If the last decade were a wood finish, it would be white oak. The light-colored, matte material fell into favor as a way to warm up contemporary interiors otherwise filled with cooler gray tones, especially when paired with bright white walls. From floors to furniture, surfaces everywhere got a touch of blond timber. “It’s popular for good reason,” says Brett Appel of Appel Architecture. “It’s versatile, durable, and cost-effective. As a father and a dog owner, I appreciate its hardness, which prevents denting, and the prominent grain, which hides minor scratches.”
But despite its obvious advantages, designers are already moving on, with many already declaring “white oak fatigue.” Clara Jung of Banner Day Interiors notes there are many other (often more sustainable) alternatives. “I’m ready for a change,” she says. So what finishes are the pros turning to next? We polled four experts to find out.
Although it’s traditionally been used as a construction material, the eco-conscious, affordable design is gaining traction. And it can easily be elevated: “Panels come in a variety of tints and grains, from blond and minimal to dark brown and textured, and can offer a really polished look,” says Appel. The application possibilities are virtually endless, too. Plywood’s thin structure means it easily bends into curves; use it to break up all those straight angles.
“I’ve always had an affinity for American walnut, and I’m hopeful more people will jump on board,” says interior designer Becky Shea. “Walnut has a wider, more organic grain and a rich finish when stained.” She uses the time-tested option on everything from cabinets and floors to vanities and furniture. Jung is also a fan: “The depth of color really complements any space.”
Jung also loves quarter-sawn ash, which has a similar hue to white oak but with a more textured character. Andree Chalaron, designer at Austin firm Amity Worrel & Co., favors the material, too, but for an entirely different reason. “I love the Claize finish by Aronson Woodworks,” she says, adding that her company prefers to work with the timber because of the prominent grain. “It can be bold and whimsical or subdued and sophisticated.”
Reclaimed maple and sapele (a wood similar to mahogany) are other earth-friendly options that Shea is using in her projects. “The idea of repurposing something that has history is so important in cultivating a home that has substance,” she says. Plus upcycling as much as possible helps the fight against deforestation.
Another way to reduce your footprint? Consider how far wood has to travel to get to you. Texas-based Chalaron often turns to native honey-hued pecan and mesquite. “When we build custom furniture,” she explains, “sourcing locally becomes part of the story of the piece.”
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