July 12, 2001

Bamboo’s popularity shoots up

Special to the Journal

Photo courtesy of TimberGrass
This home’s bamboo flooring by TimberGrass has a caramel-colored hue. Bamboo flooring also has become popular in commercial applications, including a Tommy Hilfiger store at Bloomingdale’s in New York City.

Bamboo, commonly used for buildings, scaffolding, gardens and even decorative baskets in many Asian countries, is now providing an uncommon flooring for offices and homes in America, offering an environmentally friendly option to traditional hardwoods.

A driving force behind the bamboo trend in the Northwest is TimberGrass LLC, a Bainbridge Island business that became the first U.S. manufacturer of bamboo flooring in 1994 when CEO Steen Ostenson launched the business along with its parent company, ReSource Fiber. Ostenson’s goal has been to build a company that is environmentally, socially and economically responsible.

Is bamboo for you?
The advantages of using bamboo flooring and panels include beauty, strength, versatility and a “wow” factor for the uninitiated.

According to executives at TimberGrass, a Bainbridge Island business that focuses on green building products for the construction industry, bamboo outperforms even traditional hardwoods for both home and commercial applications.

For example, TimberGrass’ bamboo flooring is 25 percent harder than red oak and 12 percent tougher than rock maple. Manufactured in 3-and 4-foot pre-finished lengths or 6-foot-2-inch job-site boards, the tongue-and-groove pieces shrink or expand far less than traditional hardwoods with temperature changes, an advantage for building in high-humidity regions.

Adhesive used in the lamination process has virtually no free formaldehyde, so the laminated bamboo can be used in homes, offices, retail facilities, gymnasiums, hotels or showrooms.

Harvested primarily from managed growth areas in China, TimberGrass bamboo is basically giant grass that grows in sizes that can be harvested like timber. Containing lignin and cellulose, the same substances found in trees, bamboo reaches its mature height of about 100 feet in 60 days. A stand of bamboo is fully mature for harvesting in seven years or less, compared to Douglas fir at 30 to 60 years.

Color options include bamboo’s natural state, nearly white or caramel-toned “carbonized” bamboo colored by a heat treatment that changes its color, even inside. A variety of stains can be used, as well as urethane, oil, paint and water-based finishes. At TimberGrass, bamboo flooring is pre-finished with five coats that include the wear protection of aluminum oxide and anti-scratch polyurethane for easy refinishing.

Bamboo’s cost is about the same as for maple and oak hardwoods, from $3.50 to $6 a square foot, varying with the thickness, quality and finish. TimberGrass offers a 25-year residential limited warranty on its flooring bamboo finishes.

The company also produces panels for cabinetry, stair treads, wall treatments or countertops and plywood panels that provide exceptional stability because of bamboo’s intrinsic strength. TimberGrass products meet construction standards for hardness, dimensional stability, compressive strength, modulus of elasticity, tensile strength, flammability, smoke density, adhesive strength and pest resistance.

Bamboo building materials are the company’s signature product, one that provides a sustainable, mature, fiber alternative to commonly used wood fiber and reduces dependence on dwindling timber resources.

“We’re seeing a definite growing awareness among the consumer and trade on the benefits of our bamboo flooring and paneling products. Our sales have doubled since last year and we expect the trend to continue, especially with the launch of our new pre-finished TimberGrass flooring line. Beauty, durability and renewability have become the key factors in selling our products,” said Ann Knight, vice president of administration for the company.

“As an exhibitor at the recent National Green Building Conference held at the Westin-Seattle, we met residential and commercial builders and developers, architects and designers, flooring distributors, and others across the country looking for quality products that would comply with green building specifications, such as the city of Seattle’s LEED program,” Knight said. “For instance, the adhesive we specify in our TimberGrass products has 6.5 times less formaldehyde than allowed under the stringent European (E1) standards which are stricter than our U.S. standards.”

Steen Ostenson, founder of TimberGrass, expects his parent company, Resource Fiber, to grow in sales by 600 percent between 2000 and the end of 2002 as the array of products expands into bamboo tables, particle board and other composite-bamboo materials.

In China, bamboo is already used in plywood, composite beams, precision-crafted flooring, paneling, stair treads, molding, trim, furniture, fencing, joists and other products.

Ostenson notes that the Moso timber bamboo harvested for its products is not the prime bamboo species that provides habitat and food for China’s endangered pandas. Presently, Chinese farmers grow his bamboo and a Chinese factory glues the bamboo into planks that are later milled in a facility at Lake Stevens, east of Everett. But Ostenson has also begun growing bamboo in the United States and Mexico.

Bamboo flooring can be applied by nailing or gluing planks to a wooden sub-floor, over radiant floor heating or over concrete. While plywood is recommended as a minimum sub-floor for nailing or gluing, the company has chosen the optimum substrate as 1-1/8 inch plywood over joists at 16 inches on center for maximum strength and adequate flatness for proper installation of the bamboo flooring. The firm’s Web site describes application, staining and minimal sanding processes in detail.

TimberGrass bamboo flooring has been installed in commercial settings as well as residential. At Bloomingdale’s in New York City, for instance, Seattle architects at NBBJ used bamboo flooring for a Tommy Hilfiger store.

“This (bamboo flooring) was simply the best product for the application. It just also happened to be a good environmental choice,” according to Gary Cruce of NBBJ Architects, in a quote on the TimberGrass Web site. “The look – the color – of natural bamboo was the one the client liked best… The first priority was that the flooring material be durable, while maintaining an air of distinction.”

Commenting on TimberGrass bamboo, Mike Gagne, director of sales for HFD/Goodfellow in Seattle, the distributor of the TimberGrass products, said, “It comes in lengths that are very user-friendly, the milling is exceptional, it fits together very well. It accepts finish very well and the consistency has been excellent.”

Who’s who at TimberGrass

TimberGrass LLC was founded in Seattle in 1994 by CEO Steen Ostenson, who recognized the value of bamboo fiber as an alternative to traditional wood fiber for numerous applications. After years of research and development, he found the species of bamboo grown in the Zhejiang province of China to be the best quality and most suitable for the manufacture of TimberGrass bamboo flooring, panels and flooring accessories.

Steen is responsible for product design, product development and quality control. Working closely with the owner and employees of the factory in China, he oversees the manufacture of bamboo building materials according to TimberGrass and U.S. specifications and standards.

Prior to starting TimberGrass, Steen owned Generation Associates, a design/build firm in Denver specializing in inner-city multi-family home revitalization projects, and Steen O. Ostenson Architectural Design and Development, specializing in residential design, general contracting and real estate development.

David M. Knight, CBC, who joined TimberGrass in 1998, is president and chief operating officer, responsible for day-to-day operations including the financial and legal matters of the company. Previously, Knight was co-owner of Medical Dental Development Services, specializing in medical practice valuations, sales, mergers and consolidations.

David had similar responsibilities and duties in other industries, including mining and land development. Knight is a Certified Business Counselor and a member of the Institute of Certified Business Counselors (CBC) and the International Business Brokers Association (IBBA). He is also a real estate broker licensed in Washington state.

Ann J. Knight, vice president – administration, also joined TimberGrass in 1998. She is responsible for marketing, sales and office administration. and was previously a co-owner of Medical Dental Development Services with Knight.

For more information, contact TimberGrass by calling (800) 929-6333 or (206) 842-9477, send e-mail to or visit the firm’s Web site at TimberGrass products are distributed in Washington by HFD/Goodfellow, (206) 622-0917.


Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at

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