Hardwood flooring no longer needs to appear uniform. The Antigua Collection from Mannington Mills, utilizes 3-, 5-, and 7-inch random width boards and a hand scraping technique to evoke a rustic look.
Hardwood is an aspirational product for many homeowners, and what was once primarily reserved for living spaces has found its footing throughout the home. Today bedrooms, hallways, basements, and even kitchens are popular areas for hardwood flooring.
“When we look at products today, we think of them fitting with the big, open houses and open rooms that make it hard to segregate one product from room to room,” says Joe Amato, vice president of style and design for Mannington Mills. “It looks nicer when flooring flows from room to room, and wood is the perfect product to do that.”
Flooring manufacturers have found homeowners wanting an eclectic mix of contemporary and rustic. The design possibilities are limitless with more engineered wood, solid wood, and wood-inspired laminate options than ever before.
Reinvented wood species
Traditional oak flooring has seen resurgence over the last couple years but in a very nontraditional way, according to Dan Natkin, director of hardwood and laminate for Mannington Mills.
“We’re seeing design go a little more minimalistic with a lot of European influence, so that lends itself to oak,” he says. “It’s not like your parents’ oak because it takes on a whole new look than what it has in the past.”
With oak leading the way, hickory and walnut round out the top three wood flooring species, according to Sara Babinski, principal designer at Armstrong. She has seen requests move away from tropical exotics to these domestic woods.
Some newer exotics, however, have come on the market.
“Years ago, you’d see Brazilian cherry or Brazilian mahogany but those have slowed down over the last several years,” says Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood for Unilin Flooring. “What we’re seeing now is ulterior exotics like acacia, which gives a varied look that has a nice exotic feel.”
Acacia comes primarily from Southeast Asia, but the small tree size can make it a more costly option. Laminate that emulates acacia at a less expensive price point is a growing segment, according to Bill Schlegel, chief merchandising officer for Lumber Liquidators.
No matter which species a homeowner chooses, they want to make sure it is unique.
“We’re seeing a huge transition in the marketplace to people wanting more interesting visuals and more interesting textures,” says David Moore, senior product manager for Unilin Flooring. “There’s a major part of the market going after reclaimed visuals.”
Throughout the country people continue to have an interest in handscraping but with a different aesthetic than in the past.
“When handscraped first hit the market, it was a very ruffian, deep scrape,” Bogner said. “Now it’s very popular with less channels, less movement. It’s a more subtle and soft scrape that seems to be resonating in all areas of the U.S.”
Wirebrushing has also taken the industry by storm because it simulates the weathered, aged, and reclaimed look.
“If you can imagine what a board would look like that’s been on the side of a barn for years and has weathered storms, that’s what it almost gives you,” Bogner says. “You’ll see that look in a traditional home and also in one that’s more contemporary.”
In the laminate business, prints have gotten more successful at achieving this rustic and refined visual.
“The new laminates are sort of a patchwork of different looks and different textures,” Babinski says.
Having a textured floor can hide some of the scrapes and dents that may result from everyday mishaps, but gloss levels are effective with this as well.
Each floor is assigned a reflective figure based on a 60-degree gloss meter, meaning as these numbers decrease, the finish is more matte.
“We are moving and have moved to being much lower gloss. Glosses in the past have been as high as 70,” Bogner says. “Today, on average, we’re probably 30 or less.”
Flooring with a lot of texture is typically lower gloss, and this inspiration may be coming from overseas.
“An oil, hand-rubbed finish is very popular in Europe, and it’s gorgeous, but unfortunately you have to re-treat it every month,” Schlegel says. “Our oil finish at a 10 gloss looks just like it, but you never have to treat it.”
The colors of hardwood flooring are also changing, and European influence might explain some of the new hues as well.
“European designs are typically cooler such as cooler whites and cooler grays. In America, it’s been a litter richer and warmer,” Moore says. “We’re really seeing the European influence make its way into the U.S. market.”
Gray sales have picked up recently, and manufacturers do not see this trend peaking anytime soon.
“Consumers are most interested in lighter shades with gray and taupe being the top color choices moving into the fall season,” says Barbara June, marketing director for Kronotex USA.
Colors right now are all over the board but have moved away from the reds and distinctive yellowish looks of the past, according to Bogner.
“Color is probably the No. 1 factor in a hardwood floor choice, and it used to be there were just a handful of colors that carried all the volumes,” he says. “We’ve definitely moved to what in the past might have been called custom colors.”
Babinski attributes the growing interest in lighter browns and grays in part to the economy.
“As the economy gets better, colors start to lighten up,” she says. “People feel happier and so the colors become brighter.”
Although overall colors are getting lighter, there are still some regional differences with both shades as well as textures.
“When you look at the far West and the Northeast, a lot of light grays combined with subtle distressing on oak and other graining species is kind of the dominant visual,” Amato says. “When you go to the Southwest, it’s still about how much you can beat the floor up, scrape it, and distress it and then [add] warmer chocolate browns.”
One of the last pieces of the puzzle for the aesthetic of hardwood and wood-inspired laminate flooring is plank size. Although some homeowners still want narrow, 2¼- or 3-¼-inch oak floors—particularly in the Northeast—wider has really started to dominate.
“We have seen that 5-inch has become the new 3-¼ inch,” Babinski says. “The narrow widths look a little more traditional, and typically people want something that’s a bit more unique and newer, so the wider widths give them that option.”
Lumber Liquidators has solid wood as wide as 7 inches and engineered as wide as 10 or even 12 inches, according to Schlegel.
“The trend just keeps getting wider,” he says.
Wider planks fit seamlessly throughout the home, especially in larger spaces or with an open floor plan.
“Oversized boards look more natural in an open space, and designers are using our unusual-sized laminate flooring more often to achieve an authentic look,” June says.
It is not just the wider planks but also the way they are arranged that can create the desired aesthetic.
“We’re seeing a lot of multiple widths installed on the same floor—a 3-inch, a 5-inch, and a 7-inch or a 4-, 6-, and 8-inch configurations,” Bogner says. “Alternating the widths across the floor is very popular.”
What is happening in the rest of the home from a design perspective directly impacts a homeowner’s flooring choices. In a kitchen, for example, cabinets are key.
“From a remodeling standpoint, I get a lot of requests to match hardwood flooring or at least coordinate it with the cabinets,” Babinski says. “I’m starting to see more of a rustic look showing up in some cabinetry, which explains this trend for wood and laminate choices.”
Furniture plays a pivotal role in what people are looking for and willing to try in their flooring. An interest in the reclaimed look with furniture helps drive this growth in flooring.
“The reason this reclaimed, restored look can work in flooring is because it’s in furniture,” Natkin says. “When it’s in furniture then the same thing is complemented in flooring.”
Instead of an aspiration, wood and wood-inspired laminate has become a reality for many homeowners aiming to achieve a cohesive look throughout the home. PR