Beautiful to the Finish: Emily Morrow Finkell

First published in NWFA Magazine  

“BEAUTIFUL TO THE FINISH”, Emily Morrow Finkell for NWFA Magazine APRIL 2018

According to the National Wood Flooring Association, there’s a variety of finish options for hardwood floors. Surface finishes are common, some are for sheen or gloss and are typically oil-based or water-based. It’s generally accepted that a finish is applied to help with durability, moisture resistance, scratch resistance and to provide a level of protection across the surface of the wood. In the hardwood flooring world, that’s pretty much the short and sweet low down on finishes.

However, here at Emily Morrow Home Hardwood, there’s going to be a much broader and more exciting storyline on finishes. When you change the filter of what you’re looking through, like a lens for example, the view changes. Consider for a moment looking through a lens with a broader view, one that takes into consideration all of the flooring categories as well as the entire interiors world. That’s the lens through which Emily Morrow Home views innovation in hardwood flooring, and it’s much less myopic than most others.

I’ve created two very insightful and useful lists on evolving finish trends. These lists are based primarily on cut, clarity and quality of wood, very much like diamonds. The cleaner, the more precious the cut of the wood, the less you have to do to it to make it beautiful and salable. In the highest end of hardwood you’ll see more of what’s special and beautiful about hardwood. We’ll call the first list the “A-List”, and is comprised of looks that you’ll easily spot within the pages of high-end interiors magazines, like Architectural Digest and Elle Decor. Of all the brands in the marketplace that are positioned in this category, you’ll find DuChateaux and Provenza as well as the Emily Morrow Home line of luxury hardwood. The finishes from the A-list speak to luxury, are neither nichey nor trendy, but instead are timeless, beautiful, saleable and suited perfectly for the upscale market in ⅝” and up luxury sliced hardwood flooring. If we compared the A-list to automobiles, they’d be the high performance luxury cars which have a limited color line and model styles which rarely change. These products set the standard for timeless luxury and unmatched quality.



The A- list is not made of “all the colors and finishes, just the right ones”. The A-list finishes include “matte”, cerused sliced wood grains, hand-sanded, sanded-down, painterly effects, plastery-white or blackened, warm barnwood grays, and driftwood grays which can have a silvery effect in the right light. In fashion, interiors and even automobiles, the right application of color and finish must make sense with the specific product’s design. The Pantone Institute’s Director Leatrice Eiseman recently shared this as her mindset in making sure products are successful.

The second list, the B-list is comprised of finishes that are very trendy and utilize many variations, looks that one might also become “time stamped”, and are found in the big middle of the market, an area referred to as the “high end of the middle” or low end of the high”.

The B-list level could be compared to the car brands that try out every kind of color, finish and effect. There is a third list, but it’s a list of finishes that would be so long and ever-changing as it represents the least expensive, highly competitive, lower segment of the market. Brands found in this second tier grouping would be those like Anderson-Tuftex and Hearthwood. This is the “big middle” and offers these major players a wide berth of looks and finishes at very affordable price points.

This second tier includes some very interesting looks and finishes. The names themselves are fun to say, all playing to the sales associates’ need to have a nickname that they can easily explain. This grouping includes metallics, reactives, reactive-looks,”fumed” as well as “air-brushed effects” with dramatic highs and lows. This list applies to mid level hardwood floors, they are typically rotary peeled hardwoods and take advantage of special effects to down-play the busier rotary-peeled cathedral wood grain. When the cut of the wood determines the yield, and rotary yields more, wastes less of the hardwood, there is understandably quite a large segment of manufacturers who employ the various techniques so that their products can hit a price point. Actual reactive finishes, although very cool, are challenging due to their “reactive” state never stopping therefore many of the “reactive looks” are designed to look like the actual reactives without the continually changing nature of actual “reactive” finishes.

In studying the trends, it’s essential to continually work with those who are closest to the cutting edge, i.e. designers and specifiers, or retailers and specialty shops who cater to the design trade. It matters to speak the same language and share a common goal when working with those in the design world, much like Martians and Venutians, designers don’t want to talk to someone who’s an outsider who’s ”trying” to be a designer.

