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Wood sees a return to oak, higher gloss finishes, longer planks hot trends

With all the state-of-the- art technology available today, hardwood flooring producers can manufacture just about anything they want. But it seems what many consumers want these days is a return to the basics, and that means oak. The latest trends in hardwood flooring also include new finishes, textures, colors and longer, wider plank sizes.

Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of Mirage brand, attested to the trend toward lighter colors and texture, although not as pronounced as a few years ago. “We still see some dark colors even if the trend tends to favor lighter colors for a more natural, relaxed and organic look. The popularity of softer textured hardwood floors is at an all-time high as well.”

Robitaille also explained why tried-and-true oak remains popular with consumers. “Oak is a traditional species that perfectly meets the new trend for a return to basics that came with the economic climate of last year.”

Dan Natkin, director of hardwood business at Mannington, agreed that oak remains king, while noting the longer the plank, the better. “When we looked at emerging trends and effects, longer plank length is re-emerging as a trend. Additionally, textures are getting more refined, and distressing is taking on new or renewed effects, such as wirebrushing and subtle grain enhancing effects.

Natkin added that as far as species go, it’s not only oak that is enjoying a bit of a renaissance but all domestically harvested species, such as birch, maple and hickory. It’s a move away from exotics. “Emerging as an alternative to exotics are ‘printed’ exotics on species like bamboo. It remains to be seen, however, whether the consumer will choose a printed exotic over the real thing.”

Today’s consumers have a desire for authenticity, noted Dewevai Buchanan, vice president, hardwood, Unilin. “Consumers are gravitating to visuals that present wood in more of its ‘natural state,’ such as hardwood that is accented by the variations organically inherent in wood such as natural knots, sapwood, heartwood and rich mineral streaks. Consumers like styles that bear the uniqueness where no two planks are alike.”

Shiny is back

Gloss levels are edging higher for the first time in a number of years, Natkin said. “Not counting a few ‘wild’ products with extremely high gloss levels, it appears that products are trending up toward mid-gloss again.”

Like Natkin, Kevin Thompson, hardwood category manager for Shaw, also saw a return to high gloss. “Higher gloss finishes on handscraped products are growing right now. While really low gloss is still the most popular on handscraped, we are seeing dramatically increasing demand on products with satin to very high-gloss finishes.

“And, while aggressive handscraped textures on hickory are still the most popular,” he added, “we are seeing an increase in demand for more subtly sculpted textures and wire brushing. Exotics are all but completely dead while consumers are preferring domestic species with less red colors.”

Mitch Tagle, co-founder of DuChateau Floors, said trends in hardwood flooring vary from coast to coast, but just about all consumers are favoring wide-planked flooring, very minimal yet authentic distressing, and unique finishes. “Fashion in hardwood is no longer about exotic species; it is about creating distinctive finishes and offering reliability.”

Of course, ecoconsciousness is a major trend, he added. “The leading hardwood suppliers embrace FSC certification, Lacey compliancy and CARB compliancy.”

Sara Babinski, principal designer for Armstrong, said 5-inch planks have become the new traditional as consumers are being drawn to wider-width hardwood options, while Mother Nature is the color inspiration for the home. “This means all colors earth, including coastal colors, weathered grays and rusted metals or mountain-inspired tones such as mineral colors from stone and dark, bark browns. Refined rustic textures are everywhere. They offer a nice variation for visual and tactile texturing throughout an interior space.”

Like Thompson, she sees the use of tropical exotics on a slight decline as consumers and designers rediscover domestic species. She too has seen the resurgence in both oak and hickory.

State of the art

When it comes to technology, no category does it better than hardwood. According to Robitaille, the lightly brushed look and less distressed woods are big right now at the expense of the handscraped look. “Because people still want to have rooms and homes that have character, the industry is offering a wide range of flooring that suggest subtle color variations. Knots and natural imperfections that were once removed are now left in to reinforce the natural resource and antique style.”

For Mannington, Earthly Elements was the biggest innovation the hardwood category has seen in years from a visual perspective, Natkin said. “The other trend, which is not new to the industry but just emerging in the U.S., are fumed or ‘heat-treated’ species. This brings out a tremendous luster in the wood.”

At Shaw, the biggest state-of- the-art innovation, according to Thompson, is ScufResist Platinum. “This finish is so tough and scuff resistant when compared to other domestic and imported competitors that you can easily demonstrate the difference with a green Scotch Brite pad. ScufResist Platinum gives consumers permission to live on their hardwood flooring.”

Tagle noted most state-of- the-art innovations are in engineered flooring, and the advances are making it more stable, user-friendly and reliable. “Technology has allowed us to produce stable planks as wide as 14 inches and as long as 12 feet.” Advancements have also helped manufacturers create more environmentally responsible flooring.

According to Babinski, factory-finished flooring is wonderful for a homeowner. “The process has been simplified. There is little down time within the house and the dust that used to be created by on-site sanding is now done in a factory setting. Engineered flooring retains the look of natural wood flooring while making the floor more stable to humidity differences and uses less precious hardwood. This is a strong consumer trend.”

-Louis Iannaco