How to select beautiful timber like an interior designer
"I want my timber cupboards to look woody…" What does that mean, woody? It's something that comes from a tree, right? You could be talking about thousands of different timber styles. Describing the type of timber look you want for your furniture is quite difficult. Without knowing the right lingo it's so hard to get your point across. I’m going to tell you how to do it and you will impress people with your smarts. Especially if you remember the trade names of some of the things I’m going to tell you about.
How do I begin to describe the kind of timber that I want?
If you're having something custom made it's important to clearly communicate what you want. If you're searching for something to buy, it helps if you know what you're looking for. So, learning a bit about how timber grain patterns are made and getting familiar with some of the types of trees it comes from will help you out.
First of all, let’s face it you’re either going to be using ‘real’ wood or ‘fake’ wood. For most people it’s the look that’s first priority, and knowing what material it’s actually made of doesn’t really matter. For other people, they absolutely love natural wood and won’t have anything less than the real thing. In most cases, the descriptions about the look or styles are the same.
I’m not going to go into all the different materials and techniques that are used to create a timber look for your joinery. This is about learning how to describe the style. When your designer or builder asks you “what do you want?” then you’ll know what to say. You should also talk to them about which type of material is right for you.
Bye the way, the type of material you decide to use usually comes down to price and how you want it to perform. For example, the price difference between laminate and timber veneer is quite significant. It's about 3 times more for veneer boards. Some serious savings in your total budget can be made here if needed.
TIP: It’s a good idea to ask your cabinetmaker or carpenter to price a few different options to help you decide what to do.
Do you want stylish stripes or a more traditional wood look?
This is often what people in the industry are talking about when they say the words engineered timber veneer or natural timber veneer. Let me try and simplify some of the terms used.
When describing a timber look, most of the time it’s referred to as either crown cut or quarter cut for natural timber or linear for engineered timber.
These patterns are created because of the way the timber's cut. Crown cut is cut right across the crown, or across the top of the log. A log's cut into quarters first, for quarter cut, and then sliced off the blocks.
Linear grain is achieved by a more complicated process. It’s often referred to as Engineered veneer, or reconstituted veneer. It’s made up of several layers of sliced timber, often dyed different colours. It forms a block, which is all the layers glued together and then it’s sliced again to make a veneer. The engineered pattern is nice and consistent, which minimises a lot of problems down the track. Variations in colour and grain can be a challenge to deal with when you want it to look a certain way. Sometimes the sample you’ve used to base your colour scheme on is quite different to how it turns out in your home.
TIP: Watch out for colour and pattern variation on all natural products.
When the tree's sliced up there are also different ways of joining the pieces together to create a panel. They might be placed side by side and repeated seamlessly, or turned upside down for each alternating sheet. They might be cut into smaller pieces and put back together randomly. There's lots of interesting styles that're created by piecing together different shapes of wood. For instance, herringbone or parquetry patterns are quite striking.
Light, medium or dark colour?
The species of the tree plays a big factor in determining the colour. Of course you could stain, dye, and use many other techniques to change the colour of wood. But when describing the look that you want, stick to the trade names. The main ones we talk about here in Australia are Tasmanian Oak, American Oak, Blackbutt, Spotted Gum, American Walnut, and Smoked Oak.
Here’s some images of each timber grain and an example of how it looks as furniture.
Spotted gum 2 drawer bedside table
Low sideboard in blackbutt with black metal legs
Tasmanian Oak Sunburst Coffee Table
Wire basket with a smoked oak top
American Oak dining table
American Walnut bedside table
How do the edges look?
Attention to detail is what will give your design the edge over others. Let’s have a closer look at the edges of the timber panels. A square shaped edge is definitely on trend. Something that’s got high impact resistance and looks as seamless as possible is also most desired. ABS edge strip in a matching colour is best for panels that need an edge strip applied. It’s a rubbery plastic edge strip that’s quite thin, @ 1 or 2mm. It’s actually used on many types of joinery.
I’ve seen some stunning plywood exposed edges lately. It feels more authentic and handmade, showing great craftsmanship. You might be surprised at the price of it though, let’s say it’s a premium option compared to an ABS edge.
What does the actual door look like?
Here we’re talking about face detail or profile on the front of the door. For most people it’s simply flat because its more affordable and a minimal look is more contemporary. If you would like a face design you will need to have a look at solid timber options. It would be built by a carpenter, who has excellent skills. Vinyl wrapped MDF board that’s been routered will do the trick too, but I haven’t seen many realistic looking timber decors.
Is it smooth, shiny, or rough?
The gloss finish trend is slowly making way for more natural, tactile and textured feels. Adding timber to your scheme is your chance to add some texture. It’ll break up all the other smooth, shiny items you probably already selected. Like, if you selected a glass splashback, shiny new appliances, and perhaps even some gloss white cabinetry in the kitchen. It looks great to mix in some textured timber. Not to mention it softens all the harder materials in the wet areas. Adding textured timber finishes create a balance there too and makes it more welcoming.
Top Tip number 1: Keep in mind a gloss finish is harder to keep looking clean because it shows more finger prints and marks. Keep a microfiber cloth and some glass cleaner handy and it comes off quickly.
Top Tip number 2: make sure you get a large timber sample. This is important because the pattern may not be visible and you will get a surprise when it’s installed (and probably not a good one!).
So, how do interior designers describe the timber look they want? They talk about the look of the grain, colour, finish and the timber species. They also note if there are any applied moulding or detail on the panel.
You can do this too. Such as, it may have a distinct grain like a crown cut or it may be very linear. It may have a medium honey colour like American Oak. The panels shape might be flat with square edges and finished in smooth matt. See, you sound like an interior designer now!
Tell me which timber look you’re thinking of using in your next project. I’m interested to hear your comments, and of course I’m happy to answer any of your questions.