Design is a reflection of our cultural interests, and many current floor trends are intended to satisfy the need for balance between the natural and man-made worlds. Many laminate flooring companies are offering product in elegant, sensuous and evocative organic patterns that convincingly mask its mass-produced origin.
Many of the new laminate patterns feature motifs of natural irregularities — such as knots, burls, patina and other signs of age — as well as effects that appear to be random. Today’s consumer is being treated to designs that look more natural, yet still provide the consistency and reliability of a manufactured product. Think of it as nature perfected. Many contemporary laminate designs are more lush and realistic than ever, yet they are not plagued by the splinters and some of the specialized maintenance problems associated with wood and other flooring materials.
Let’s examine some specific properties of the hottest new laminate design trends and explore their underlying meanings and origins.
Environmental“Environmental,” “green” and “eco-friendly” are some of today’s most powerful design buzzwords. These terms make consumers feel that they are being responsible by choosing a product that has considered the needs of the Earth and our fellow man.
In general, laminate is an environmentally considerate material because it’s manufactured with paper made from farm-raised trees. (Did you know that the composition of a laminate floor is 87% paper and 13% plastic resins?) A laminate floor that looks like wood is made out of printed paper which, therefore, helps preserve forests and reduces the burning of fossil fuels that would otherwise be required to ship exotic materials to flooring suppliers.
In the future, we will see the development of laminates made entirely from post-consumer recycled paper. Italian laminate manufacturer Abet Laminati, for example, offers a unique product called Parqcolor Fiber Floor that appears to have a mesh of thousands of fibers scattered across its surface. Those fibers are made from used coffee bean bags that are shredded and then sprinkled onto a solid-colored surface.
Upon closer examination, one might notice an occasional brown fleck on the product’s surface — these are actually bits of ground coffee beans! And Parqcolor Fiber Floor, which is available in six colors, is as durable as any laminate floor product. When you consider the popularity of handmade paper, which is used for lampshades, votive candles, stationary and desk accoutrements, it is not difficult to understand the appeal of this type of flooring product.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has determined that laminate is an exceedingly safe material for interior use, in part, because it acts as an impermeable barrier that keeps potentially harmful gases that emanate beneath the floor covering (such as those emitted from materials such as plywood) from reaching the interior air.
On a related note, Norske Skog promotes its glueless, mechanically interlocking Alloc Precision Flooring, system as a sound environmental alternative to glued laminate floors. Alloc claims that many adhesives emit potentially disturbing gasses that pollute interior air. Another environmental advantage of glueless systems is that they may be easily dismantled and moved, making for a readily “reusable” flooring product.
Exotic EffectsMost of us are familiar with laminates that resemble wood, stone and ceramic tile. However, a handful of manufacturers are exploring daring new effects that could prove to be exceedingly popular with flooring consumers.
Slate tile has become a fashionable accent for residential, retail and hospitality applications. Because slate is both natural and rustic, it is appropriate for today’s relaxed and health-conscious design schemes. Slate is also well suited for high-tech and industrial-looking settings. Formica Corp. recently introduced Rustic Stone, an attractive slate pattern that juxtaposes large- and small-scale tiles to create a seemingly random block design. In the future, we will see more laminate patterns that play with scale.
Wilsonart International recently introduced a new look that is inspired by concrete. Concrete floors are a very hot trend in ultra-modern residential interiors and retail spaces. There’s a certain duality in concrete’s appearance. It is simultaneously warm and cool; raw yet finished.
The new Wilsonart pattern has a subtle patina and looks as though it is showing slight signs of wear. It’s available in two colors, a natural hue (raw-crete) and a stained color (rusted-crete). This look is particularly appropriate for loft-style dwellings, which exist as hybrids of industrial and residential materials.
Armstrong has broken new ground in floor design by introducing a bamboo-styled laminate that looks both clean and modern — and yet slightly primitive. Technically, bamboo is a grass. It’s commonly used for flooring in Polynesia and the Orient. This style evokes an organic and clean feeling, very fresh and very modern. Real bamboo flooring is becoming a popular choice for stylish residential interior designers. But in this instance, Armstrong has made that look readily accessible in a mass-produced laminate line.
The world of design is becoming increasingly expansive as more people learn about design concepts through their exposure to magazines and television shows. People are beginning to choose radically new-looking products. Consider as evidence the Cool Stuff collection of funky home furnishings available at Target, or the hip new Crate and Barrel chain, CB2.
A growing number of consumers want really different-looking products in their home environments, and Canada-based Folia Industries offers some of the wildest laminate floor products available today. Imagine a floor featuring infinite number of kiwi or orange slices, aqua polka dots on a chartreuse background, or a dense carpet of $20 bills. Folia can accommodate any or all of these designs.
The company also offers photographic images of grass, stones, water, and coffee beans as flooring patterns. All of these designs relate to that currently trendy idea of pampering oneself with nature or natural motifs. Again, think of how the nature trend manifests itself in the products sold in your average gift store — from gardening tools, tabletop fountains and coffee gift sets to perfumes and candles that smell like grass!
In the future, more customers will demand flooring that’s made to their custom specifications and companies like Folia will make it for them.
WoodsOf course, wood looks remain a staple of the laminate floor product segment. But even among these mainstay designs, manufacturers are pushing the fashion envelope into new territory.
“Wood will be a dominant laminate flooring trend for a long time,” explains flooring consultant Richard Riley. “The American consumer is looking for darker, warmer, more traditional-looking wood species in textures that look worn and familiar. Darker colors are preferred to the lighter, traditionally European-styled beech and birch woods.”
One only has to consider the profusion of home renovating programs on the House and Garden Network to understand this trend. Many Americans want new things, but they want them to look old too.
Mannington was the pioneer of the aged, rustic, almost colonial-looking wood product. Now almost every manufacturer offers a variation of the trend. For instance, Wilsonart’s new Treasure wood features a casual, more rustic type of feel. The Treasure pattern was inspired by hickory, however the sophisticated color interpretation makes the grain more versatile and elegant.
Similarly, Pergo offers the Vintage Collection featuring red oak, chestnut, heart pine and white oak. Each pattern features wider planks, knots, worm holes and nail marks, all of which are characteristic of older, antique wood floors. All of these designs fit in with the upscale country look as epitomized in many consumer shelter magazines.
Whether based on the exotic, the environmental or traditional wood looks, natural is one of the hottest trends in contemporary design. But “natural” means many different things. Essentially, it refers to warm looks — whether they are inspired by materials that were harvested from nature, hand-crafted, or simply time-worn. Regardless of which form they take, these natural looks are intended to make people feel warm, comfortable and safe in their environments.