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AFTER COVID: Pandemic drives desire for cleanliness; decorative surface companies ready to meet demand
By Scott W. Angus
If any businesses were prepared for the demands of a post-COVID 19 world, they were the companies in the decorative surfaces industry. Brands such as Wilsonart, Formica and OMNOVA, to name a few, have been promoting properties in their laminates for years that make them especially suited for the needs and challenges of ultra-clean environments.
Now, those materials are being put to the test like never before. Products that are non-porous, anti-bacterial and durable are in high demand as the world emerges from the social and economic malaise of COVID. As construction and remodeling pick up, architects, designers, builders and their customers aren’t forgetting the lessons of the pandemic, and they are looking for materials that promote safety and well-being in this new environment.
“The new normal sensibility in providing healthy materials for healthy spaces is a paramount concern for the A&D community and is guiding material selections,” said Nancy Jackson, chief creative officer at Architectural Systems Inc. (ASI).
Many decorative surfaces companies are positioned to respond to these demands.
Wilsonart promotes it surfaces as “a combination of exceptional design and extraordinary performance.”
“Ours aren’t just engineered surfaces. They are surfaces engineered for the real world,” said Ricky Crow, vice president of product management—HPL.
Wilsonart’s high-pressure laminates are non-porous and can stand up to the rigors of more frequent and stringent cleaning and disinfecting in all types of spaces, Crow explained. Additionally, Wilsonart’s new premium and standard HPL designs are available with antimicrobial protection that helps inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, and mildew, while the protection comes standard with its HD line.
The company also stresses its products’ durability, noting they are “created to look and perform exactly the same way on day one as day 1,000.”
In particular, Crow said, Wilsonart’s THINSCAPE Performance Tops “revolutionize” the countertop by offering “next-level durability and performance … modern, ultra-thin and sleek.”
One of the biggest benefits of Formica’s decorative surfaces has always been their cleanability. At the onset of COVID-19, however, the company “leaned in” to the new demands for clean surfaces and retested its laminates against EPA’s approved list of products for cleaning and disinfecting. It published the results and cleaning guidelines on its website at formica.com/clean to ensure that customers who specify or use the surfaces can ensure their proper care and maintenance.
“Color and style used to be the top priority for interior design, but we’ve seen a dramatic shift to designers focusing first and foremost on the cleanliness of surfaces in this new environment,” said Amy Gath, vice president of marketing for Formica Group North America.
Among product lines particularly well-suited to the new environment are Everform solid surface, which is durable and non-porous, and FENIX, a super matte and anti-fingerprint surface that Formica is reintroducing to North America with its sister company, Arpa Industriale, Gath said. She said Everform has been especially popular in health care, while FENIX has done well in retail and for cabinet doors across all settings.
ASI curates dimensional wood panels, high-performing hardwoods, luxury vinyl and porcelain, natural stone, and decorative surfacing material.
Chief Creative Officer Nancy Jackson said ASI is known for innovative and solution-based products, so it pivoted to offer finishes with antimicrobial coatings and antivirus protection that go beyond being nonporous and able to withstand industrial cleaners.
The company has seen an increased awareness and demand for these products driven from the designer and client side across all market segments, she said.
ASI’s Designer Laminates Collection antibacterial was launched in January, and sample requests for the material are at a record high, Jackson said. “That is the first step in the process.”
Panel Processing has seen “a huge rise” in sales of TFL for new construction and home projects. That likely is partly due to the material’s durability amid heightened cleaning requirements brought on by the pandemic, said Stuart Ilsley, sales manager.
“Thermally fused laminate is a great option for cabinets, closets, shelving, and barrier walls that stand up to scratching and is wear-resistant,” he said. “TFL withstands chemicals and cleaners, so it’s ideal for surfaces requiring additional cleaning.”
Ilsley noted that the company’s TFL sales also have been driven by an increase in multi-family home construction.
“TFL is a great option for designers to utilize for their cabinets, closets, wall dividers, and shelving that will withstand everyday use and hold up to additional cleaning during this time,” he said.
Given the unsettled nature of the past year, ARAUCO was well-positioned to respond to customers’ needs and desires after the debut of its new Prism TFL collection in early 2020.
