By Morgan Bulman
Lighter colored species of hardwood are trending — in particular, white oak is at an all-time high, edging out red oak in North American sales.
“If you’re a Millennial or Gen Z, your hardwood memories will most likely be around white oak. White oak has developed an allure in part because it is heavily used and showcased in many European magazines and vignettes,” explained Sara Babinski, design manager at Armstrong Flooring. “White oak is slightly harder than red oak because of its tight, cellular graining. When compared to red oak, the graining is less active, the color is a light brown with a slight olive cast (in its natural state) and its legacy is in barrel making for the wine and whiskey industry.”
Customers have been drawn to neutral colors, particularly taupe. The natural pink hues of red oak, as well as the rosy undertones of exotics, make achieving a gray color palette difficult. Maxwell Hardwood Flooring has found its most popular floors, styled in white, gray or black, are best achieved when staining white oak, sales manager Darrell Orell revealed. It’s the core reason why it’s so popular right now — it easily takes on today’s flooring fashions.
“We’ve seen a significant shift away from exotics over the past five years,” said Dan Natkin, vice president of wood and laminate at Mannington. “There are certain exotics that have retained their popularity [and] there are a few pockets of the country where species like Brazilian cherry, tigerwood and amendoim are still in favor.”
Domestic species in general, according to Roger Farabee, Mohawk Flooring’s vice president of laminate and hardwood products, have eclipsed exotics. He said the company has discontinued many of its exotic lines, such as sapele, tigerwood and eucalyptus, in favor of domestics.
Today’s leading looks
Many hardwood manufacturers, in fact, reported domestic species as their best-selling and expect white oak’s strength to continue in 2019. Red oak remains a top seller with hickory and maple named as other favorites.
For example, Paul Rezuke, vice president of U.S. sales for Wickham Hardwood, mentioned red oak and maple are leading sells due to the scarcity of raw material for white oak, yet he also suspects an emergence of birch.
American OEM, which focuses on the manufacturing of American-grown timber, has also experienced success with its kupay wood collection from Paraguay. “We have a lot of success with kupay, which looks like and has the hardness of American hickory, and is incredibly hearty in arid climates,” shared Allie Finkell, vice president of American OEM. “We have figured out treatments to mask some of the red undertones, so the visual, when combined [with] the performance characteristics, creates a desirable non-oak option.” She also noted, though, that American OEM’s top selling wood species are still white oak and hickory, as well as maple and walnut.
Species preference often has to do with the graining and contrast found in different wood types. “Many consumers today are looking for flooring with a natural look and appreciate the knots, grains and pattern variations in hickory,” offered Drew Hash, Shaw’s vice president of hard surface. “For consumers seeking a subtler look from their wood floor, maple is the perfect species — it has a limited grain [and] takes to staining well.”
Hash added that, although red-hued wood is out of favor now, trends may actually be shifting back in that direction. “At Shaw, we are constantly looking at new species of wood. We seek to stay on trend and strive to consistently offer the best product selections for customers,” he said. “We are beginning to see a resurgence of more red-based products. Utilizing species like red oak may be a popular trend in 2019.”
Armstrong’s Babinski also acknowledged the above phenomena, describing it as an emergence of “spice tones.” She continued, “We’ll be keeping an eye on gunstock and butterscotch. We are beginning to see a lightening trend, away from medium grays and dark browns. Natural maple would fit nicely into this emerging color category for hardwood.”
But Mohawk’s Farabee noted that overpowering red tones won’t be returning. “Those newer, fresher, European-inspired looks feature calmer, lighter colors with a gray influence,” he said, adding both white and red oak account for 70 percent of the company’s solid wood sales.