The wrong end of the binoculars

I have been in the hardwood business for nearly 26 years.  The last 4 years have been spent talking to designers and architects about using sustainable American hardwoods in their designs for residences, hotels, restaurants, museums and public buildings of all sorts.  I am struck occasionally by the fact that designers and architects are willing to subjugate their aesthetic vision to the economies of substituting inferior materials in the most visible parts of their projects., such as flooring.

I have visited beautiful job sites where the least expensive, lowest quality flooring has been installed, presumably to save money.  Naturally, if I were looking at tract housing, where every economy must be utilized, I completely understand.  However, when the floors in question are installed in multi million dollar residences or gorgeous hotel, I can’t help but think that the people involved with the realization of the designers’ vision are simply looking at the world through the wrong end of the binoculars.  Saving money in the short term, while having to refinish or replace the flooring within a few years, is shortsighted.

I was in Japan recently and ate lunch at what is considered to be one of the finest Sushi restaurants in Tokyo.  We went there because they serve wonderful seafood in an elegant setting.  No one in the party would want the chef to purchase inferior seafood and this chef certainly purchased the best.  There was no question about how much we would pay for the lunch.  We paid what he charged us for lunch and we were very happy.

It is the same for a piece of fine furniture or beautiful floor.  Find the best manufacturer, one with a stellar reputation, and pay him what he charges for the best quality.  When I started selling lumber in the 80’s I would call on small manufacturers who thought that they would make more money if they could only purchase their lumber for less money.  They would battle on price while their employees were smoking on company time in the parking lot, talking about a football game.  That was where the profit margins were going, not to the price of the raw material.  I tried, occasionally with success, to get them to turn the binoculars around and see the situation clearly.  The idea is to purchase the best raw material, focus on using that material to produce the nicest flooring, furniture or millwork and charge what you think it is worth without apology.

The best hardwood produced in the US is quartersawn hardwood.  Design with it and make sure that those who produce your vision use it.  Pay what it costs to work with the best hardwood.  The finished product will be beautiful and last for centuries.