Formica Flooring’s Classic Estate Collection features a wide variety of authentic-looking hardwood textures.

Laminate flooring has remained a strong category in the current economy, thanks to its versatility, performance and competitive pricing. Increasingly, cost-conscious consumers are turning to laminate flooring products as an alternative to more expensive hardwood and ceramic. Laminates are still carving out their own unique niche in the flooring market.

“The recession has resulted in downward spending for the recent past; however starting in Spring 2011, there has been a resurgence of interest in floors that are distinctive,” said Bill Dearing, president, North American Laminate Floor Association (NALFA). He believes laminate flooring offers a range of distinctive looks.

The Plaza Collection from Shaw Industries shown in Zelda Birch finish.

Laminate manufacturers have responded by increasing the performance and visual appeal of the products while maintaining a price point that is highly competitive to comparable products.

“Because of the economy and the demands of the consumer to search for strong pricing coupled with quality, our goal was to enhance both,” said Fred Giuggio, Formica Flooring vp.

One of the reasons for the ongoing popularity of laminate flooring is that it offers great performance and easy installation, thanks to recent developments in technology, including new finishes and enhancements to click installation systems.

“Our new Opti-Guard finish is used on our Plaza, Ritz and Luminiere collections,” noted Eric Erickson, Shaw laminate category manager. “The smooth gloss or lower-gloss products have predominately been coming from China, but we have been able to develop technology domestically that allows products with exceptional clarity and added durability and scratch resistance.”

Pergo’s Reclaimed Oak décor, part of its Elegant Expressions line.

“Anti-scratch finishes substantially reduce the appearance of micro-scratches,” added Tino Cuoto, Torlys product development manager. “High-quality joint systems and quality improvements on the high density fiberboard cores provide for the possibility of offering a water warranty.”

Another factor driving the popularity of laminate flooring is the increased realism of the latest laminate flooring designs. This allows consumers to achieve the look of exotic wood and stone fashions at a fraction of the cost.

“Rustics have certainly been strong and we have also seen good demand for exotics,” Erickson said. “This may be a result of a challenge in finding [exotic] hardwoods after the Lacey Act was put in place.”

“On quality brand laminates, high-definition printing technology offers high quality, crisp, true-to-life visuals,” Cuoto noted. “Realism is also increased by the use of high quality registered embossing, which truly synchronizes textures and prints; naturally imperfect bevel edges complete the life-like look.”

“We are seeing more embossing and an enhanced clarity and crispness in designs from paper manufacturers,” added Giuggio. “The slightly beveled edges give the product reality and value.”

Torlys’ Hampton series, shown in Burnt Sugar Hickory finish.

One of the latest trends in laminate flooring is the use of lighter colors and shades of gray, which reflect the growing popularity of these colors in other areas such as automotive and fashion design.

Cuoto and Erickson agree on the trend to lighter colors. “Very light colors, such as white and light cream are back,” said Cuoto. “We’re also seeing more very dark, almost black colors. Grays, including dark, storm and metal are definitely in.”

Another trend is the use of larger format products, such as longer and wider planks, which allow for a more realistic imitation of traditional wood planks. “In the past year, we’ve seen greater demand for longer lengths, including extra-long and extra-wide planks, as well as extra-thick (12 and 15 mm) products,” Cuoto stated.

Rustic and reclaimed flooring products continue to be important influence on contemporary laminate design trends.

“The Restoration Collection was inspired by what we call the ‘reclaimed rustics’ trend,” said Joe Amato, vp of residential styling for Mannington Mills. “This trend is about the three R’s: rustic, reclaimed and refined. This trend is being used in all aspects of home interiors from furniture to flooring and is a wonderful way to reuse our natural resources.”

The Restoration Collection is the latest introduction from Mannington; shown in Historic Oak finish.

Future Looks Bright for Laminate Design
Looking forward, laminate flooring will continue to offer the latest design trends as more consumers seek modern looks and textures at an affordable price. “Laminate flooring is positioned now as a category, not any sort of imitation. This means that a consumer will base his or her flooring purchase on performance and design features of laminate flooring,” Dearing said.

While realistic natural textures will continue to dominate in the laminate category, there will also be an increase of man-made looks, as designers work to create unique new textures and prints.

“We expect to see more products outside the normal wood and ceramic/stone visuals, including man-made visuals and textures,” Cuoto said. “We also expect to see improved quality printing and increased use of FSC and other certified raw materials.”

“We foresee more beveled edge designs with focus on thickness and clear, fresh colors,” Giuggio noted. “There will be a regional focus on designs such as scrapes and deep colors in the Southwest and gunstock and butterscotch oaks in the Northeastern States.”

“Laminate [flooring] will continue to get pressures from other categories, and we are looking to create as much value in our products as possible from durability and leading with style and design,” Erickson added.

“I think that a combination of new size formats, edge technology and designs that emulate hardwood flooring and the looks of natural stone with visual realism are the future of laminate flooring,” Amato said.