Historically, hardwood flooring has always been classified by a grading system that was established in a somewhat raw form for the lumber industry. Both "clear" and "select" were the desired industry standard for the discerning homeowner/buyer. The buyers actually became so critical of character marks they began comparing hardwood flooring to fine furniture and cabinets. Of course the response to this comment should revolve around the fact that fine hardwood furniture could never withstand the day-to-day traffic commonly associated with far-more-durable hardwood flooring. That was just the beginning of the buyer's education on why hardwood flooring contains "character marks." I guess you might say that "character builds strength."
Acceptance of character marks in hardwood flooring didn't happen over night. Probably the turning point for inspiring consumers to appreciate what the entire hardwood tree had to offer came with the introduction to exotics over a decade ago. With that, the hardwood flooring industry started to become more global. Now there are over a 100 variations in both softwoods and hardwood trees. Still, the mighty oak has always been considered the "King of the Hill" in wood flooring and I believe the "throne" is safe for many years to come. Nevertheless, there is room for additional species to serve within this majesty's court.
Along with the acceptance of character marks came the trend toward natural colors associated with "grain fed" multiple species. When exotics started to crop up in the market place, home grown manufacturers began to pursue other species besides red and white oak. For years, oak offered a strong and solid base and became an excellent candidate for revealing the grain in "living color" with the arrival of various stain products. Stain became an option to the natural look. When stain began to unmask the unique colors contained within exotics, the definition of the natural look was suddenly revised.
These wood flooring products are most compelling when the "natural" color possessed within each and every board is apparent. Why anyone would ever want to "stain" wood flooring such as maple, walnut, hickory, cherry or ash is beyond me. It is truly a disservice to the authentic color of these species that is just as prevalent at the bottom of the board as it is at the top. Between exotics and our native hardwoods, there is seemingly no end to the distinct character and color these species have to offer.
Not only are these products available in solids, but engineered as well. Because of the continual growth in the prefinished market, these products are being delivered to job sites and are ready for installation right out of the carton. Engineered products are hitting home runs in this category every time they are called up by the salesperson from the bench. As with any self contained character and color products, the wider the board, the better the visual.
Even existing installations that were manufactured in a wax, prefinished in a dark stain are becoming born again with refinishing. These 30 plus year-old floors were stained dark to hide the character marks. They are usually random planks with pegs and have an aggressive V groove edge on both the side and end match as well. They were considered quite serviceable and frequently installed as a standard product in the entry or family room from the late 60's to the mid 70's before polyurethane began leaving a mark in the hardwood flooring industry. What a beautiful world of wood we live in. These floors contain grain that flows like a river throughout each plank. The once forbidden "mineral" streaks have truly become "veins of gold" when exposed in a natural finished format.
Engineered flooring products have become extremely popular in wider plank version as opposed to the historical 2 1/4" strip flooring. Solid flooring manufactures have also joined in the fun and profit with their 3 1/4" products. Without question, the entire hardwood flooring industry must be doing something right because, as usual, the laminate manufacturers are all too eager to copy our work.
Marketing the natural growth that can be seen in our hardwood flooring products has changed the negative connotation of what we once thought of as "rustic." Now, it's a positive attribute that is sought after as "antique" flooring that offers warm, rich service for years to come.
Engineered flooring products have taken antique a step farther. They offer a weathered appearance in planks with a replica of historical finishing process of "hand scrapping." Maybe not for everyone, but for those individuals that want to advance their search beyond character and color, these products are like tasty dessert after a hearty meal.
Why the emphasis on the consumer's acceptance of both character and color? If oak remains the dominant player, why introduce alternate species? First, we now have no reason to "hide" the beauty of any hardwood. To stain some of these beautiful wood products is to commit a form of identity theft. The market is truly ripe for the transition. Also, remember it is oak that created the strong hardwood flooring market which we currently enjoy. Why fight the battle with an army of one when there are several more soldiers available both here and abroad? Residentially, Brazilian Cherry began supporting oak in our efforts to gain market share well over a decade ago. These wood species products are not a threat to oak's supremacy. They enhance and support its dominant position by furthering the acceptance of floors with character.
Now, I think we can safely say we definitely have a species for everyone: ash, hickory, maple, pine... Or how about the Brazilian counterparts of cherry or walnut: Jatoba and Purpleheart from South America or Teak and Wenge from Africa/Asia? Whatever the homeowner/buyer leans toward, the supply is readily available. Our limitations are from internal denial. The possibilities are endless.