New Laminates for 2004 Focus on Perfecting the Visual Formula
March 9, 2004
In past years, the flooring industry's laminate segment has distinguished itself as a bastion of continuous technical innovation. Consider the abrupt sea change the product category made as manufacturers moved, almost overnight, from traditional glued installation systems to glueless, "click" configurations. And who does not remember the buzz generated by the registered embossing and other textural surface techniques that brought new realism to laminates?
But for 2004, most suppliers have eschewed adding radical new bells and whistles to their laminate lineups, and have opted instead to refocus their product development efforts on design and decor. The result is a refreshed slate of looks, particularly in wood patterns.
That's not to say that ceramic, stone and special-effects decors are not well represented in this year's laminate launches, as some of the new product photos accompanying this story attest. However, it's obvious when perusing the 2004 collections that manufacturers have kept close tabs on product trends prevalent among laminate's hardwood flooring cousins and brought the looks of many of their most popular species and surface treatments into the laminate format.
In the aggregate, the laminate industry has implemented a number of new initiatives to even more closely mimic hot fashions in hardwood. Distressed, antiqued, oiled and hand-scraped hardwood flooring has grown increasingly popular over the past few years, and this year laminate followed suit by introducing product with the same looks. Nor have laminate producers ignored consumers' blossoming demand for exotic wood species. Many have added decors that emulate teak, bamboo and other exotics.
In addition, certain laminate manufacturers have modified the traditional plank format of the product in a nod to hardwood's installation versatility. For example, laminate herringbone patterns, which make use of individual strips rather than plank-sized units, are now available. And taking this theme even further, some suppliers today offer multi-width and random-length planks, long a mainstay configuration in hardwood. Even parquet is more frequently turning up in laminate form.
Recent laminate innovations that once were proprietary to just a few brands have become more commonplace for 2004. Although micro beveling the edges of laminate planks to create a v-groove between the assembled units is no longer a new novelty, it has become a mainstream option instituted by a great many manufacturers this year. In testament to the popularity of the beveled-edge look, some laminate producers that don't emboss the v-groove into their products still offer the illusion of bevels in the photo-realistic decorative paper that so convincingly allows laminate to mimic natural, alternative floor covering materials.
Other recent innovations that now have thoroughly penetrated the laminate segment, rather than being offered by a select few suppliers, include the registered embossing technique and textured-surface treatments.
In the final analysis, there can be no denying that the laminate flooring category has in 2004 come a long way in the variety of looks it offers and the uncanny realism it achieves.