My Three Favorite Wood Species

Bob Borson —  October 31, 2011 — 11 Comments

Modern Wood Species composite

I originally wrote this post for my friend Jamie Goldberg who maintains the kitchen design site “Gold Notes

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When I was asked to contribute to Jamie’s series on “Three Favorite …”  I said yes immediately, even though I knew that I would have a hard time coming up with my three favorite versions of anything. Because I fall squarely into the camp that thinks the better the problem, the better the solution, having carte blanche to pick whatever I want to focus on is just about the hardest thing someone could ask from me… Three Favorite Buildings? Three Favorite Architects? Three Favorite Cities? Three Favorite (ways to embarrass myself…)???

Ughhhh … it’s too hard for me to select an answer to any of these questions. As a result, this post has sat empty for weeks as I beat myself up trying to respond to my friend’s request. Then it hit me – literally. Recently arriving in the mail were samples I had ordered from one of my wood vendors of three different wood species. Holy Gorilla’s Armpit!! Did someone say three?

So, in no particular order of preference, I give you my Three Favorite Species of Wood:

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Walnut

Walnut is, for some reason unknown to me, the one species of wood that is most commonly associated with modern style architecture and design. The difference between the lighter brown summer growth and the much darker bands of winter growth give this wood an extremely pleasing striation. The walnut tree can reach up to 130 feet tall, which provides for some large veneers – making walnut an excellent choice for paneling and cabinetry.

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White Oak wood

White Oak is native in many parts of the United States, one of them being East Texas. Since my architectural practice is based out of Dallas, this is a very cost effective and readily available species of wood. Of the three listed here, I probably use rift cut white oak the most often because it fits into the soft modern aesthetic that people hire us to produce. Warm in tone with distinct bands of summer and winter growth – just enough variation to be interesting but not so much as to be overwhelming visually in any space. One of my favorite ways to use rift cut white oak is to run the grain horizontally – the effect is rather striking.

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Pecan wood

Pecan is a species of hickory and is also readily available in the United States. I like to use pecan for special custom cabinetry despite the fact that it’s more commonly used for flooring. Pecan wood has a very active grain and as a result, it can be is visually busy. As a result, applying a stain to help even out the tones between the summer and winter growth will help regularize the patterns. Another reason I really enjoy using pecan is the incredibly warm brown tones that you can get from it – and since it isn’t a wood that you typically run across, people respond to the way it looks as if they are seeing it for the first time in their lives … which they probably are.

Cheers

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  • Sarah

    I have pecan floors in tobacco. (Mannington). Can u give me any ideas as to what species and color to use for my kitchen cabinets? Open concept with white trim and big windows and stainless appliances. ~thanks~

  • Stephen Lin

    My office building, Comerica Tower (Philip Johnson), has a gimmick with the elevators where each is paneled in a different wood. There’s a small little plaque on the wall of each elevator describing the type of wood and where it came from.

    My favorite so far has been elm burl and birdseye maple.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Cool – I’ll have to take a ride in a few of those elevators next time I’m in the building. 

      I used to use birdseye maple but haven’t done so in years – I won’t go so far as to say it’s out of popular style but I will stop just short of saying that.

      Cheers

  • http://www.feinmann.com/ Feinmann – Design Build Firm

    The grain of pecan wood is really intriguing to look at, but you’re right that it can get a little “busy” because of it. It’s definitely eye catching and isn’t something you see every day though, which may make clients’ projects a little more special to them.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Pecan is one of those species of wood that needs to be used in the right way – except I can’t tell you what that is other than I’ve never used it in a kitchen for cabinetry (that doesn’t sound very nice).

      My general rule for using pecan has to do with how large the individual pieces are that get used. In a kitchen, when you have loads of drawers and cabinet faces, it’s too many pieces of wood and the pattern can become way to busy.

      Cheers

  • Elise

    Great wood! I LOVE pecan but it is hardly ever used up here. It reminds me of home so much.  The white oak is beautiful too and may suit a little renovation I have planned…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      They are both really pretty – you can’t go to wrong with either one!

  • http://twitter.com/VTWorks Vermont Timber Works

    Agreed, qsawn white is awesome.  For me though, walnut wins :)  Nice choices Bob!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Walnut seems to be the popular choice these days – but keep in mind where your walnut is coming from. Here is a link to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species – and some species of walnut is on the list

      http://www.iucnredlist.org/apps/redlist/search

      Cheers

  • http://profiles.google.com/brodiegeers Brodie Geers

    Nice choices.  Long ago I used to sell cabinetry for awhile and we sold a quarter-sawn oak that was pretty sweet.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Quarter sawn gives you those nice vertical lines in the wood grain that suits cabinetry – particularly modern cabinetry – very nicely.

      Thanks Brodie