Walk the plank

It’s economic, environmentally friendly and incredibly versatile. There are many reasons why the Middle East is welcoming the growth of the wooden flooring industry

NEWS, Materials

Wood has reigned supreme in Europe and the US for centuries, possessing the top spot in the flooring stakes, in both the consumer and contract markets. Its entry into the collective consciousness of Middle Eastern designers and developers is a relatively new thing, and an increasing amount of international wood suppliers are now swivelling their spotlights to this region in an attempt to educate and promote not just the aesthetics of this beautiful natural resource, but also the practical and economic advantages too.

The first stage of this promotion occurs in Dubai at the end of this month, with the second Dubai Woodshow taking place. This presents a good opportunity for international exposure with all major international brands exhibiting from across the world networking with regional contacts and propelling the growth of this potential and emerging market. Dawood Al Shezawi, managing director, Strategic Marketing & Exhibitions (organisers of Dubai Woodshow) told CID that: “The spin-off effects of the frenetic construction activity in the UAE have sparked the growth of several related industries. The wood industry has been one of the most significant beneficiaries, with the construction boom fuelling an unprecedented demand for wood and wood products in the country.�

Wood is now viewed as a viable alternative to ceramics, marble and carpet in this region. A panel of industry experts talk trends, predict the future of wood flooring and give invaluable inside advice to interior designers.

Trends

Mike Morgan, deputy general manager, Al Serkal Group, which supplies products from leading European manufacturers of real wood floors, such as solid plank flooring from Stoeckl of Austria; engineered wood flooring from Pamino of Germany, and laminate flooring from Kaindl, Austria says: “Wood is an excellent material to enhance the feel and aesthetics of any décor. It gives designers a huge variety of choices to create rich interiors that display character and exclusivity for their clients. We offer wood flooring in more than 50 species, both common and exotic, spanning the spectrum of colour options, hardness, and price ranges. Wood floors come in a variety of styles to meet the demands of today�s busy lifestyles - factory finished, unfinished, solid, engineered, strip, plank, parquet, and acrylic impregnated.�

According to Pete Macko from Greggio, 90% of wood flooring is usually oak, birch or maple. “These woods are readily available and at the moment, relatively inexpensive. Clients are definitely looking for something unusual and natural. We have developed a special Indonesian hardwood wood tile especially for hot humid climates. We also supply reclaimed teak, which has a fantastic colouration and is very stable.�

All our experts agree that in terms of colouring, the darker the better. Santosh Thambi, from Instep says that: “Smoked oak is one of the popular dark wood varieties, dark mahogany is another fast selling product.� Nordic Homeworx distributes the Kahrs range of wooden flooring, which includes many different wood species, including walnut; maple; ash; beech; birch; oak; cherry; rosewood; merbau and jatoba. Ian Mercier, director of sales and marketing, Nordic Homeworx agrees that the darker woods are the top sellers at the moment: “Aesthetically, the current emphasis is being placed on dark wood floors and luxurious fabrics, colours and materials. However, all trends are cyclical and we are starting to witness a gradual return to the traditional classic English country home look with the charm of a bygone era, naturally aged distressed oak floors, brushed vintage finishes combined with Highland tartans, exposed wooden beams and unplastered brickwork.�

Albert Douglas, CEO, Alomi, agrees with this penchant for nostalgia: “Although current trends are changing very quickly throughout the GCC, there is particular demand for English oak with either natural, oil or antique finishes. It has strength, durability, neutral colour, it has a tried and tested history and can be made to fit any project.�

The rustic look is influencing designs emanating from Danube too. Rizwan Sajan, chairman, Danube, admits the country look is in vogue, so also are the perennial favourites like wengé and oak finishes. He adds:

“The current trend is back to nature and being environmentally friendly in interiors solutions and the wooden flooring is a natural choice for this. In fact wooden flooring has become a healthier choice as there is also an element of recycle and conservation of nature involved.�

Future

The increased awareness of sustainability and eco-friendly design within the whole interiors industry has definitely affected the wooden flooring business. Mercier, Nordic Homeworx, explains that in the future, all wood materials will have to be eco-friendly: “The wood flooring industry of the future will be totally green.

Manufacturers and end-users are conscious of the need for an eco-friendly use of our planet�s resources.

In order to ensure that future generations are able to enjoy the beauty of wooden floors, ethical manufacturing practices, sustainable development programmes, deforestation and species extinction are all critical issues which will need to be embraced by wood flooring manufacturers over the coming years. For example, the current popularity of wengé floors has lead to the gradual depletion of the species in the Brazilian rainforests which produces 8% of the world�s oxygen.�

Material advances include an increased use of acrylic impregnated floors, which uses a new technology that forces acrylic material into its pores giving it a tough surface, that requires little maintenance and great durability. These products are used mainly in high traffic, and commercial applications. Products such as Alomi�s signature Smooth Aluminum Oxide and Ceramic coating maintains the wear resistance to the highest standard.

