When it comes to laminate flooring, consumers, perhaps harkening back to simpler times, are choosing more timeworn and reclaimed hardwood visuals.

When it comes to laminate flooring, consumers often want natural-looking products that cost less than the real thing. Perhaps harkening back to simpler times, consumers are choosing more timeworn and reclaimed hardwood visuals. Laminate flooring manufacturers say that consumers are also looking at more traditional colors, veering toward grays and browns and away from the reds that have been popular for the last few years.

Several companies unveiled new looks inspired by reclaimed hardwood at Surfaces 2012, including Quick-Step with its Reclaimé line. According to Roger Farabee, senior vice president of marketing for Unilin Flooring/Mohawk Hard Surfaces, the new floor offers “the perfect balance of a high-end look with the performance benefits of laminate.

 “The premium range [in laminate] is still there, but the expectation in all ranges is higher than it used to be,” Farabee said. “No matter what they pay, people demand a high level of design and performance.” He said that due to the economy all price-points have come down, but the consumer’s expectations are higher than ever.

Quick-Step unveiled a wide range of new visuals in all of its price-points, including strand bamboo and hickory looks in an entry-level 8mm laminate with an attached pad, and new Modello colors with a metallic effect and premium wire-brushed look. All of these products will be ready in time for the spring.

 “Customers want options,” Farabee said. “Everyone wants value at every price point. There is a new value mentality out there, and we want to offer products with a very high-end appearance at a budget [price].” This desire for more options also extended to a new 5-in-1 Incizo profile that includes a stair nose option.

Farabee said that laminate flooring is ideal for budget-minded consumers because it offers a wide range of looks that might be too expensive in other mediums, such as whitewashed hardwood, wire-brushed finishes and other high-end looks. “To a retailer it’s an asset to be able to show customers products that look nearly alike, and what’s different is the dollars per square foot,” he said.

Armstrong and Bruce are also poised with new laminate floors that feature rustic and metallic visuals. According to Michele Zelman, head of Armstrong’s public relations, while the real star right now is luxury vinyl tile, laminate also remains a big seller.

 “We are showing concepts at Surfaces, but nothing has been finalized yet,” Zelman said. “We plan to launch more upscale hardwood looks, as well as metallics, rustics and products in our Coastal Living lines.”

Dan Natkin, Mannington Mills’ director of wood and laminate, was eager to show Surfaces attendees his company’s latest looks, including Arcadia laminate with a refined rustic look, and Chateau with a smooth, sleek finish.

 “What we’re seeing are laminate floors that combine both rustic and modern styles,” Natkin said. “Restoration-inspired looks are able to transcend both of these styles. They’re very versatile.”

He noted that the hardwood visuals are trending toward yellows, grays and browns. “The roots are much more traditional than the reds we have been seeing for a while.” Stone and tile visuals in laminate also remain popular. “Basically, laminate tile is still doing well for us in those visuals that you do not often see in LVT. Those modular laminate visuals are still doing extremely well for us,” he said.

Natkin notes that the laminate looks that are currently selling the best are the traditional, natural looks. “The volume drivers are the ones that look like the real thing,” he said. “People are looking for floors that are much more subtle [than laminate of the past], with much more natural colors.”

Kevin Thompson, Shaw’s hardwood and laminate category manager, said laminate flooring remains a sound choice for consumers looking for realistic looks on a fixed budget. “I think the economic climate makes laminate an even better choice because of the value and performance these styles offer,” he said.

As for trends, Thompson sees laminate with more satin finishes and high-end looks in exotics and premium species like hickory and maple. He also agrees that registered-embossed rustic looks are becoming more popular, as well as “full, wide plank visuals.”

Thompson said he does not see any major changes from the category in 2012, aside from increasing competition from LVT. Despite these challenges, he believes laminate will continue to sit at the forefront of print technology. “We will see continued improvements in print, visual clarity and realism along with [greater] variety in surface textures,” he said.