natural or with slight pigments, reveal themselves in light and transparency.”
Finishes go high tech
As manufacturers seek to further differentiate themselves from each other, they are employing creative processes and innovative techniques to alter or enhance the visual characteristics of natural hardwood species without detracting from its natural appeal. One such process is “reactive staining,” an intricate process that takes place during the manufacturing phase, typically before the final finish is applied.
This specialized technique figures prominently in Reaction, a new collection from LM Flooring, an AHF Products brand. This sliced-faced, 2mm European oak product, which is based on a ½-inch engineered platform, naturally lends itself to the reactive staining process. “We use white oak exclusively for this launch because the tannins that are present in the species is what allows us the chemistry to make these colors,” Kevin Whaley, LM Flooring vice president of sales and marketing, explained. “We’re using [special] reactives and layering those on in a multi-step process to get really good definition, variation and grain in the species.”
Innovative reactive staining techniques and finishing touches are also evident in the new Joinery collection from Shaw’s Anderson Tuftex brand. “Joinery is inspired by traditional woodworking techniques,” said Charla Pettingill, director of creative product design, hard surfaces, Shaw. “It’s based on a white oak platform, and we’re using reactive stains on it, just to give it a little bit of differentiation.”
For more traditional options and colorations—all in keeping with the popular mid-century modern trend—Anderson Tuftex unveiled Revival Walnut, built on a 7 ½-inch-wide platform in three warm colors. Designed for consumers who are looking for more of that classic look that walnut provides but in more colorations, Revival was created to fill a void. “Consumers are experiencing a bit of white oak fatigue—they’re looking for something a little different, and walnut definitely checks that box,” Pettingill explained.
With respect to patterns, there was no shortage of chevron and herringbone looks on the show floor at Surfaces. (In fact, many of the LVP/SPC/WPC suppliers are rolling out patterns based on the classic, upscale wood visual.) At the Urban Floor booth, there was an expansive herringbone pattern installed on the floor to convey the design’s dramatic effect. More importantly, custom patterns such as herringbone and chevrons open the door to higher-end custom opportunities. “We focus on products for high-end residential homes—people who are not concerned about price,” said Jimmy Setiawan, president and CEO, Urban Floor. “These are the people who hire interior designers when they want a certain look.”
Setiawan cited Mauritius from Urban’s TimberTop collection showcased on the floor at the booth. Featuring a 3-ply construction, 6mm wear layer and overall thickness approaching ¾ of an inch, the engineered product features a labor-intensive, 15-step reactive stain process topped with an ultra-matte finish. “A lot goes into this product to create this look,” he told FCNews†
Another brand targeting the upper end of the market is Fabrica Hardwood, part of The Dixie Group’s hard surfaces lineup. Highlighted products included the workhorse Chateau collection of wide-plank custom looks; the Manor Collection, an engineered, 438-inch wide x 71-inch random length lovingly dubbed the “skinny” shelf; and the Fabrica collection, the flagship brand. “These products are all going to retail in the $8-$12 per foot range,” said Jamann Stepp, vice president of hard surfaces. “Most of the jobs for us are about 2,000-2,500 square feet on average. These are pretty big tickets.”