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When it comes to wood, there is sometimes a slight hesitation these days, perhaps the new buzzword is ‘should’ rather than wood.
The word ‘wood’ is often found in the same sentence as ‘sustainability’ and so wood is sometimes associated with an ethical question or dilemma. Fortunately, there is plenty of sustainable wood around and that’s great because wood is versatile and hard-wearing and the perfect choice for either a period or contemporary home.
Wood has always been popular in old houses and for the same reasons that we choose it now – it suits the interior, it is endlessly versatile in terms of type, colour and texture and, it lasts and lasts. Plus, when many old houses were built, there was lots of it and probably fewer scruples about cutting down trees.
Learning about the different woods available will help you make inspired choices for your home whether that is wall panelling, flooring, a wooden ceiling or doors and windows. Here are some of the most popular options.
Oak is a wood that instantly springs to mind in a traditional home. Beloved by interior designers for both classic and contemporary properties, oak is redolent of strength, durability and the quality associated with a historic tree that takes a long time to grow and which is a symbol of strength.
Oak is a hardwood and structurally one of the strongest types of timber so a popular choice for framing, beams and flooring. It also has a warmth in its different shades which blend perfectly with a classic or modern interior and can shapeshift to suit different rooms as you change styling over the years.
Oak can be easily worked into something contemporary or traditional and because of its classic appearance, it is wood you can make some bold decisions with because it has such a good design aesthetic. Oak offers variations in terms of colour, shade and grain. Because of its popularity throughout the centuries, there is a plentiful supply of reclaimed oak which can bring instant heritage and depth to both a period and contemporary home.
Pine is a fast-growing timber and because of this it is less dense structurally and therefore known as softwood. Pine has a smooth finish and shine which has made it an enduringly popular choice in almost every decade both for furniture and fixtures like kitchens, ceilings and interior cladding.
Pine is a very attractive colour, add to this its machinability and it’s easy to see why it lends itself to interior design as it is malleable and can be fashioned into different shapes and sizes.
Pine is a wood which is compatible with a variety of different designs and settings and its price is competitive when compared to hardwood alternatives.
Walnut is a hardwood that might not instantly spring to mind other than for furniture, but it is rich and versatile with a range of brown and purple shades that can be styled for a wide variety of interiors.
Walnut offers a wide selection of colours and tones from dark to light so is an option for almost any interior. A particular feature of walnut is the streaks and pattern within the wood which means it is rarely treated or stained, allowing the natural colour to shine forth. This unique and beautiful grain sets walnut apart from other woods and because it is hardwearing and durable, walnut can easily be used for interior fittings and structural design.
Ash is a strong, durable hardwood and an excellent choice for buildings and interiors. Ash has a similar grain and density to oak and is often used in place of oak and is sometimes referred to as, ‘golden oak’. One of the great benefits of ash is that it is lightweight usually, dense hardwoods are strong but heavy. Ash offers all the beauty and durability of wood like oak but is far lighter making it easier to work and bend. Ash is unique amongst hardwoods for this quality.
Ash is easily stained and polished and responds well to machining, nailing, screwing and glueing. Colours range from a light silver shade to an attractive medium brown so ash is a great prospect for both contemporary and classic interiors.
Accoya is a new wood to many and unheard of by lots of people and that’s because there isn’t such a thing as an accoya tree. Accoya begins life as a rapidly growing pine tree, usually in managed forests. The trees reach maturity at around 30 years and then the raw timber is subjected to a modification process in plank or beam form, a process which uses acetic acid and reduces the woods’ ability to absorb water and moisture. The result is a stable and durable wood with immense rot-resistant properties making it the perfect choice for external facing timber fittings in your home like windows and doors, cladding and decking.
The process of modification does not expose the wood to any toxic substances, it just increases and strengthens the elements already present within the molecular structure of the wood right to the core and adds nothing which was not already there. This means no matter how you cut or plane the wood; it will always offer the same performance and protection. Accoya has a performance similar in terms of durability to teak.
Wood is one of the most versatile materials you can use in your home with traditional and contemporary possibilities, the perfect fusion of character material with 21st-century styling. Clever choices complement a modern interior but also allow you to make your own unique and creative statement without contradicting the age and features of a classic home. It’s hard to find another material which is so structurally beneficial and practical yet offers so many sophisticated design options in terms of colour, texture and depth. Plus, it’s never been easier to make sustainable choices when you source timber for your home.
Ipe (pronounced ‘ee-pay’) is also known as Brazilian walnut and originates from South America. A hardwood, resistant to rot, weathering and abrasion, Ipe comes from the Tabebuia Tree, native to the American tropics and subtropics from Mexico to as far afield as Argentina. It’s natural oil content comes from its tropical origins, so Ipe requires minimal preservative treatment. It is an incredibly dense and tough hardwood but also has the beauty and tone of a fine interior wood.
Medium to dark brown colour, Ipe is a popular alternative to teak for which it is commonly mistaken. Ipe is a good option for external settings and decking, fencing and outdoor furniture, however it is heavy if you are thinking about portability. It is a very durable wood and ages gracefully, so Ipe keeps its good looks for a long time and with minimal intervention and maintenance.
Sapele is a large tropical African hardwood tree that is like mahogany in colour and tends to darken with age. The rather unusual name comes from Sapele City in Nigeria where the tree is present in large numbers. Sometimes, Sapele is named Sapelli or Sapele mahogany as it is considered an alternative to mahogany due to its similarity and attractive colour.
Because sapele is pliable and bends well, it is a popular choice for furniture and interior fittings – it’s even used to make guitars! As a hardwood, sapele is also robust enough to be an outdoor choice for door and window frames and garden decking. It is more durable than African mahogany and harder than oak which makes it highly water and rot resistant. Consequently, Sapele doesn’t require any preservation treatment.
The tree is very large so produces different pieces of timber in varying thicknesses and when quartersawn, Sapele has a beautiful ribbon stripe which has generated its own dedicated fan club.
Utile is a relative of Sapele but a lighter wood in terms of weight. Utile is generally considered to be the closest match to genuine mahogany without the price tag. A popular mahogany alternative, because Utile is softer than Sapele, it is generally easier to work. The flatsawn appearance is very similar to mahogany but when quartersawn, Utile doesn’t have the same striking ribbon stripe of Sapele, just a toned-down version.
Utile originates from west and central Africa. Like Sapele, it is also a large tree so productive for lots of different timber uses and many manufacturers consider it the best of all the mahogany alternatives and at around half the price of the real deal.
It is ideal for interior and exterior furniture as well as cabinetry and flooring and is easy to work with both hand and machine tools.