Going with the grain: Wood can breathe fresh life into any interior

From the warmth of American walnut to the cool good looks of Scandinavian beech

Gwenda Brophy
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:02

The Scandinavians use cool blond woods to make their subtle design statements, while in New England sunshine reflects off white weather-boarded houses, but until recently it was spirit-sapping pine panelling that was our major contribution to using wood in our homes. The good news however, is that wood is now increasingly being used in a more imaginative – and very grown-up – way in a number of contemporary homes.

Jonny Allams from Camberwell, south-east London, recently used the material to transform his one bedroom apartment into a unique property using a palette of shades and wood types including American black walnut and Australian tallow.

Using new and reclaimed timbers, everything was hand-crafted, including the remade shutters to match what would have been in place originally and arched sash windows were restored to their former glory. In the kitchen modern materials – resin worktops, rubber floor – meet period/retro wooden detailing of 1950s walnut handles and cabinet trims, walnut skirting and architrave, while bedroom wardrobes and matching double bed were hand-made.

The sitting room has a reclaimed Victorian school door, and Allams designed and built bookcases alongside vintage storage units. Tallow was used on the floor, owing to its varied grain patterns and high resilience, with Siberian larch used for an extensive decking area which comes into its own as a space to entertain in the warmer months.

As a freelance carpenter involved in making residential and commercial bespoke furniture s as well as small sculptural pieces and architectural models, Allams clearly has an advantage on the rest of us, however, he says, his approach can be adopted by anyone. "Whenever I've made alterations or additions, it's been led by a desire to maximise use of the space but visually, I've always tried to get the balance right between being sympathetic to period features and what I consider to be timeless, functional, beautiful design."

He has also taken an organic approach to the work in line with the nature of his material. "I've been making one-off bespoke furniture/interiors for clients for a number of years, but the renovation of my own home has evolved slowly." The house is now on the market for £295,000, through estate agent Wooster & Stock.

Hallams is not alone in taking the use of woods to new levels. Knight Frank recently had a property on the market where the walls had effectively been lined with striking and richly coloured woods, which, combined with the teak hardwood flooring and elmwood doorways and woodwork, produced a very tactile, deeply resonant look and feel.

While architects may never have abandoned wood outright, what is apparent is its effortless and sophisticated incorporation into the contemporary home. In Shaldon, south Devon, Broadreach is a building which has used wood to superb effect both inside and out. An architect-designed light-filled, five bedroom house, the sitting room features an impressive vaulted ceiling, while double-glazed picture windows and hardwood folding doors open onto wide sun balconies at both ends of the room. Traditional features are given a new twist – a modern log burning stove, and a suspended oak and steel staircase that leads up to the first floor. The property is on the market for £950,000 through Wilkinson Grant.

In Salcombe in the same county, architect Annie Martin Architect used a lot of wood in Seacombe, a house where the first floor and roof has an insulated lightweight timber and steel frame. "It allows the construction of the cantilevered roofs and floors without being too bulky or expensive," says Martin. "Untreated western red cedar cladding was used for its low-key nature." This helps the house fit the National Trust land that surrounds it, plus it is low maintenance and is durable on an exposed site. "And it gives a nod to the timber-clad 1930s bungalow it replaced," adds Martin.

"Oak floors in the bedrooms have a warmer feel and make you want to walk around bare footed. The outside decking on the first floor creates a visual link to the internal floors, while windows and doors are stained hardwood appropriate for the rural nature, and are a contrast to the timber cladding, giving a strong visual link across the property". The house, which has been awarded several awards including awards one for a contemporary dwelling and two from Riba, also features a fumed oak kitchen.

"It is bespoke joinery shop made, with finger pulls routed into the top of the drawers and doors as an alternative to handles," says Martin. There is none of the clichéd mock-farmhouse or overused Shaker style that has made wood kitchens difficult to marry with contemporary homes, and developers in town locations are going against the grain and using more wood.

At Dart Marina in Dartmouth, the apartments and town houses were given clean-lined, sleek warm dark oak wood Poggenpohl kitchens. "It was undoubtedly the most popular amongst buyers, not least because of its warmth and depth of the colour, and, because of how good it looked when reflecting light at night," says Jane Summers of Knight Frank, who are selling a two-bedroom town house at 785,000 and a two-bedroom duplex at £625,000.

"The key is that the elements of the house, as in Seacombe, all have the same language", says Martin, "but that same language allows variety."

Jonny Allams offers some advice if you want to avoid a design cacophony. "Be wary of mixing new woods together, but maximise on the design possibilities of using wood with other modern materials, or new wood with old."

And the options have never been greater," says Jonny. "The number of more exotic woods which are now readily available as veneers on man-made boards makes them more economical. It also allows more people to commission bespoke pieces – although there is always a special place for solid wood pieces which have no substitute in terms of quality, durability and beauty."

Incorporating wood into your home, he concludes, "means warmth, rich beauty and all its other great qualities. It also ages well – along with its owners – and every patina tells its own story".

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