There are some amazing new shifts in the interiors world for 2017 and more importantly the floors on which we will be walking as well. After 12 months of serious observation and supporting data from sales, it is safe to say that 2017 should be a rewarding year for all of us who have “hung in there” hoping for a more robust economy.
Taking the mega-trends into account – the ones that aren’t mere blips on a radar, but lasting and noteworthy in how they impact our choices – manufacturers, flooring retailers, specifiers and designers will need to be tuned in to finding flooring that reveals “character” in new ways. Authenticity, primitive or indigenous designs, and travel-inspired looks are key adjectives when describing the biggest trends.
Just look at the major movement that Chip and Joanna Gaines and their urban farmhouses started with design projects on HGTV’s “Fixer Upper.” Joanna’s choices for the clients on the show have resulted in the carefully curated Magnolia Home brand which includes primitive details, burlap, rustic metal, nailhead accents and lots of wood – painted, distressed and/or cracked. Shiplap is a word that’s no longer just a word to describe shiplap; it has now become part of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ design aesthetic. Shiplap is also what has led to our seeing hardwood migrating from the floors to the walls in the form of wall boards that instantly add architectural detailing where ho-hum Sheetrock would have ordinarily been hung.
From a design perspective, I love the influences that the Gaines couple has brought to market since it makes for a more forgiving, livable, low maintenance and mixable design sensibility that’s also affordable and attainable for any demographic group and style. While most cable television design shows will not give much attention to the flooring, you’ll see it be transformed from an unattractive color of carpet to a neutral hardwood floor or wood visual with rugs layered strategically. I’d love to find a program that can show how easily the right flooring choices can make an old or dated space look incredibly well-styled and up-to-date. Even better would be to create a show that walks viewers through the options that are out there and why each is different.
In North America, I do think we are seeing a change in attitude and preferences for American-made products and flooring. After this past year’s revelations of how some Chinese manufacturers colluded with their customers to mislabel and misrepresent safety of the products for the home, as well as safety of the work environment where they were made, consumers learned the hard way to be vigilant in knowing exactly what we bring into our homes and how it all impacts our health and welfare.
Before the “urban farmhouse” movement, the term character meant the imperfections that might have been graded out in the sorting process of wood so that the veneer is clear of any knots or cracks. Today, if you take a poll among consumers and designers, you’ll learn that subtle imperfections or character flaws are considered desirable and many consumers or designers equate character as good. The challenge for us all is knowing how to get to the heart of what someone means when they’re asking for character. Ask lots of questions…and then ask more questions. You could find yourself in a situation where you are giving a customer what they asked for, but not what they wanted.
Flooring choices should be given significant time and attention to make sure they’re appropriate for the lifestyle and wear they’ll be given. Today, it’s not difficult to find hardwood floors that can stand alone or pair easily with soft surfaces in order to create a gorgeous interior instantly. So often, there’s a misconception that site-installed hardwood floors are just better as a whole and are the only way to get a custom-designed look. But you can also find factory-finished hardwood floors that look custom-designed and are incredibly resistant to surface scratches. Because the manufacturer applies the finish treatment to the wood, they are able to use very effective commercial processes that are not available to on-site installers. Typically this consists of layers of aluminum oxide and UV-cured urethane. While site-applied finish warranties last from three to five years, factory finishes will often have warranties of up to 25 years or more.
So how do you share the most essential attributes of hardwood flooring when we live in a world of instant information? Perhaps we as flooring manufacturers, providers, specifiers and retailers can encapsulate the information and utilize social media as our means to share it. The consumers simply don’t know what they don’t know. There’s a great opportunity for all of us to better educate the end-users.
Once someone makes the decision to tackle a home improvement project, specifically flooring, beyond identifying the right product they’re faced with one of the other biggest hurdles ever; visualizing the possibilities. We’ve seen technology empower the consumers’ decisions that were once selected because they were “safe” to those who are now leaning toward super-personalized and bolder options. Pinterest and HOUZZ are great examples of the vehicles that can quickly deliver visual inspiration directly to your front door, whether it’s a rug or wall boards in a niche, we are seeing things change quickly in the ways we all do business. If you can search for it, see it, like it and click on it, it’s yours. We once only used e-commerce for buying books or music, but thanks in a large part to the competitive landscape of shipping, we can now have almost anything delivered relatively easily.
It’s going to be an exciting new year and there’s no telling what unexpected things will happen, but one thing is for sure: the floor covering market will continue to evolve further away from mundane wall-to-wall carpet to sophisticated designs in carpet and rugs that are layered upon American-made hardwood floors.