“I spend time at lumber yards and with lumber brokers,” said Mark Smith,
senior design manager for a décor printer with facilities on four continents.
Décor printers combine art and technology to create printed papers with
incredible detail and realism. (See sidebar below.)
“There’s a lot of reclaimed or repurposed wood out there,” Smith added,
“and it’s not all just barn wood. There are a lot of old structural beams in
both rural and industrial areas of the northern east coast—some of it over
100 years old—in woods you just can’t get anymore with any useable quality.
Chestnut is a great example. Recent growth is all wormy, not as usable, but
what comes out of these beams is clear.”
When Smith visits lumber yards and brokers, however, he’s not just
randomly picking woods; he’s armed with what he’s seen the Milan Furniture
Fair (iSaloni), the International Furniture Fair (IMM) in Cologne, and the
International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York. Major office/
commercial furniture fairs like NeoCon and Germany’s Orgatec are also
important destinations for Smith and fellow trend-watchers.
Sometimes shifts in trends are easy to spot. For instance, demand for
cherry, which had been very popular over the last few years, has waned, he
“It’s a beautiful wood, naturally red-orange, but red as a color is not selling
much right now. Everything is heading toward greys, tans, browns, and even
silver. Ipé, which is 368 percent harder than teak, turns light grey with age.
There’s a lot of recovered ipé from the boardwalks along the east coast, and
some of it made its way into furniture I saw at ICFF this year.
“You can’t go anywhere without seeing walnut right now,” Smith continued.
Come to Be, in 10 Easy Steps
“In small planks it’s very popular for office furniture and hospitality design. More
rustic walnuts, with more grain character, are seen in kitchens, healthcare,
hospitality, and offices. Quarter-sawn looks, which have fewer cathedrals and
knots, are very attractive for office furniture. When creating a laminate design, too
many knots can present design challenges at the edges of desks and tables.”
Butternut is also trending, said Smith, although mostly under its nickname
“white walnut.” “It’s a lighter version of the same species,” he said. “All nut
trees, butternut, hazelnut, walnut, are from the same family and have similar
appearances, just like fruitwoods.
“Another big trend now is mixing different species of wood in the same
piece of furniture. I recently saw flamed maple and red elm on the front of
walnut cabinets, as well as other combinations,” he added. “When you see
several examples like this from different suppliers around the country and
around the world, you know there’s something going on. It’s not necessarily
that they’re watching each other—it’s more of a natural, self-driven trend.”
Woodgrain imperfections are another regionally specific trend, currently
more influential in Europe than in North America, particularly the contrast
between sapwood and heartwood in a single panel. Every log actually consists
of these two kinds of wood. Heartwood is the non-active or dormant center
of a tree, usually distinguishable from the outer portion by its darker color.
Sapwood is the lighter-colored living wood found in the outer portion of a tree.
“This is what I call the ‘ideation phase,’” said Smith. “In addition to surveying
the exhibitions and visiting showrooms, we read design blogs and magazines,
and we get information from our lumber brokers about trends in the species
How Decorative Panels
1. A trend or market void is identified
2. Samples of virgin or recovered species fitting that trend are purchased
from lumber brokers
3. Samples are prepped and scanned in high resolution
4. Digital scans of samples are laid out in a finished panel
5. File separations are made for each print stage, usually three or four
6. Rotogravure cylinders are engraved for lab-press testing
7. Full-size rotogravure cylinders are engraved for production machines
8. Décor base papers are ordered—either white, or solid color
9. Printed décor papers are saturated with resin required for lamination
10. Saturated papers are laminated under heat and pressure, either directly to
a particleboard or MDF panel (TFL), or to layers of saturated kraft paper (HPL)
Manually laying up a panel
design with plotter prints of
A flat-bed scanner used
for capturing full-size
pieces of lumber.