While the wood floor market has reached a plateau, customer expectations are evolving at an incredible rate. It’s no longer a case of simply supplying an oak finish, in maybe a traditional one-strip or more ‘economically’ three-strip. Or, of providing options with or without knots.

A wood floor is now a design-led surface finish. As such, specifiers are choosing specific treatments, coloured washes and bespoke finishes – and they’re also taking a closer look at eco-credentials throughout the production process. And, while this isn’t great news for commodity products, it bodes well for forward-thinking manufacturers of quality brands.

New stained lacquers, oils and "tactile" treatments are being used to emphasise the grain and texture of a real wood floor. Surfaces are being brushed, smoked, scraped, sawn, screen-printed and bevelled to create three-dimensional looks that bring the natural surface alive – and these designs are now offered throughout whole ranges, at various price points. Such is their popularity, that the new breed of wood floors are being used on walls too, and the results are spectacular!

Rustic floors are still very popular, but there’s also demand for natural purity; for more clean, even grains. But the new soughtafter floors aren’t plain, by any means; they also feature a variety of finishing treatments and many have stained lacquer or oil finishes, in subtle white and grey shades. New-look patterned floors are also very much on trend, in traditional herringbone and chevron-designs. The modern parquet looks are now offered in contemporary board formats, and also feature a variety of colour and texture finishes, bringing them bang up to date. Beyond the myriad of new product designs and finishes, the modern multi-layered or engineered construction has also played a big part in the wood floor’s evolution. There are many advantages to this method: as sustainable hardwood is used only in the surface layer, five times the amount of flooring can be produced with the same hardwood yield, while fast-growing pine or spruce is used in the core layers. The construction also makes the floor more stable and, combined with a quality joint, the risk of gapping is eliminated. Multi-layered floors are also an ideal partner to underfloor heating and, as floors can be refurbished in the same way as a solid product – ie down to the joint – offer benefits in terms of longevity too.

As specifiers take a closer look at ecocredentials, producers are also working in more imaginative ways to fulfil ethical and social responsibilities. Kährs has taken this one step further, by developing a world-first range of sustainable tropical floors. Produced as part of the first FSC- and Fairtradecertified timber small-scale forestry project, in Chile’s Curacautin Valley, the new floors are made using a combination of sustainable native rauli and roble hardwood timber. The hardwood is used in the surface layer only, while FSC Mix certified wood is used for the core layers, combining eco and performance benefits once again. The new range supports not only the restoration of biodiversity in the forest, but also reduction of poverty and restoration of forest rights to the indigenous Mapuche and descendants of pioneer family foresters.

Today’s ‘evolved’ wood floors have a lot to offer, in terms of design, performance and eco-credentials. And, with manufacturers switched on to both trade and consumer needs, it looks like the enduring popularity of quality, branded wood floors is set to last.