The Move To Super Natural -- Natural Plank, part of Congoleum's new Ultima sheet flooring line, extends the current resilient styling trend that's bringing the look of natural materials to the indoor environment. Photo courtesy of Congoleum.

"Super Naturals" is how Leonard Ludovico, Congoleum's vice president of Styling, describes the new resilient patterns out on the flooring market today. Taking their cue from Mother Nature, resilient manufacturers are seeking to "perfect" nature when they create the look of stone, ceramic and wood. While the designers themselves may be somewhat tired of the category, the marketplace still demands resilient products and that desire shows no sign of waning.

As Stuart Beattie, vice president of Styling at Mannington, says, "(resilient) stone looks more like stone, and (resilient) slate looks more like slate. Before, they were always shiny and plastic looking."

Today, through the use of chemical and resin embossing agents, resilient representations of natural flooring materials have the texture and appearance of the real thing. To be fashion savvy in this business, you need to have timeless design. Nature smartly fits into that theme, which accounts for the ongoing proliferation of natural design elements. Perhaps that's why Ludovico refers to the resilient industry as "the National Geographic of floors."

Congoleum's Ultima products are designed to look and feel like the real thing. "They can't have a plastic look to them," Ludovico explains, "or the customer won't buy them." Technology -- particularly as it relates to state-of-the-art scanning, printing and embossing -- has matured to the point where resilient designers are now able to perfect the natural look.

Styling From The Ancients -- Armstrong's new Designer Solarian Jaspe Collection, which was named for an ancient artwork technique that replicates the look of jasper and agate stones, is an inlaid color sheet vinyl floor that utilizes textured embossing specific to each pattern to produce realistic natural looks with the appearance of stone, shell and ceramic materials. Photo courtesy of Armstrong World Industries.
In line with the natural design theme, Mannington Resilient Floors has introduced a new product called Luminesse, which the company bills as floors that capture the beauty of light. A high-end Gold Series collection, the new line represents the company's next generation in resilient realism.

Created to be highly complementary to today's hottest decorating trends, Mannington feels that its extension of natural forms should make Luminesse a sure winner with consumers. It creates excitement with the allure of pearlescent and reflective effects, rich copper patinas and decorative metal inserts.

Joe Amato, Mannington Resilient director of Design and Styling, says that the Mannington design team "created pattern and texture effects that add realism and visual excitement to the floor design.

"The unique patterns and the beautiful coloring bring both elegance and vitality to the home," he adds. "We've tried to capture the types of reflective and luminescent effects being seen in popular home accessories, appliances and textiles"

Without a doubt, natural products are seen increasingly throughout the home. Consider stone countertops in the kitchen. Unlimited wood species are invading the home for cabinet, furniture and flooring uses. Even natural products like slate and cork (a 1950s favorite) have been making a comeback.

The seven new Luminesse patterns fall into those categories. Slate, limestone, travertine and onyx are a few of the natural forms that were used in the designs. Patinated gold, silver and copper are some of the metal accents, used along with interwoven glass, that glow with pearlescent effects. While these metal-and-glass looks make for upscale, elegant floor designs, other patterns offer rustic features in geometric modular layouts.

Resilient Goes Avant-Garde -- The unusual Riveting design from Mannington's new Luminesse line replicates the look of multi-textured metal panes riveted together with small screws. Luminesse is made up of seven patterns featuring stone, glass and brushed metallic visuals. Photo courtesy of Mannington Resilient Floors.
These new technologies also feature the use of fuller, richer color ranges in the mid-tones, along with a "heathering" of color. Each pattern incorporates rich layers of design and color for decorative flooring that appears to be part mineral and part metal. "We were inspired by how far we could take the natural beauty of stone and reflective materials using both artistic and natural-occurring effects," Amato explains.

It's been a long-known fact that consumers choose resilient flooring first for color and style. However, the performance of the floor is still an issue. Even so, resilient floors today are constructed for style and low maintenance that retailers can sell with confidence.

Today's products have features designed to help protect against rips and tears from dragging loads (like heavy refrigerators), permanent indentations from furniture or high heels, and gouges from dropped objects like sharp knives. A lot of products have added 25 millimeters of wear layer on top to afford this protection. Mannington's Guardian Construction with TechStar Plus wear layer is a case in point.

While some, like Beattie, see decorative elements creeping back into resilient design from time to time, it never seems to take a strong hold in residential products. Although commercial designers have more of an opportunity to use that type of product, the commercial market is seeing a movement toward strong use of natural designs, too.

Marble, stone and wood looks are prevalent in retail and hospitality interiors. Healthcare environments use the more light-colored woods. Metallics are used here too, with an iridescent look that changes color when viewed from different perspectives. Sounds like the flooring designers have taken a page out of the fashion and automotive styling handbooks! But I guess that's just how things evolve from one industry to another.

Join me for my next column when I get back to showroom management with a focus on developing your advertising programs.