Opportunities, Choices Abound for Commercial Wood Floor Installations
William-Sonoma. Paul Harris. J. Crew. Banana Republic. The Gap. Guess. Crate&Barrel. Express. The Limited. Abercrombie & Fitch. Parisian. Nautica. Polo-Ralph Lauren. American Outfitters. Lazarus Department Stores. Bloomingdales. Barney’s Department Store. T.G.I. Friday’s. Outback Steak House. Bob Evans Restaurants. Longhorn Steak House. Cracker Barrel. Lonestar Steak House. Morton’s of Chicago.
What do these retail stores and restaurants all have in common?
If you guessed the common denominator is hardwood flooring installed throughout their premises, you’re right! Have you noticed lately the popularity of hardwood flooring in U.S. specialty shops, restaurants and, in particular, the national chains?
The fact is, the Architectural Design and Decorating (AD&D) community for many years has been specifying hardwood flooring for commercial use. Admittedly, hard statistics quantifying the total volume of wood flooring in this market segment are unavailable. But as far as this trend is concerned, it’s big, it’s growing and it will continue to increase for many years to come.
It used to be, however, that commercial installations typically called for specification of acrylic-impregnated wood floors. Such floors employ a process that injects the color (stain) throughout the wood — rather than a mere topical surface application. While impregnation yields a harder and longer-wearing finish, it somewhat alters the natural appearance of the wood.
With today’s newer, harder and longer-wearing factory finishes, commercial floor applications can more readily benefit from the beautiful, natural look of real wood. Maintenance costs are considerably lower than they once were, and manufacturers’ warranties extend over longer periods. These recent developments, combined with a broader array of wood species and prefinished colors, have raised significantly the sheer volume of wood flooring installed in commercial environments during the past three years alone.
Wood flooring is fast becoming the commercial floor covering of choice for a variety of reasons. Among these are wood’s beauty, comfort, variety, and aesthetics. But when I ask architects and designers why they’re choosing wood floors, they most frequently point to the “richness” that hardwood, unlike any floor covering alternative, brings to a commercial space.
Through the décors they establish for a store or restaurant, designers work to immediately position the value of their commercial client’s goods and services in the eyes of the consumer. They realize that they have only a fleeting instant in which to convince the shopper or diner, through the look and ambience of the surroundings, that they have come to just the right place.
In today’s competitive market place, curb appeal is vital to success. Their first impressions tell consumers a lot about the quality of the merchandise sold, or the type food and service offered. Hardwood flooring has amazing capacity to provide that instant “position” statement — whether it’s the rustic, folksy appeal of a Cracker Barrel restaurant, or the sophisticated upscale dinning experience enjoyed in a famous Morton’s of Chicago steak house.
The same is true when you walk into the Ralph Lauren Polo or Nautica area of a department store. The merchandise therein is set apart from the rest just by the presence of hardwood flooring in that section of the store. The hardwood makes a complementary statement about the upscale, trendy clothes that those retailers sell.
Installation versatility is another factor that accounts for the increasing popularity of hardwood floors in commercial applications. With floating floors, engineered floors and new adhesives, the traditional solid-looking wood floor can be installed over concrete slabs easier than ever before.
Floating floors, developed in Europe, are installed by gluing together the tongues and grooves of component planks, rather than nailing or adhering them to the subfloor. Thus, the floor literally “floats” over the substrate. This option also offers a wide range of species, features excellent milling and comes with a true square-edge (no bevel) profile. When its time to change the store décor, a floating product can be removed much easier than any other type of hardwood flooring installation.
Engineered floors are glued direct to the concrete slab, thus eliminating the need for and added cost of a plywood subfloor (which is necessary for a nail-down solid hardwood floor). Engineered floors incorporate laminated cross-plied veneers. The cross plies considerably enhance the floors’ dimensional stability.
The veneers can be rotary peeled, sliced or sawn, each of which gives the floor a different graining effect. All work quite well, but the sawn and sliced versions look more like solid wood when installed, and they usually have better milling tolerances that give the floor more of a site-sanded-and-finished look.
The strikingly different “looks” they can achieve by using unusual and unique wood species constitutes another reason why designers and decorators love to specify hardwood floors. And they have choices as to how they achieve these looks. The most economical way is to stain oak or maple, which are the predominant hardwood species used to make wood flooring in this country. This technique can produce a floor that closely mimics the appearance of a cherry, walnut or mahogany specie.
In Europe, however, most decorators determine wood floor colors by choosing different species. The chosen specie is then finished with a clear, natural urethane-like topcoat that brings out the natural beauty of the wood. If the U.S. specifier has the budget to use the actual desired specie, he can install a solid wood floor. But, to help minimize the cost of such an upgrade, an engineered product that features the desired specie in its top layer can be used. Either way, hardwood flooring captures a variety of aesthetics regardless of whether you specify a solid or engineered product.
Lastly, continued growth opportunities exist in the use of hardwood flooring in banks, executive offices and corporate boardrooms. For centuries, hardwood has established a history of quietly exuding an aura of strength, stability and prosperity. That’s why architects and decorators overwhelmingly choose hardwood flooring to create the corporate look of success in these types of installations. In contrast to the past, a wide range of choices is available today to create such rich-looking décors.
And for the maintenance department, hardwood flooring has never been easier to keep clean. Many new products on the market are designed especially to keep hardwood flooring looking factory fresh for years to come.
The opportunities for growing your hardwood flooring business in the commercial flooring segment have never been better. And, with the many choices available today, the future looks even brighter.