January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16
By Reginald Tucker
With interest in tropical exotic hardwood species waning among U.S. consumers in recent years, domestic wood flooring suppliers are capitalizing on the trend toward greater consumption of white oak, hickory, walnut and red oak, among others.
“Domestic wood species have become more popular over the last several years,” said John Hammel, hardwood and laminate category manager, Shaw Floors. In particular, he cited the company’s new Repel Hardwood line offered in Relic and Landmark styles. “Consumers are favoring American hardwood, but many still desire non-traditional visuals from their flooring. Domestic exotic species like hickory and walnut answer that need.”
This shift, experts say, is closely tied to overarching trends in residential design. “Today’s homes are becoming a reflection of the unique personality, style and trend preference of the homeowner,” said Sara Babinski, design manager, Armstrong Hardwood Products. “From industrial to transitional to eclectic, design options are virtually unlimited, and a floor can serve as the focal point of a room.”
With respect to specific species and colors, Babinski said red-toned woods are fading in popularity—along with tropical exotic species—and the trend has moved toward either dark or light color palettes. “Light colors are trending due to their clean look and ability to disguise imperfections and brighten interior spaces. This emerging light category would include natural tones, blonde woods and white-washed woods.”
As a prime example, Babinski cited AHF Products’ Appalachian Ridge collection. Made from 100% solid Appalachian hardwood, the line features Diamond 10 Technology for greater scratch protection that still allows the beauty of the natural species to shine through.
Shaw Floors and Armstrong are not alone. Mullican Flooring has also expanded its American-made engineered product offerings to satisfy growing consumer demand for domestic species. The company recently rolled out Wexford, a “EuroSawn” product line that combines three traditional North American sawing techniques to create a classic European look, and Nature, a 1⁄2-inch-thick hickory product featuring a character-rich sawn surface. Available in a 5-inch width, this collection offers random lengths up to 7 feet. Wexford, by comparison, is a 1⁄2-inch-thick product available in 7-inch widths and random lengths up to 7 feet.
“Our EuroSawn cutting technique produces a highly desirable look that is gaining prominence throughout the market,” said Pat Oakley, vice president of marketing, Mullican Flooring. “We are proud to integrate this process into our robust, made-in-the-USA portfolio, which offers customers superior materials, shorter wait times, sustainable manufacturing practices and premier beauty and quality.”
Industry experts primarily attribute the growing interest in domestic species to the combination of consumer trends away from tropical exotics along with the color/texture characteristics domestic species provide. As Brett Miller, vice president of education and training, NWFA, explained, “With hickory, for example, it’s the variation in color that generates interest and demand. Even when you look at some of the imported species that are popular, they have that variance in color like hickory.”
Right alongside hickory are domestic variations of walnut. Proponents cite the species’ unique look, which has a high-end connotation compared to more mainstream species. “It has that nice, deep brown chocolate/almost purple color along with that light, blond sapwood, which is a drastic variation,” Miller explained.
Given this rising popularity, it should come as no surprise that many of these domestic species are increasingly factoring into recent introductions and/or best-selling products from some of the industry’s major manufacturers. “Over the past few years, we have focused our introductions on these species with tremendous results,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminate, Mannington. “There is something timeless about North American hardwoods. Smooth, elegant graining, great character, and the way they accept stain and other visual effects make them the prime choice for consumers.”
In particular, Natkin cited Mannington’s Carriage oak line, which he describes as “a runaway hit.” He also referenced the Cider Mill collection, which combines the elegant graining of North American white oak and hickory with a proprietary hand staining and distressing process to further enhance the visuals.
Trendy offerings from Mohawk also reflect the popularity of domestic species. In fact, the company has been using domestic white oak for many of its products combined with special proprietary manufacturing and finishing techniques to render different visuals. Mohawk said it has also witnessed growing interest in species such as hickory and walnut, and it is adding more collections to meet those needs. The company cited popular offerings such as Homestead Retreat—a 9⁄16-inch thick x 7-inch-wide sculpted hickory and walnut collection. And let’s not forget about the company’s newly launched domestic products such as Castlebriar, Hartwick, Hideaway Ridge, Sheridan and Windrose—all derived from oak species.
“Consumers who are looking to be more unique are trying the hickories, walnuts and some other visuals to give it more flavor and variety in the mix,” said Adam Ward, senior director of wood and laminate.
Then there’s American OEM, which markets the Hearthwood-branded, Made-in-the-USA line. Allie Finkell, executive vice president, attests to the popularity of domestic species. “We are still seeing most of the business being driven by white oak, but there are still great selling SKUs in hickory as well. Walnut is gorgeous, but it’s still very niche.”