Anita Howard from the National Wood Flooring Association adds: “During the past few years, advances in technologies have produced super-durable finishes that stand up to increased traffic. This is coupled with the improved dimensional stability of engineered wood, which means that wood can now be installed in areas that were previously not recommended. In addition, factory-finished products have been able to reproduce the hand-scraped, antiqued floor that is so popular right now in the US.� We anticipate this will be a big hit in this region too as awareness of wood flooring increases, which Morgan, Al Serkal Group insists is almost here: “We expect the wood flooring industry to grow rapidly, as there is a huge demand for elegant interiors, complemented by the building boom that the UAE is witnessing in recent times.

With handover of projects to owners, and subsequent interior furnishing of the same by the new owners, demand for quality flooring finishes such as wood and laminate are expected to rise sharply.�

Shahriar Khodjasteh, group marketing director, Al Aqili Furnishings, who hold a wide range of wooden flooring solutions such as Kronotex, Fischer Parkett and LM Flooring, predicts that not only will the quantity of wood flooring grow, but so will the choice of applications: “Within the next year wood flooring solutions will definitely increase in popularity and colours, patterns and designs will definitely become more varied.�

Howard, NWFA, asserts, however, that the days of experimentation are already here: “The big trends right now all have to do with customisation. Items like borders, medallions, and inlays are being used to offer clients a unique look. For example, a retail store or corporate office might install a company logo in the main entry of the retail space or headquarters. In addition, rustic floors that come from reclaimed wood, or are hand-scraped to achieve an antiqued look, are growing in popularity as well.� Sajan, Danube suggests that designers can also make an artistic statement by combining the wooden flooring with granite marble or in some cases even carpet to give the mix of eclectic textures.

Designer Advice

The obvious concern to clients in this region is the suitability of wood for the unique weather conditions of the Gulf. Douglas, Alomi, insists that all his products are kiln dried two to three times, including reconditioning, to ensure that the desired moisture content is evenly spread out within each and every parquet that it produces.

Mercier, Nordic Homeworx agrees that weather needn�t be a problem: “Designers and clients just need to remember that wood continues to live and breathe long after the tree has been felled. It is a hygroscopic material that expands when it absorbs moisture and contracts when it releases moisture. During Dubai�s hot and humid summer period, the relative humidity inside a building will increase significantly. Always look for a product with a 20 or 30 year warranty. And insist on receiving an authentic Certificate of Origin.

Whether or not you anticipate a 30 year life span for the floor, a manufacturer whose product carries a 30 year warranty, is making a very bold statement with respect to the way their floor will react in an emergency, e.g burst water pipes; flooding; increase in relative humidity etc.�

He also warns against the ‘false economy� syndrome: “Previously, cost was always paramount in the minds of specifiers when selecting wooden flooring for their projects. What we are beginning to witness, however, is a gradual shift towards a dual consideration of both ‘cost� and ‘quality�. The procurement and installation of an inexpensive Far Eastern laminate floor may appear to make sound economic sense, however, even with moderate traffic, the only certainty is that after two, or at the most, three years, the floor will need to be taken up and replaced.�

Above all, the need to get a floor professionally installed by the actual manufacturer is paramount.

Designers should never use a company who sub contract the installation.

The demand for designers to complete projects in such a limited time can also have consequences on the lifespan of a floor. Pete Macko, Greggio, says that often the sub floors are usually too wet to install any flooring successfully, which is why floating floors are still in demand. “Unless the building trade and customers are educated to the fact that the sub floor has to be completely dry before any installation takes place, the operator will be left with an ongoing headache.� He adds: “There is no reason why anyone today has to install on a wet sub floor. There are successful systems on the market to overcome this problem.�

Mapei can offer products such as Mapecem Pronto – a pre-blended cementitious screed mixture which through the use of special hydraulic binders, gives a residual moisture content of less than 2% after 24 hours, which means that normally sensitive applications such as resiliant and wooden flooring can be applied after one day. Mapei has other products such as Novoplan 21 – a fast hardening, self-levelling compound, which again can accept subsequent finishes also after only 24 hours. If the designer, is also particularly HSE conscious, low VOC (volatile organic content) levels can also be specified, which not only reduce emissions into the environment, but pose lower risk to those applying the materials. Laith Haboubi, Mapei says:

“Unfortunately, very few designers think beyond the final look they are trying to achieve. The site issues concerning application issues cannot be overlooked at specification/design stage. For example, concrete screeds are often site mixed and substandard and therefore have a tendency to crack and/or debond.

Adhesives choice is very often left to the contractor who of course considers the commercial aspects first and foremost.�

To conclude

The increase of international companies eyeing the opportunites in the Middle East that are well aware of the aesthetic, economic, and environmental appeal of wooden flooring means that this year will undoubtedly prove a strong one for the industry in this region. But in addition to being educated about the types and varieties of product available, it is imperative that installation and ongoing maintenance is carried out correctly. The actual wood is never the reason for a floor failing, but the treatment and handling of it is.

Dubai Wood Show is taking place between February 27 - March 1, 2007 11am-8pm.

Contacts:

Al Aqili Furnishings: www.aqili.com

Alomi: www.alomi.ae

Al Serkal Group: www.woodfloors.ae

Greggio:
www.greggio.co.uk

Instep:
www.instep-floors.com

Kahrs: www.kahrs.se

Mapei: www.mapei.com

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