August 22/29, 2016; Volume 31, Number 5
By Reginald Tucker
Looking across the board at the stream of new wood flooring introductions, it’s clear to see a trend emerging: Manufacturers are increasingly incorporating low-sheen, matte finishes as well as other subtle surface texture treatments in response to changing consumer tastes. Observers say it’s a radical departure from years past, when high-gloss coatings dominated.
Case in point is the latest product offering from New York-based HF Design, which specializes in European oak. Many of its signature collections, which include Montage, Laurel, Baroque, Ferno and Portofino, to name a few, utilize a unique oil-finishing process designed to bring out more of the character of the wood. “We hand select our planks and we treat our French oak differently than our competition,” said Alex Shaoulpour, president. “We want to make sure we are always using the finest quality materials for our flooring products while being fashion-forward and eco-friendly.”
Another high-end line featuring low-gloss finish technology is the Atelier series from DuChâteau. The signature line features a variety of hand-sculpted and hand-scraped techniques developed by Tom Goddijn, renowned master craftsman. A highlight of the collection is a hard-wax oil finish that, according to the company, features all-natural ingredients. “This is our highest end floor,” said Jose Alonso, creative director, citing a MSRP range of $25-$30 per square foot. “It’s not a mass-produced floor; it’s all custom order and we hand-finish it.”
The emphasis on matte finishes is evident in the offerings from other manufacturers. Armstrong’s American Scrape, for example, combines the visual appeal of low-gloss finishes with subtle handscraping textures and wire brushing to render looks designed to draw the consumer’s attention.
“With certain species in particular, especially maple, you can really see the difference between high gloss and low gloss,” said Justin Hypnarowski, wood quality manager. “The matte finish just brings out more of the natural depth and character.”
For Armstrong, there is an added benefit to emphasizing low-gloss finishes beyond aesthetics. Thanks to the company’s proprietary acrylic-impregnation process, which is featured on select lines, species that were traditionally considered “soft” can now be coated with an oil-look finish without adversely affecting performance or aesthetics. “Acrylic impregnation makes certain species such as walnut harder,” Hypnarowski explained. “And now that we’ve gone from high gloss to low gloss, the products featuring a low-gloss finish can take an even greater beating.”
Other manufacturers attest to the trend. Brad Williams, vice president of sales and marketing at Boa-Franc, maker of the Mirage brand of hardwood flooring, believes consumer demand for low-gloss finishes is changing the game. “The changes in consumer preferences relative to low-gloss finishes and wider widths have definitely modified the way manufacturers are approaching the market and forced them to adapt at the operations, merchandising, sales and marketing levels,” he said. “These trends have forced manufacturers to innovate and invest time and resources to be able not just manufacture but also come up with new ideas on how to properly communicate, market and sell those products. For example, a wide-plank floor with a lot of character marks just can’t be sampled, shown and sold as a 3¼-inch smooth surface floor. The sample itself has to be big enough to show her what this particular floor will look like in her environment so she can buy with confidence.”
In that same vein, consumers must be educated on the fact that just because their new wood floor has a low-gloss finish doesn’t mean it’s not durable. Case in point is the new Opulux finish, which is featured on the Q-Wood line from Quick-Step. “The beauty of this product is it has the look of oil but the performance of urethane,” said Harry Bogner, senior vice president and general manager, hardwood. “In the past, oiled floors needed refinishing every year, but with these floors you don’t have to deal with all that maintenance.”
It’s a trend that’s drawing the attention of retailers. “We really needed that low-gloss look—it just makes it more realistic visually,” said Gary Ketterhegen, owner of Ketters Flooring in Milwaukee. “Some of the higher- gloss products that came out previously were not that attractive. Here in the Midwest it was really hard to sell it.”
While many manufacturers are incorporating more low-sheen, oil-look products in their lineups, it doesn’t mean they are all taking the same approach. Take Mohawk’s American Vintique and American Design collections as examples: Both lines feature the innovative double-staining technique, but by no means are these me-too products.
“We’ve taken the popular wire-brushing method and added a double-staining technique whereby we go across the board with the finish, come back across the board and re-sand it along the grains,” said Tammy Perez, marketing manager, hardwood, at Mohawk. “Then we add a secondary finish, which gives you multi-tonal colors.”
Other noteworthy collections feature the winning combination low-gloss finishes and subtle texturing. Mannington’s Mountain View, for example, utilizes little saw marks to give it the look of rough-sawn lumber, topped with very slight wire-brushing. Mannington adds even more visual interest by mixing different stains which are hand pressed into the wood. “This collection hits on a lot of the trends we are seeing,” said Dan Natkin, senior director, residential products.
Then there’s the broad lineup of innovative finish technolopgies featured on Urban Floors’ hardwood products. From its Royal Court line, which boasts a UV-cured, polyurethane finish, to its Welcome Home handscraped line, the distressed Mountain Country collection and the Urban Lifestyle offering, a range of finish options are available.
Additional collections that hit the mark in terms of trendy low-gloss looks include the Alehouse Series from Johnson Hardwood Floors. Combining traditional elegance with modern styling, the 7 ½-inch-wide engineered handscraped boards feature a dual-staining process and delicate wire brushing. “There’s just enough brushing and handscraping to make it a unique, easy-to-maintain floor,” said Lena Thomas, sales manager with Corona Hardwood, Corona, Calif. “There’s nothing like it on the market.”