- Replicating the look of natural products is improving
- The utility of synthetic products is increasing
- Utility + Aesthetics = Success
- <10 Minute read
Natural wood is beautiful. It tells a story through its rich grains, switchbacks, and hue. At different angles, you might see an iridescent quality you never noticed before. Every species is different and has an admirable quality that differentiates it from the next strain. I was working construction after I graduated high school early and was waiting to start at DePaul University. While listening to the site radio I heard Chris Cornell describe outlining his wood floor on pieces of paper during a 48-hour meth trip. That crazy story stuck with me, but I can’t help but think, It would have never happened if he had Pergo. Since I can remember wood has been considered the best type of flooring. Pergo was revolutionary when it came out, but wasn’t a substitute. It was a budget-friendly alternative. Wood was the best option and if anyone did something different, like a laminate or engineered floor, their storytelling was followed by explanations and justifications behind using the material.
Natural stone was no different, but ask any marble owning friends if circular remnants of dinner parties provide nostalgia or agita; or if anxiety ensues every time a cork is removed. My own bathroom floor is heated marble because I ignored the sage advice of using porcelain and instead labored so that my Gold Coast pad reflected the times Hugh Hefner walked the streets. My floors have fallen to the same fate as Playboy. Just two years later there are mineral stains, makeup remover, and wonderment on the ground permanently affixed until I sell and have it honed so the new owner can have their come to Jesus moment that natural materials may not be the way to go. I stare into the depth of the milky stone while I sit on my throne, but quickly my eyes wander to the peppered ware that I like to think of as patina, but would be characterized by others as a stain” If I had chosen quartz, porcelain, ceramic, or other sealed materials I would have avoided the decision of sealing altogether.
Side bar: Sealing is removing the porous element while simultaneously removing the depth found in the natural material. Sealing reminds me of killing a piece of stone; after, it can no longer breath and it looks lifeless.
Having viable options to compete with natural materials is a relatively new phenomenon that has yet to penetrate many of the tenured tradespeople. I often think is because these particularly skilled craftspeople, who exist in a sea of hardly trained construction “entrepreneurs”, care more about the finished product than their draw at the end of the week. These experienced and sought after artisans continue the dogmatic belief, whether by ignorance or arrogance, that natural beats synthetic every time. Many materials have surfaced through industrialization, disruption, and Darwinism that have created a look that you admire and until you get close, you thought were created through millenniums of pressure, not minutes in manufacturing. These new materials have the same colors and arbitrary patterns found in the quarry.
Natural wood floors have a similar fate. Engineered wood floors are nothing new, but every rental high rise being built right now won’t feature real wood, they will be highlighted as having “plank”, “engineered” or some variant of marketing jargon to take the attention away from the fact that the floors are sourced to be of the best-looking material, at the cheapest cost, with the longest life, and the best durability; not always in that order. What the material is, is being removed from the conversation. And what does the renter care? If they look good and last, they work. End of story. The shift in the consumer mindset and the change in the hierarchy of needs is a different topic, but I’m not unraveling that here.
Wood decking is a place where the jury is in consensus. Wood decking was a necessary evil with few alternatives. It had to cure for an annual season cycle before it could be stained. You had to power wash it and seal it regularly, and still, it splintered and drove you to get tweezers during a picnic. The lats were hopefully screwed down but often were nailed. There was a 50/50 chance they didn’t use deck screws, so seasonally random pieces would curl up and need attention. Trex, or the Kleenex of synthetic composite decking, is a marvelous material that can be baked and shaped into whatever design your heart desires. It can be stained. It does not splinter, and when you sink in the screws, the material covers the screw so you don’t hop from place to place avoiding metal land mines until you’re shanked by an extra-long splinter.
I don’t know when home maintenance turned from a prideful exhibit of homeownership and community into a costly inconvenience, but I imagine it began when we stopped making things and started serving one another. Without the experience of building something, there is often little reward or satisfaction from maintaining it. You didn’t have to build the home, but if you experienced the satisfaction in seeing raw materials find life in finished products in any arena of life you appreciate maintenance. The time spent is perceived as a misallocation of time because you could be doing your expert activity and use the yield to pay the expert in said field. This thinking has made us great and has cultivated the innovation we’ve seen in all areas of life and is responsible for the growth of our country, and others, through globalization. On the other side of the eight ball, it’s created a generation unable to hang a shelf or build something without a set of instructions and included Allen wrench.
My fellow Millennials and the buzz word to describe the next generations are not clouded with the cognitive dissonance that native materials are better just because they’re from the earth. They will be raised with both, so there is no skepticism due to new introductions. New generations embrace recycling, grew up on virtual and augmented reality, and [are going to] have a completely different appreciation for green products, as long as they’re not greenwashed. It has to look good, but the utility score of the product is becoming more important. Maintenance is trumping vanity for the majority. They want something that looks good and they don’t have to take care of. We want food that’s good, but we don’t want to go get it. We want to get somewhere, but we don’t want to own the vehicle. We want a nice home and will pay for it, but we don’t want to take care of it. These trends are not reversing and the successful developers/rehabbers/investors are the ones acting with the service mindset.
Thanks for reading. I know you have a lot of options for information so I appreciate you taking the time. I want this to be what you want to read, so tell me what you liked, disliked, what you’d like to hear about next, or that I should take a writing class ;).