Good wood: Designers say it can enhance any room
July 10, 2010
What’s old – centuries old, even – is suddenly new again in home design. Wood, that ancient staple of interior decorating, has been getting fresh attention in every room of the house.
Designers are mixing salvaged barn doors with new synthetic flooring that looks strikingly like the real thing. At the same time, faux wood-grain wallpaper and upholstery offer a nod to nature without hiding their artificiality.
Designer and HGTV host Genevieve Gorder calls wood “the one medium that is eternal.”
“It’s been in interiors since the beginning of time and it’s sitting in our front yards,” she says. “There’s nothing else like it.”
Gorder, along with fellow designers Candice Olson and Vern Yip, judges the work of fledgling designers each week on HGTV’s “Design Star.” When we asked these experts which style ideas have their attention right now, all three mentioned wood.
Wood is both natural and trend-proof, Olson says, and can bring a much-needed warmth and timelessness to modern rooms. Even people who love modern style, she says, don’t want a home “where everything looks like George Jetson lives there.”
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Likewise, in more traditional rooms, wood is being used in ways that add a dose of edgier style without clashing.
Years ago, Olson saw an entire wall of stacked wood in a building in Europe. The image stuck with her. She eventually created her own variations, arranging chopped logs from fallen trees within frames that are 6 inches deep.
Lumber, especially the low grades that might otherwise be discarded by builders, can be used the same way.
Gorder loves the look: “Really inexpensive,” she says, and “really powerful.”
Whether dominating a whole wall or serving as an accent, these pieces of wood can be arranged to form a smooth surface or poke out from the wall at different lengths, creating a pattern.
The contrast between order and chaos is central to the appeal: Essentially, “it’s a pile of sticks,” Olson says, but laid out “in an orderly, modern, refined way.”
Wooden walls and ceilings
Several years back, Yip drew praise for designing a room with one wall covered in planks. “Anytime you have an entire wall of one material, wood or something else, it’s so striking,” he says.
It caught on. Wood flooring is now being used to cover walls and ceilings. Old wooden platforms, says Yip, can also be hung up as art.
That showcases a beautiful wood’s texture and color, Olson says. “It’s almost like it gets wasted on the floor,” she says.
A wall or ceiling done in a given type of wood doesn’t mean you must use that type of wood elsewhere in the room. Mix old and new woods in different shades and textures, says Gorder: “If you just keep matching, it looks like a bad pantsuit.”
People are embracing reclaimed wood and giving it new life, Yip says.
“We realize it’s not an infinite resource we can just keep exploiting,” he says. “It’s a natural extension of the green movement, colliding with the fact that we’re repurposing a lot of things these days.”
And wood adds character to a room, the designers say. Old doors, shutters, crates and barns are being repurposed into furniture and floor or wall coverings. “It’s that soul you can’t buy off the showroom floor,” Gorder explains.
Salvaged wood is refreshingly low-maintenance because scratches only add to its charm.
“I have two young children under the age of 6,” Olson says. “So weathered finishes, they really speak to me.”
Reclaimed flooring and furniture can be expensive, especially if you’re set on a particular item or type of wood. But, this being America, fake wood with a weathered “reclaimed” finish is available at a lower price than the real thing.
Wood-grain upholstery and wallpaper
If you are going with an impostor, these designers say go all the way. They love the cheerful fakery of wall coverings and upholstery with wood-grain patterns.
“You know a chair isn’t upholstered in wood, so that’s tongue-in-cheek,” Gorder says. “It’s playful.”
Materials like these let designers take “nature and tradition, and stylize it” in unexpected ways, Olson says. In designing a line of wallpaper, she combined the look of wood grain with a metallic finish. “It’s that reference to a natural motif, but with the metallic, that makes it new and fresh and current.”
To fake or not to fake
Given a choice between real wood and a facsimile, these designers prefer the real thing. Nothing quite replaces a true wood floor.
But laminates and synthetics can help make a huge visual change on a relatively small budget, Gorder says. The technology has come far, and fakes are looking less fake these days. And because laminate flooring resists water fairly well, it is increasingly popular in kitchens, bathrooms and basements.
“If people put it down or have it installed professionally with either a cork or sponge underlay,” Olson says, “you don’t have that hollow, cheap feeling of walking on a laminate floor.”