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Hardwood Floors Through the Lens of 2018

Hardwood Floors, through the lens of 2018, as a whole, is looking very good. Turn on and watch any cable channel, advertisements and editorials in magazines, images in social media posts, walk through any furniture or interiors show, and you’ll see spaces infiltrated with wood, wood looks, finishes, as well as nods and winks to wood. What everyone loves about the look of hardwood is its ability to morph and change depending on the style of its surroundings…as well as for its ability to immediately update and transform a space simply when and where it’s installed.


What’s new in hardwood flooring is going to come as no surprise when I say it but you still need to hear it–can you me when I say ”GRAY” is still important in interiors and hardwood flooring?…while it’s not the only important color going into homes in 2018, it is still among the most important colors influencing what goes into homes, that includes chic whites, muted taupes, mushrooms, and of course warm taupe as the major players in the interiors world in the backdrop as the quiet blank canvas. This gray movement has been growing over the past ten years, making a slow and steady climb into mainstream product development for runway, hospitality, con-tract and home fashions. Barnwood grays, gray-beiges and taupes stretch from rustic to refined in appearance, making the color an ideal solution for bridging old to new and updating spaces.

Whites, off whites and blank canvas tans are all the rage today both in European design as well as USA. In recent trips to various design firms, many of their showroom spaces feature hardwood flooring that can be best described as “Belgian linen” in color, what I’ve stated in years past as the perfect blank canvas on which a great design plan can happen. These light pale neutrals are inspired from not only coastal design aesthetics but also from the Danish design trend known as “Hygge” which means “coziness and comfort”. In early 2016, I listed “Hygge” as a mega-trend for the year. Not only has “Hygge” been a mega trend, it’s also a concept everyone around the world can live with. Associated with “hygge” is another important but lesser-known concept, “lagom”, which means “not too much, not too little, but sufficient”. Both concepts are rooted in the Scandinavian design world and fall into the wants and de-sires we all have as consumers to be comforted but also to be to reflect our interests and level of sophistication.

In addition to color and styling there are all-important global catalysts that help establish and set the biggest of trends. For example, world travel, aka “wanderlust”, is one specific catalyst that is driving many of these gray, taupe, white and off white wood trends. Today it’s somewhat passé to exhibit “conspicuous consumption”, yet it is widely accepted to show off around-the-world travels via social media posts. More and more, university students are taking semesters or summers abroad for college credits and are getting exposed to heritage sites around the world, edging up their taste for the exotic-aesthetics from the ordinary. I, for one, can attest that travel is one of the best ways to become inspired and understand how important it is to see the world to have better understanding of various world sites as design inspiration. “Wanderlust” in wood trends can be best seen in the European-style dramatic widths, lengths and thicknesses which, once seen, is next to impossible to trade down to the merely mundane formats or “faux wood” flooring, hence the “monstro-scale” wood planks shown and seen at international shows and expos. It is possible to bring these looks home, affordably and from domestic sources, if you’re willing to do some research into its origins.
Besides gray-based neutrals, there are some seriously exciting ingredients to consider for 2018 hardwood flooring. For example, technology and history are colliding in the field of hardwood floors in a way that is allowing an introduction and influx of floors that are continuing to be wider and longer than in the narrow strip orange-red prefinished engineered floors of twenty years ago. For 2018, look to see more options of these larger formats to accentuate the wide open spaces of homes. As we’ve witnessed the right-sizing of homes square footage over the past decade, homes with open layouts have also become one of the top five must-haves, along with hardwood floors for those in the market for a new home. Open layouts are nice until the homeowner tries to transition their flooring type from space to space, unless of course it’s hardwood floors, which flows seamlessly from front door to the back. What makes wide and long hardwood floors the most desired format is the fact that they essentially expand the spaces visually by reducing the number of joints, end to end and side to side. With larger boards, the human eye can see more of the beautiful part of the hardwood which is the wood grain and its natural appeal as a living material. Whether the flooring is dark or light, heavily scraped, cracked or smooth and refined, the wood’s beau-ty lies in its ever-growing value over centuries.

A major important hardwood trend to expect to see more of in 2018 is intricate parquetry installations such as herringbone. In recent trips touring castles and chateaus in both England and France, there was an abundance of centuries’ old interiors with herringbone hardwood floors which offer an appealing “look of richness” to American consumers due to the fact that they add flair and panache to an otherwise simple installation. As the economy continues to grow and housing market expands, we also know that homeowners are turning to the trade professionals for their expertise. Many times professionals, whether it’s installers or designers who work with installers, they will put their “signature touch” on their projects, setting them apart so to speak, by doing what is difficult and outside the norm. Herringbone hardwood floors are not easy to make nor are they easy to install but the effect is quite grand. It would not do the trend justice to describe it merely as “parquet” but it is important to raise awareness that “parquet”, or “wood veneer patterns” are now gaining popularity. To give the trend a generalized label, perhaps the best description is “geometrical patterns in wood”, such as herringbone, squares, triangles and more. It offers an expensive look and is relatively easy to install because it goes down very much like tile, adding instant class and richness to interiors. Parquetry utilizes smaller pieces of wood which might otherwise be wasted.

