Wood Cuts - February 2012
By Daniel Boone
Distressed Flooring for Sale used to be the sign a retailer posted in his storefront window if he had damaged goods he was hoping to sell for pennies on the dollar. Now, thanks to the trend started by some imaginative and talented craftsmen over 15 years ago, distressed flooring has become the high profit darling of retailers.
Distressed, scraped, antiqued, French bleed are all terms synonymous with floors that replicate old time-worn looks. Flooring that has been aged over many years, or even centuries, of use will have a texture that is no longer smooth, coloring that is uneven with darker edges and patches, and character from worm holes or the damage incurred from countless footsteps.
While a truly talented craftsman can replicate a distressed, aged floor with new wood, using scrapers, special finishes and many hours of labor, the look has become so popular with designers, developers, builders and homeowners that nearly every prefinished manufacturer offers their own version.
The popular trends in prefinished distressed flooring continue to be wider widths; dark colors; oak, walnut and hickory, in character grades that display knots and mineral streaks. Prefinished manufacturers will variously describe their floors as handscraped or sculpted with chattered or pillowed edges, a vintage or aged appearance, handcrafted and authentic.
But with so many offering similar looks, the trend itself is continuing to evolve as the discriminating customer is clamoring for a floor that is truly individual and not necessarily found on a traditional display rack at their local retailer.
Advanced flooring schools are now teaching many of the skills it takes to create truly custom, one-of-a-kind floors. With an investment in training, practice and perhaps more than a bit of luck and courage, the average retailer can reliably deliver these bespoke floors.
However, once again flooring manufacturers are responding by creating prefinished versions of the newest styles of distressed floors. Wider widths continue to be strongly in demand. Look for widths of 7” to 11” or more, and random width combinations of three or more sizes like 5”, 7” and 9”.
To be able to successfully install these wide widths, two–ply engineered flooring rather than solid flooring has become the preferred choice. With a wearlayer of 4mm to 6.5mm of a sawn face hardwood glued to a plywood core, this two–ply engineered construction can deliver the wearlayer of solid flooring but with greatly improved stability. Customers receive the same value and lifespan of solid wood, and the retailer can install with confidence whether nailing, gluing or floating; these floors can also be installed more quickly than solid wood, meaning that installers can move on to the next job sooner.
Deep, rich brown colors continue to be popular, but rather than just dark stained oak or hickory, treatments like high temperature kiln drying or fuming are being used to create new dark options. Maple, oak, ash or other naturally light colored species are dried in special kilns to cook or caramelize the wood, creating beautiful, rich chocolate or espresso tones through the entire thickness of the wood. Fuming is a very old process that uses ammonia to impart a smoked or warm brown color to high tannin woods like white oak.
On the other side of the color spectrum, whites are back. But unlike the 1980s when white floors were monochromatic, these new whites are much more interesting. The white coloring will often be offered as a wash or a ceruse effect with most of the white coloring in the deeper grain.
Finally, watch for greys. From very pale driftwood greys to near charcoal, greys are the hottest color trend in interior design, and homeowners are reacting very positively to these colors especially when they are combined with a distressed or aged texture.
While urethane remains the most popular finish for prefinished floors, the sheen levels have been steadily becoming more and more matte. Authentically worn or vintage floors are never shiny; instead they have at most a soft luster. While matte urethanes do a reasonable job of replicating this sheen, it is the new hard wax oils that are becoming the sought-after finish for distressed flooring.
There are several brands of hard wax oils sold in the U.S. for site application, but the trend for them is so strong that prefinished manufacturers are updating their equipment and knowledge to offer these low luster penetrating finishes to a wider audience.
Remarkably easy to maintain, the hard wax oils are a modern take on the old oil and wax finishes from pre-1970. Often made with no VOCs and maintainable with water base cleaners, they can be spot-restored in traffic and wear areas without the need to re-sand, an idea solution for distressed or textured flooring. But, beware: it requires some real education to sell and ensure customer expectations will be met with these finishes.
Prefinished manufacturers are starting to offer all of these options and more in an a la carte menu style, so the retailer can pick and choose the looks that will help them define and deliver the truly unique floors that today’s discerning customers demand. Displaying these options takes some creativity. Remember, the client who is seeking a truly unique floor does not want to find the exact same thing at the next store they visit. Rather than trying to show every available combination and use up valuable real estate within your store, think like a restaurateur. Show a reasonable size sample of each species, display several different widths, have panels of each texture option and several color and finish boards. Group them logically, like a menu, so you and the customer can discuss the features and benefits of each possible choice, oak (hard) walnut (softer), 5” widths versus 9” widths, handscraped or wire-brushed, distressed edges or not. Not only will the customer experience the excitement and pleasure of creating the perfect floor for their home, they are more likely to spend more when they can purchase the options that are most important to them, and you are more likely to enjoy the sales that result from delivering what the customer wants to buy.
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