In the kitchen, rift and quarter-sawn White Oak cabinets are enlivened with molding and doors made of lightly steamed German Beech.
Pollmeier’s Mix-And-Match Approach To Hardwoods
Creuzburg, Germany—Changing tastes and market forces are driving more and more architects and homeowners to take a “global” approach to hardwood. Within the same home, they are often specifying a variety of domestic and imported species for millwork, cabinetry, flooring and furniture.
The results are creative hardwood combinations, whether used in subtle accents or to make bold statements that reflect the homeowners’ unique preferences.
“The ‘wow effect’ when you see the variety of these woods used from room to room, or intermingling in the same space, is undeniable,” said Doug Martin of Pollmeier Inc. “Just as paint, countertops and window treatments can be a showcase for a homeowner’s personality, so too can the palette of hardwoods be used throughout the house.”
He said that depending on the species, natural hardwood colors can range from the light, honey tone of lightly steamed European Beech, to the dark browns of Brazilian Walnut. And in between, there are a host of yellows, tans, reds and even woods with purple accents.
In the nearby office, the ceiling beams and wainscoting are fashioned of German Beech to provide balance for the darker hand-scraped Walnut floor.
Walking through a home with a variety of hardwoods is like taking an international mini-tour. A family room can use the bright hues of domestic White Maple and Birch, while the den next door might feature dark Iroko from Africa.
“Even in a single room, it’s not inconceivable to find five or six distinct hardwoods used for molding, cabinets and floors with decorative inlays,” Martin said.
In the photo examples, a homeowner has used a number of hardwood species—domestic and imported—to achieve unique characteristics for each room.
The home also utilizes South American Ipe decking and North American Hickory and Cherry flooring, for a grand total of seven distinct hardwoods from around the globe used within the same dwelling. And throughout, the unifying factor is the lightly steamed, German Beech, a wood that stands well on its own, but also helps to accentuate the other hardwoods.
A Changing Marketplace
Beyond the decorative possibilities, there are a number of practical reasons for the recent growth in the use of multiple species. Constant shifts in pricing and availability for temperate and tropical hardwoods can make specifying a single hardwood a somewhat risky or expensive affair.
In this living room, a cherry mantel perfectly accents the fireplace. German Beech is again used in the molding and trim work. And it all comes together with a flooring base of Santos Mahogany.
“Demand continues to outstrip supply when it comes to some of the most popular woods,” Martin said. “Many people desire the classic looks of Cherry, Walnut, Mahogany and others. But their popularity has made them more difficult to get and more expensive. Plus, heavy demand tends to compromise the quality of the wood.”
He said that getting creative about how and where to use certain hardwoods can save homeowners literally thousands of dollars.
“Doing an entire room in Walnut would be prohibitively expensive for many people, and the results would be, frankly, less interesting than using a variety of species,” Martin explained.
The scarcity of many tropical woods (and the corresponding price hikes) has turned many buyers toward temperate hardwood options, where they find attractive choices that are just as functional. These include woods like European Beech, Russian Birch and Alder.
“While they may lack some of the exotic mystique of their tropical counterparts, many of these temperate hardwoods are truly catching on in the international marketplace,” Martin stated.
Beech Offers Profitable Opportunities
German Beech also offers color flexibility with its exceptional propensity for staining. Here, the wood is stained to a very dark, espresso tint and used for flooring. It provides a dark contrast to the Santos Mahogany flooring in the hallway and the light color of the German Beech doors and millwork.
One of the most obvious examples of the changing trends in hardwoods is in the cabinet industry. For today’s cabinetmakers, offering a variety of hardwoods has become even more essential for maintaining a competitive edge.
It wasn’t that long ago when Oak was the undisputed wood of choice for cabinets. While it continues to be popular and functional, cabinet manufacturers report that many customers are looking for new options.
“At one end of the spectrum, you have the affordability and availability of Oak,” Martin said. “At the other end, you have an expensive and limited supply of Cherry. But today’s cabinetmakers are finding a number of good hardwood choices that fall somewhere in between.”
He said that Alder continues to be popular as a high-quality yet less-expensive wood, “although it can be difficult to get in wider planks, and tends to be too soft for some applications.”
Martin explained that European Beech has grown in popularity for a number of reasons. “From a manufacturer’s perspective, its quality, consistency, machinability, availability and moderate price make it a desirable, cost effective option,” he said. “It has a nice light natural look, but also takes stain very well, allowing cabinetmakers to offer their customers many more aesthetic choices.
“In fact, finishing is an invaluable resource for furniture makers, flooring manufacturers and millwork specialists as well,” Martin added. “Starting with a ‘canvas’ like European Beech, a number of hardwoods can be effectively emulated with just a few strokes of the brush.
“If a homeowner loves the idea of Cherry cabinets, but can’t afford the price tag, or wants Alder millwork with better durability, staining European Beech can provide a cost effective and attractive solution.”