Overall, the best summarization for 2018 is that there will be a continuing refinement and expansion of harder to achieve hardwood visuals, which essentially includes layers of multi-step “hand-touched” effects, parquetry and sawn, cracked or crackled visuals in chalky-matte finishes of warm grays, neutral-whites and driftwood or barnwood grays, just reinvented to feel fresh and new…be assured though, like our desire for authenticity, these most sought after flooring will still be hardwood floors, with a careful layering of subtle-hued hand-knotted and tufted rugs.

Emily Morrow Finkell is CEO of EF Floors & Design in Dalton, Georgia and can be reached at

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The Finkells: Factories Behind Fences

(This article appeared in the Dalton Daily Citizen.)

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to visit with Don and Emily Finkell, two local entrepreneurs.

Win-Win-Win. That’s how CEO Don Finkell describes his company. The state wins. The company wins. The prisoner wins.

Inmates in the Turney Correctional facility outside of Nashville, Tenn., have the opportunity to work at a fully-functioning flooring plant inside the gates of the prison. America OEM Wood Floors, Don Finkell’s brainchild, has a huge focus on social entrepreneurship. He started the company four years ago and fired up manufacturing two years later.

Inmates at Turney are good candidates for employment at American OEM because they have a medium security risk. This means that their crimes are not as serious as inmates at other institutions, but their sentences have the longevity needed for job training and craft honing at the work program.

These inmates typically have a seven-year sentence and must have three remaining to be eligible for the program. Additional requirements include perfect behavior and a high school diploma or GED. The employees are paid the same as comparable jobs in the area, which is a good bit higher than minimum wage.

Wages earned are sent back to the state for restitution, used to pay for room and board, and invested in the lives of their children back home through child support payments. Furthermore, 10 percent of earnings is put into savings for the eventual transition of the worker back to society.

Inmates also benefit from vocational rehabilitation and a sense of pride and purpose.

Finkell noted that because inmates can elect to send additional funds back home to their families and children, bonds are built that assist in individuals’ success once released.

Finkell indicated, “In Tennessee the recidivism rate is 50 percent after three years. In most states, the rate is closer to 70 percent. For people in this program, it’s less than 10 percent.”

Jobs at OEM in the Turney facility include general labor, loader, packer, quality control, machine operator, electrician, machinist, color matcher, clerk, bookkeeper and R&D. These jobs translate on the outside to nearly any manufacturer.

“Factories behind fences”-type of programs are not new. Created by Congress in 1979, the Prison Industry Enhancement Program encourages state and local correctional agencies to partner with private companies and give inmates real work opportunities at prevailing wages.

Finkell is not new to prison work programs either. Twenty years ago, when Finkell was at Anderson Flooring in South Carolina, he launched a prison work program that grew from 14 inmates employed to 1,000 — all focused on hand-scraped flooring. After having retired from Anderson Floors, which was sold to Shaw Industries in 2007, he took over running Shaw Hardwood.

Emily shared that the “hand-touched details of the product make it beautiful.” The products are competitively priced, which is in part due to the decreased transportation costs due to the factory’s location. OEM’s hardwood flooring is “American-made and is 7-ply, 5/8 of an inch; thicker than other products in the industry.”

Currently, OEM has around 200 inmate employees and 20 civilians at a design center, warehouse and office about 30 miles from the prison.

I would a fourth and fifth win: society at large and for the inmates’ families. What better gift can be given than the rehabilitation of a loved one to be a self-sustaining and a productive citizen? I asked Don about the impact of the program. He said that OEM has “done way more good than I ever thought. What they are spending their time on is important and it counts.”

He was visiting the plant one day and had the opportunity to speak to one of his employees who had just been released. The employee thanked him for the opportunity to work. I could tell from Don’s eyes just how special this personal thank you was to him.

Emily’s business dovetails OEM. She recently launched Emily Morrow Home which offers a curated home products line including flooring, lighting and upholstery.

Don and Emily Finkell live in Rocky Face and are active in many local community activities and charities.

Andrea Dobbins, Executive Director, Floor Covering Industry Foundation

To Donate: Go to FCIF.ORG for more information.

Many thanks to Andrea Dobbins at Floor Covering Industry Foundation for sharing our story as well as all the wonderful efforts of your organization @FCIF.ORG.