“It’s no surprise that current events have people feeling uncertain and in need of both practical and beautiful solutions for the spaces around them,” said Cathy Hummer, design and product manager for Prism TFL. “Whether it’s working from home or spending valuable time with loved ones, wellness is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”
“Our focus on holistic wellness and human-centered design was the inspiration for this launch,” she said.
Looking at the healing qualities of nature, ARAUCO curated a collection of 11 designs featuring solids and woodgrains that provide a sense of calm and brightness, Hummer said.
“We’re delighted at the response to our new Prism TFL collection,” she said, adding that ARAUCO aligned the launch with its design partners “to offer complementary products to ensure projects have a harmonious and natural look.”
More than ever, Uniboard is promoting the non-porous nature of its TFL and HPL decorative surfaces, which makes them inhospitable for microorganisms to grow and live.
The materials can easily be cleaned and disinfected repeatedly without damaging their design, beauty, or performance, said Don Raymond, vice president of marketing and sales for the U.S.
“At Uniboard, health and safety are of utmost concern,” Raymond said. “As leaders in the industry, we have a responsibility to educate our communities, to help you make informed specifying, purchasing, and design decisions about appropriate products for the promotion of clean and healthy built environments.”
He said that TFL and HPL are ideal for high-touch applications where the surface is more likely to be exposed to microorganisms, citing bathrooms, healthcare clinics, hotels, stores, offices, airports, schools, senior living centers and gyms as examples.
Raymond also noted that TFL and HPL are good alternatives to textile for room and space dividers in high-traffic areas because they are easier to clean.
“This type of product can be used to achieve any design look. Our Calico finish is indistinguishable from fabric with its soft look and feel,” he said.
OMNOVA’s 3D and surf(x) 3D laminates are perfect solutions to meet the demands of a post-COVID-19 environment, said Tammy Polovic and Amanda Artman, marketing managers for laminates.
They stand up to repeated cleaning with a variety of brand-name disinfectants, including many that are approved for use against COVID-19, without running the risk of discoloration or material breakdown, the managers said.
By offering contoured edges with no visible seams, the laminates reduce the risk of bacteria entering the material or becoming trapped in hard-to-clean places, Polovic and Artman said.
They said that OMNOVA 3D laminates have exceptional durability with improved impact resistance, allowing for a longer-lasting, more durable surface that resists cracking.
“In addition to aesthetics, impact resistance is also critical to the cleanability of a surface. When there are no entry points for microbes such as bacteria to hide, cleanability is excellent. OMNOVA’s custom color options and vast design library allow customers to leverage current trends for a calming and inviting atmosphere.”
The company’s largest customers, including major national retailers and major national food service chains, have found increased value in the durability and cleanability of OMNOVA’s 3D laminates, driven by COVID-19 awareness, Polovic and Artman said.
EGGER’S Eurodekor TFL and PerfectSense lacquered boards and laminates not only feature attractive designs, but they offer exceptional hygienic properties because their sealed, non-porous surfaces are easy to clean and sanitize without harsh chemicals, said Phillip McEwen, product manager of EGGER Wood Products.
“Our products have been tested to stand up to a variety of cleaning products without damage, delivering durability and a sense of security in these uncertain times,” McEwen said.
He said that EGGER’s Feelwood decors offer deep, synchronized textures that deliver an authentic alternative to solid wood. “You can have the beautiful look and feel of real wood with the easy-to-clean and durable properties of TFL and laminate.”
With the launch of its first decorative collection designed for the North American market and the start-up of its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Lexington, North Carolina, EGGER has seen increased demand for all of its decorative surface products, McEwen said.
“It’s hard to attribute how much of that increase is due to the need for hygienic materials versus excitement about our innovative products coming to a new market, but we know that our sales team has had many questions about hygienic material choices since the beginning of the pandemic, so it certainly factors into decision-making,” he said.
The company’s Reflekt high-gloss and soft-touch UltraMatte acrylic products are chemical resistant, and their topcoat layer protects against harsh cleaning solutions affecting the surface, said Jill Rosenberger, marketing director.
“In this new environment with more intense and frequent cleaning methods being used, Reflekt and UltraMatte are great products to spec for projects that call for durable surfaces,” she said.
Additionally, Reflekt and UltraMatte cut-to-size components are laser edgebanded for a seamless bond with no glue line or residue and added resistance to heat and moisture, Rosenberger noted.
Not surprisingly, Premier Eurocase has seen an increase in web traffic and sample requests for Reflect and UltraMatte, she said.