South Lee, Mass.—When laminate flooring first came on the scene in the 1990s, one of its selling propositions was that it can replicate anything that can be photographed since the “design” is actually a picture protected by a highly durable wearlayer.
While the concept still holds true, fact is, just about every piece of laminate floor available today mimics either wood or tile.
MeadWestvaco’s Specialty Papers division is seeking to alter the mind set of designers and end users with Lustralite, its latest innovation in laminate designs. Lustralite is not made the way laminate designs have historically been produced.
“Up to now,” noted Jeff Kellogg, North American sales and marketing director, “laminate has been just a picture of wood or tile. Lustralite products are true designs that not only look good but do not copy anything else.”
When he says the designs are “true,” Kellogg is not idly throwing out words. The technology used in Lustralite is something MeadWestvaco “has been fooling around with for a number of years.
“The idea is to bring fashion and real design into laminate—whether it’s floor coverings, walls, countertops, etc. And, because of the fashion sense, these items will allow for higher margins since they automatically warrant higher selling prices.”
“Because of how we are set up,” explained Gary Baker, manager of new business development, “we can put just about anything in our paper machines. In the past we were doing this as a way to make the overlays more functional, but about four years ago we thought about doing things that added to the overall look and style of the product.”
Lustralite is an evolving collection of “sophisticated papers” which uses “just about anything one can think of” to create the visual. Some designs are made with natural materials such as banana and coconut husks or coffee beans, while others incorporate man-made materials such as metallized film or holographic particles such as gunmetal particles, mica and different pearlescent particles to provide distinctive light manipulation, translucence and depth never before seen in a laminate.
Besides using real materials instead of a picture, another difference between Lustralite and traditional laminate paper prints is, it goes beyond the surface. “Prints and coatings are only skin deep,” Baker said, “and are never as lush as the real thing. Lustralite is made from real materials, producing a more substantial, complex and luxurious look.”
While these may sound like odd materials to put in a product, he said in some cases they are, and not just in floor covering but with regard to other laminates. “Lustralite is not necessarily about the designs we currently have, it’s more about the concept and where you want to take it.”
Noted interior designer Grace Jeffers, who has worked with the company to help develop Lustralite’s offerings, pointed out how “today, architects and interior designers are using a broad range of materials to create buildings and interiors that are memorable, evocative and unique. They are looking for new textures, new transparencies and luminosities—a new kind of dazzle to add more meaning and more magic to their creations. They are looking for materials that express their interests and concerns.”
Baker said the good thing is that technology is allowing this to happen. Just look at what is being done with everyday items to get a sense of this. “A chair can be made of rope, a vase out of a sponge and a table can be translucent.
“The saying you are limited only by your imagination is most certainly true with this process,” he added.
And now, the hope is to bring this to the North American laminate flooring market, Kellogg said. “We’ve approached manufacturers and have been working with their designers to create the ‘right scale’ for floor coverings. Right now it seems to have mostly a commercial interest, but we can easily see this in residential.
“So far,” he added, “it has been more accepted in Europe than the U.S., but designers have shown interest as they can see it in an application. Our strategy is to find the right partner(s).”
“Wouldn’t it be neat,” Baker concluded, “to have laminate thought of not as fake wood but on its own? Something that can stand by itself and be identified as its own product while still providing all the fashion sense and performance expected.”
For additional information on the Lustralite concept, contact Meadwestvaco at 413/243-1231 or visit www.lustralite.com