December 21/28; Volume 30/Number 13
By Ken Ryan
Hardwood floors featuring knots, mineral streaks and wormholes might have been tossed in a dumpster 20 years ago. But yesterday’s trash is today’s treasure as consumers embrace these ever-evolving rustic styles.
“Traditionally this is the stuff that the customer wouldn’t buy, but over time a customer accepted the look and began to seek it out and desire it,” said Dick Quinlan, senior director of hardwood for Mohawk/Unilin.
The term “rustics” means different things to different people. Shaw, for example, defines the look as a wood style showcasing more of its natural characteristics. “That may include mineral streaks, knots that are either filled or unfilled and lighter colors to enhance these qualities as opposed to darker hues to mask them,” explained Natalie Cady, hardwood category manager, Shaw Floors.
At least two developments have driven the rustics market, according to executives. First, the advent of handscraping helped kick off the trend, followed by the move toward both longer and wider planks, especially those spanning 5 inches or more.
These wider widths, combined with low-gloss or matte finishes, and handscraped or wire-brushed textures have added authenticity to these “old,” reclaimed wood floors. Brian Greenwell, vice president of sales and marketing for Mullican, said rustic is a classic design trend that reinvents itself every few years. “Homeowners continue to demand the beauty and elegance that hardwood flooring lends to residential design, but they also want to create spaces with a more lived-in feel through natural décor, comfortable furniture and contemporary style that evokes an emotional connection to their homes.”
Greenwell said consumers lead busy lives these days; as such, their homes have become areas of refuge where they can unwind. “Rustic hardwood flooring is a reflection of that desire,” he explained. “Its natural, organic appearance provides comfort to any room. Couple that with its ability to better conceal scratches and dents and show minimal dust, and rustic hardwood checks off a lot of boxes for today’s consumers.”
Rustic-style hardwood floors are not only visually appealing, but they are practical as well. They generally cost less than other grades and can be combined with any style or interior design. “Rustic floors tend to be more forgiving and easier to maintain,” said Luc Robitaille, vice president of marketing at Boa-Franc, makers of the Mirage brand. “It’s a huge advantage in today’s world where every minute counts.”
To create differentiation, manufacturers have stepped up their manufacturing and finishing processes to market uniquely different products. For instance, Mannington’s latest rustic introduction is manufactured to be as close to the natural state of the wood as possible. “This includes leaving all kinds of natural character in the product—knots, splits, etc.—as well as doing things to enhance the visual naturally: adding saw marks and hand staining to bring out character,” said Dan Natkin, senior director of residential products.
For companies like DuChâteau, the process starts with using species that best reflect the natural look and feel of wood. Then, according to Doug Bonilla, brand strategist, it is the additional treatments the wood undergoes—distressing, wire brushing—that help reflect what he called “an older sensibility.” Lastly, and often overlooked, the floor’s finish should be matte. “We are partial to the hard-wax oil finish, because overly glossy finishes leave the wood feeling plastic,” he added.
While handscraping helped usher in the latest rustics trend, observers say the technique is diminishing, ironically, as naturally rustic floors surge. Wire brushing in particular is trending, as it gives popular species such as oak and hickory a completely different look by adding depth. At the same time, a wire-brushed floor is smooth to the touch yet creates definition in the wood grain.
“Subtlety is the key here,” Natkin noted. “Long and wide products will also continue to surge forward, although I think a balancing point is being found in the market between 7 and 9 inches wide and 7 to 8 feet long. Anything wider starts to look outrageous in the average home.”
Executives are also seeing an increase in character wood floors offered with a matte or oil finish. This combination of a rustic-type grading, textured surface, large widths and low-luster finishes are what consumers and the A&D community are increasingly demanding. “Consumers and designers can’t get enough of this look,” said Justin Hypnarowski, product manager, engineered wood, Armstrong World Industries.
On the finish side, low-luster glosses that bring out the wood’s natural highlights are trending. “With these types of finishes, it’s almost as if there isn’t any finish at all,” Robitaille said. “They are truly a perfect fit with character woods floors.”
Wade Bondrowski, director of sales, USA, for Mercier, said that while the market will continue to see wider and longer boards with contrasting colors, “the bigger trend seems to be moving into wire brushing, especially in oaks and a little lighter, white and cream stains.”
As the pace of product evolution quickens, the challenge for manufacturers is to keep up with demand. As Quinlan put it, “You have to bring new ideas and designs to the market quickly. We are launching more product than ever before, and we have made significant investments in manufacturing to bring these products to market.”