September 11/18, 2017: Volume 32, Issue 7
By Reginald Tucker
As demand for certain “tropical exotic” hardwood floors softens in the U.S., the popularity of several domestic exotic species has been steadily rising, industry observers say. While there continues to be niche market opportunities for tropical species such as Brazilian cherry, Santos mahogany and the like, more American consumers are leaning toward homegrown species such as birch, hickory and walnut, manufacturers say.
One of the primary drivers behind the market shift, which began in earnest about 10-12 years ago, is a change in preference of wood plank formats and construction. Many tropical exotics—known for their density and durability—perform well and look great. However, trends in the U.S. have leaned toward more textured, rustic and casual looks whereas many exotics convey a more formal, smooth appearance, experts say. Today tropical imported exotics tend to perform well in niche, regional markets as opposed to national, wide-scale acceptance.
Observers say the rapid rise in popularity of wider, longer planks also contributed to increased consumption of domestic exotic species. As manufacturers tell it, many of these popular looks such as birch, hickory and walnut lend themselves to extra long planks and wider boards. The reason being: wider, longer boards naturally show much more of the variation and character inherent in a lot of these domestic exotic species. Combine that with the incorporation of various surface texture techniques such as hand scraping, wire brushing and cerusing, and you have a winning recipe.
“Consumer preference continues to move toward wider and longer on the engineered side,” said Dan Natkin, vice president, hardwood and laminates, Mannington. “Demand for these types of products has really driven some changes, both in terms of investment in the U.S. as well as products sold in the market.”
Following are some of the U.S. domestic exotic products trending today.
In keeping with its “Made-in-the-USA” mantra, American OEM offers popular domestic species, including hickory—both rotary peeled and sliced face—and walnut. The company sources classic hardwood from sustainably managed forests across North America. It then creates flooring products designed to showcase the rich natural colors, textures and features of each species. “When consumers buy our American-made hardwood, they can be sure they are buying the best flooring possible at a value unmatched in the industry,” said Allie Finkell, executive vice president.
Armstrong adds engineered hickory to its Prime Harvest and American Scrape collections. Featuring a range of colors, Prime Harvest easily coordinates with furniture, wall colors and other décor elements.
Conversely, American Scrape’s rustic texture complements hickory’s distinctive graining and knots. Additional Armstrong hardwood offerings—including Rustic Restorations and Woodland Relics—feature hickory and/or walnut and birch.
Popular species like birch and hickory populate the Frontier and Pacific Coast collections from Johnson Hardwood. Frontier’s offering consists of four colors in birch (Homestead, Tomahawk, Dakota and Bison), while Pacific Coast features eight colors covering a wide spectrum. Both are available in 5-inch-wide planks.
Hickory and walnut species permeate several popular collections from Mannington, including the namesake American hickory, Blue Ridge hickory, American walnut and smokehouse hickory lines. Hickory, the hardest American wood, is known for its rich character and distinct graining. Versatile and adaptable, this floor is an ideal upgrade or addition to any room. Meanwhile, walnut—a species found in exclusive furniture lines—is among the most cherished of all American hardwoods.
Mercier’s Element series—part of the Elegancia collection—has been expanded to include American walnut. The addition supplements existing domestic exotic species such as hickory and yellow birch. By design, the species highlights the wood’s natural, random character. The product’s black and blonde nuances create highly versatile floors designed to blend with virtually any style.
Weathered Vision, one of several newly launched products from Mohawk, aims to capture classic Americana and the rustic beauty of old structures such as barns. The collection, which features deep, sandblasted texture and heavy wire-brushed planks, characterize this homage to countryside living. Weathered Vision is available in popular long, wide planks (as broad as 7 inches in random lengths up to 6 feet) to satisfy consumer demands.
Several collections in Mullican Flooring’s offering of trendy products have been expanded to include hickory, birch or walnut. For instance, the Merion and Devonshire and collections—both 3⁄8-inch-thick engineered products—feature hickory, while Castle Ridge, also 3⁄8-inches thick, is available in birch and sports a hand-sculpted surface texture. The Nature collection, a 3⁄4-inch-thick hickory product, has a lightly wire-brushed surface texture.
The Epic Plus collection of long 9¼ x 82½-inch-wide hardwood floors from Shaw Floors is stacked with domestic exotic species. Landmark walnut features two colors, while Landmark hickory offers a trio of captivating colors that add a multi-dimensional, time-worn feel. By comparison, Landmark hickory scraped includes a pair of colors complemented by soft, subtle texturing and hand staining. Lastly, Fremont hickory features scraped texturing that accentuates and highlights the wood’s natural grain, knots and rustic character. Six colors are available.
Mountain Home collection from Wickham offers an authentic distressed look due to hand-scraping techniques by the artisans in the tradition of Renaissance-era woodworking. New planks are hand sculpted, one at a time, to create unique custom flooring of timeless originality and distinction. No two planks are alike. Species available include birch, cherry and walnut.