At the top of my sources in field research is a lighting and accessory company based in Atlanta, Georgia but well known world-wide. Currey and Company’s Creative Director Cecil Adams and Brownlee Currey graciously offer to give me a “design inspiration” tour of their High Point showroom outlining their latest trends. Their creative teams travel the world, working in villages and soaking up the native flavor and culture, searching for “unique” and “native” art or hand-crafted pieces which they integrate into their collections of chandeliers, pendants, wall sconces and more. Three years ago, they were among the first to do “black” finishes in the “Dark Beauty” looks and five years ago, utilized the mercury glass and champagne silvery gold effects for the bridge from brushed nickel or chrome to the warmer metallics we see so prevalently today. What’s next according to Cecil Adams? You’ve already heard me make references to this look in past trend narratives, and it is Finish Trend #1, “Gesso”, “plastery whites” which is also referred to as chalky whites. Look for this not only in the Currey and Company Spring 2018 introductions but also in the Emily Morrow Home Hardwood line, some of which was recently given overwhelmingly positive feedback at the 2018 EMH Designer Summit.

Currey and Company’s Creative Director, Cecil Adams said, “Gesso is having a moment and one of the characteristics I love about this technique is that it adds a handmade quality to anything you cover with it. Typically used as a layer between a substrate and another finish, when you encounter it now it begs the question – am I seeing something that was underneath another layer that has been peeled away, or I am seeing something in a stage of being built up into something else? Gesso is in the middle so to speak.” See Currey’s “Moondance Orb Chandelier, Jacinda Chandelier, Ralston Chandelier, Burdock Chandelier and Martine Chandelier for their version of “Gesso”.

Also important in researching finish trends, it’s essential to get to the heart of what designers and specifiers are using in commercial interiors. Commercial design tends to lead the residential world and is a wonderful “petrie dish” for seeing exactly what works and what doesn’t. Examining various categories like wood, porcelain tiles, natural stones, and glass mosaics, it’s abundantly clear that today, it’s all about “texture” and “dimension” and a handcrafted wood visual. As part of my research, I worked with Nancy Jackson, the President of ASI in New York City. ASI deals with the NYC A&D community, those who are driving some major trends.

Jackson said their team works with all surfaces ranging from textured and dimensional wood panels that are handcrafted, embossed and or reclaimed to dramatic finishes that reflect luxe leather and skins, metal and glass mosaics to flooring products that include LVT, hardwoods, porcelain and natural stone. Changes over the last couple of years have been driven by the acceptance of simulated materials accepted into the commercial market. For example, a hotel brand will specifically request a luxury vinyl for the guest rooms and porcelain for the public spaces, that is in part to the advancement of these products looking so realistic!

Gray and warm earthy color palettes are still on trend , mixing them up with hints of metallic is very much on point now. Matte in wood flooring and gloss on dimensional glass mosaics feels fresh and the direction ASI is going in new product launches.

In the commercial arena the challenge is always to protect the design intent and be sensitive to the budget while recommending the right product for the application so it’s never just one part: price, performance or design.A product has to look good, perform well, and be competitively priced! Jackson stated ”Materials that support the designer for narrative storytelling in a place .

Even workplace has been influenced by hospitality design and speciality products are being specified to have engaging spaces for employees to collaborate in.”

Final thoughts on finishes, the best indication of a healthy marketplace for consumers is to see and hear that there’s a need for more choice, more variety and higher quality materials. It’s already been an exciting year and we’ve not yet completed Q1. Hold on tight and let’s see what the end of the year looks like. Let’s plan on being strong and beautiful to the finish.


9000-0285 Martine Chandelier

9000-0287 Burdock Chandelier

9000-0354 Jacinda Chandelier NEW

9000-0255 Ralston Chandelier


9000-0211 Moondance Orb Chandelier

Images of Emily Morrow Home Hardwood

Shown here is Treasured Places by EMH

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