By Kenn Busch

Photo: SSI 

High-gloss, done right, evokes fine craftsmanship and refined design. It also conjures up doubts though about durability, and the labor involved in constantly cleaning fingerprints and smudges.

Nevertheless, demand for high-gloss is growing, driven by globalization of design tastes and the availability of less expensive, more durable high-sheen materials from many 3-D laminate and acrylic-capped ABS suppliers. It’s interesting to note that the growing collection of PET (polyester) 3-D laminates — considered more environmentally acceptable to some markets than PVC — are also excellent carriers of high-gloss finishes.

Material Intelligence conducted an extensive survey in mid-2010, asking manufacturers from across the U.S. and Canada about high gloss in their markets — where it’s used, who’s buying it and how they see it trending in the future.

Not surprisingly, it’s most popular along the coasts and around large metropolitan areas. Manufacturers say these areas are the most heavily influenced by European design trends, where high gloss-mania has been in full swing for several years. Architects and designers, in particular, are strong proponents of high gloss, influencing specification of commercial and residential projects and products.

Fans of high-gloss furniture aren’t limited to high-income consumers and tony retail stores, however. The survey indicated that even on the lower end of the income scale, certain ethnic groups, especially the Latino community, love furniture and cabinetry with a higher sheen. New condo buyers, both young professionals and empty-nested baby boomers, are also opting more often for glossier kitchens, bathrooms, and even entertainment and system closet surfaces.
That said, retail fixtures and interiors and high-end commercial projects are currently major users of high-gloss materials, and several manufacturers believe projects in the healthcare markets will be using more as well.

“The subject of high gloss comes up in every conversation with every customer,” according to one survey respondent. “Everybody’s talking about it and asking for samples. Most often though, high-gloss is used as an accent, or as an attention-getter in a showroom.”

Growing specifications of sculpted architectural panels are also driving use of high-gloss surfaces, again because of the greater durability and value offered by materials like 3-D laminates. These materials are also seen as a better option than traditional gloss finishes for most manufacturers.

“In a few years, spray finishing, particularly high-gloss finishes, which are problematic from a cost and application standpoint, will be non-existent, except for the smaller manufacturers of custom products,” says another survey respondent. “That’s why high quality overlays, including high-gloss products, will be the trend.”
The difficulties facing furniture and components producers with lacquer and paint lines are many: increasing environmental regulations, what some still consider inferior results with water-based finishes, and the logistics and costs of maintaining a large, sterile manufacturing environment. Major manufacturers of finishing equipment say they are bracing for a significant reduction in orders from furniture producers in North America.

Several well-known components suppliers specialize in 3-D and ABS materials, making it convenient for cabinet, furniture and millwork manufacturers of all sizes to bring high-gloss into their lines without having to invest in the equipment, expertise and personnel to produce the pieces in-house. These components suppliers are also an excellent resource for TFM, HPL and other materials in exact matches to high-gloss colors and patterns.

Here’s a telling anecdote. A major manufacturer of high-quality, traditional kitchens, was told by several of its largest distributors: “We’re losing business because more and more of our customers are asking for something that looks more modern. Put some high-gloss designs in your collection, or we’ll be forced to drop your line.”

The manufacturer responded by promptly adding high-gloss fronts and panels from one of the top components suppliers. The company satisfied its dealers and updated its image without having to invest in any new production technology or cut any products from its existing catalog.

Kenn Busch publishes the web site,, a practical resource for architects and interior designers.

Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.