New design trends in trusty old hardwood

Hardwood has been used in homes for centuries, yet remains extremely popular. Architects, designers and homeowners are always finding fresh ways to use it in the modern home.

What’s the appeal? Besides its durability and natural beauty, hardwood has a variety of uses.

Wide-plank walnut flooring graces a traditional entry hall.

“We’re constantly delighted to see how traditional woods like oak and walnut are being employed with renewed flair and imagination,” says Linda Jovanovich, of the American Hardwood Information Center in Pittsburgh. “Subtle tweaks can make something familiar look innovative. The current trend is to take a classic hardwood application like paneling or flooring, and give it a stylish twist.”

Here’s a look at what’s trending:

Wide-plank flooring

Perhaps no recent trend has been more influential than the use of wide-plank hardwood flooring. Traditional plank widths, ranging from 21/4 to 31/2 inches, are still popular. But today’s homeowners often ask for widths between 5 and 7 inches, and sometimes as wide as 10 to 12 inches.

“Wider floorboards can make a space look larger and more modern,” says Melissa Morgan of M Interiors in San Antonio. She has used the generously proportioned planks in traditional and contemporary homes. “With fewer seams, these floors can be treated like a canvas: ebonized oak or walnut for a sleek, dark look; light woods like ash or maple for a chic, urban vibe; weathered-gray tones for a slightly rustic effect — the possibilities are endless.”

Wood ceilings

It used to be that hardwood planks primarily went on floors or walls, but today they’re appearing on residential ceilings, too. “Simple poplar beadboard, painted white or with a light natural stain, looks crisp and airy overhead, adding visual interest while remaining quiet and unassuming,” says Rebecca Ascher, of Ascher Davis Architects in New York and Newport, Rhode Island.

Mixing and matching hardwoods add interesting visual elements to this kitchen. photos/brandpoint.com

“For a more assertive effect, I might specify tongue-and-groove walnut or hickory” — woods that add “character” and “a degree of drama” to a room, she says. “For that reason, they’re best reserved for large, high-ceilinged rooms that are not easily overwhelmed. In smaller, lower spaces, a ceiling with too much personality can feel oppressive.”

Mix and match

Architects and designers often avoided using different varieties of hardwood in a single residential space, but they now mix and match woods with enthusiasm. Clearly contrasting wood tones — blond maple and black walnut, for example — create a striking effect that can work well in both traditional and contemporary settings. This is particularly true in kitchens, where a favorite configuration features upper cabinetry in a light-color wood such as birch, and lower cabinetry in a darker wood like cherry.

Gray stains and finishes

Gray is a classic “neutral” tone that rarely goes out of fashion. It is currently one of the most popular colors, ranging from pale smoke to deep charcoal, showing up in hardwood flooring, paneling and cabinetry.

“Whether light or dark, gray stains bring out any wood’s natural grain and texture,” says New York interior designer Laura Bohn. “Grays are versatile and timeless — quiet and soothing colors that recede into the background, without losing personality or becoming faceless. That’s why they work in any style, yet always look modern.”

Distressed look

Homeowners drawn to the look of weathered rustic and timeworn are turning to distressed hardwoods — new product to which scrapes, nail holes, notches, saw marks and other signs of wear and tear have been carefully applied, often by hand. Manufacturers are able to reproduce convincing facsimiles of anything from the burnished walnut floorboards of an 18th-century salon to the rugged oak-plank siding of a 19th-century Pennsylvania barn. It’s a distinctive look that offers a wide range of aesthetics.

More information about residential design trends and products using American hardwoods can be found at www.hardwoodinfo.com. — brandpoint.com