Wood is a standard material on many homes’ exteriors, but more people are finding creative uses for wood indoors, where its versatility and organic beauty shine.
By Lisa Truesdale
Want a rustic look and feel for your home? Use lots of wood. Prefer a sleeker, more contemporary look, or perhaps dramatic elegance? Use lots of wood.
As a result, Tompkins explains, architects, designers and woodworkers are going back to the basics and using more wood for features inside the home—walls, ceilings, exposed beams and decorative architectural elements like crown molding, wainscoting, corbels, arches and columns.Because of fire-hazard restrictions on wood siding in Boulder County, there’s been a definite decline in demand for wood exteriors, says Keenan Tompkins, owner of Colorado Timberframe, a custom homebuilder based in Boulder. And, as people have become more aware of energy efficiency over the years, requests for traditional stacked-log homes have also waned.
“Generally speaking, there is more of a demand for wood in Colorado homes, because people here are more drawn to the outdoors and earthy, organic construction,” Tompkins says. “That’s what makes Colorado architecture so great. I get to do a lot more with wood, which I love, than I would in other areas.”
Tim Laughlin of Boulder’s Surround Architecture agrees, and says that “wood also has a tactile quality to it that is very pleasing. The trend lately is toward modern homes with very clean lines but still incorporating the natural beauty and warmth of wood.”
“Working with wood is extremely satisfying, as it allows you to have a hands-on relationship with a basic element of nature,” Stuntz says. “To me, nothing is more inviting in a home than warm wood elements, like elaborately carved front doors, solid wood French doors and lavish crown moldings.”Ken Stuntz is a retired mechanical engineer who turned to woodworking as a lucrative and fulfilling hobby after watch-ing building shows on TV, poring over architectural magazines and realizing he had a gift for the trade. Stuntz, based in Houston, has consulted on home-remodeling projects for friends, family members and paying clients all over the country, including Longmont, Colo., and hurricane-ravaged East Texas, and as far off as New Zealand.
To achieve an ornate, elegant feel with wood, Stuntz says it’s all about “bigger”—wider door casings, taller baseboards, more layers of crown molding.
“Most homebuilders use a standard 2.5- to 3-inch door casing,” Stuntz explains. “But to add a classic, elegant look, you can easily get a 5-inch detailed door casing. Likewise, most builders favor a 3.5- to 4-inch baseboard, which is rather boring. Switch to taller and wider and instantly get a solid, elegant feeling, similar to the most expensive homes out there.”
To get a more rustic feel, Tompkins adds, “You can also hand-scrape or distress the wood so it looks weathered or reclaimed.”According to Laughlin, Surround Architecture has designed several homes with exposed ceiling beams, which can offer a rustic atmosphere or a very elegant one, depending on the finish of the wood and the functional and decorative details. In one Boulder-area home, for example, the beams are dark and formal looking, with square pegs and steel strapping, while in another, they’re lighter, with simple, non-ornate corbels. Besides adding visual interest, says Dale Hubbard, also of Surround Architecture, exposed beams “give the room order and help define the space.”
Way to Go
Whether you want a simple, back-to-nature ambience or the look and feel of a luxury home—or anything in between—Tompkins, Laughlin and Stuntz concur wholeheartedly that wood is the way to go.
“I couldn’t agree more,” Stuntz says. “My work is greatly enhanced by the pleasing scent of freshly sawn wood.”“Yes, wood ceilings, walls and other features add to the cost of building or remodeling, because wood is more expensive than drywall,” Tompkins acknowledges. “But I really like wood’s versatility, and the warmth it adds to a home. You can use lighter woods with clear finishes in more modern-style homes, you can use deeper-toned species wood in more elegant spaces, and you can use weathered or reclaimed wood in more rustic spaces. There’s also a smell and an ambience to wood that other materials just don’t have.”
Wood Flooring vs. Carpeting
Easy to clean. Just sweep or vacuum and clean occasionally with wood floor cleaner.
Higher value. Wood floors are an upgrade in most homes, and studies show that homes with wood floors sell faster than those with carpet.
Lots of style choices. Wood floors can be traditional or modern, depending on the type of wood chosen and the finish.
Higher cost. Price per square foot is more than basic carpeting.
Refinishing. Wood floors can scratch and blemish and need to be refinished occasionally.
Noise. Wood flooring can make lots of noise when you walk across it.
Hardness. Wood floors are not as cushioning as carpet in homes where there are children or adults prone to falls.
Wood Island Countertops vs. Other Island Countertop Materials
Renewable surface. Scratches can be easily buffed out.
Work surface. Food prep is easy on wood, and wood is easy on cutlery.
Environmentally friendly. Many green sources are available, like reclaimed wood.
Style. Wood islands can bring the room together by matching the wood floors.
Maintenance. Work surface requires frequent applications of mineral oil.
Damage. Susceptible to water damage if not protected; also susceptible to damage from vinegar and other acidic foods.
Blemishes. Wood can dent, scrape or chip more easily than stone, tile or laminate.
The Best Wood for the Job
But what about wooden architectural accents throughout the rest of the home? With help from Tompkins, Tim Laughlin of Surround Architecture, and a few other sources, we’ve compiled this list of decorative wood features and the wood species that are commonly used to craft them:According to Keenan Tompkins of Colorado Timberframe, Douglas fir is the best wood choice for structural framing and exposed ceiling beams. “Its performance in the high and dry altitudes of the mountains is better than any other type of timber,” he says.
Interior doors and trim: Knotty alder, fir, pine, oak
Tip: Pine is often chosen as a less expensive alternative to other woods, and then stained to emulate the color and grain of pricier species.
Columns: Maple, oak, pine, birch, black walnut
Crown molding, chair rails, wainscoting: Cherry, maple, poplar, red oak
Tip: Poplar is one of the more inexpensive wood choices, and it takes paint better than more-porous species.
Corbels: Maple, oak, mahogany
Interior ceilings: Fir, pine, hemlock
Tip: Hemlock is a good alternative to pine, because it’s denser and harder.
Flooring: Oak, hickory, cherry, walnut, bamboo
Cabinets: Cherry, mahogany, alder, oak
Tip: Cherry can range in color from a very light pink to a dark reddish brown, and will darken to deep, rich tones with age.