The days of oak or walnut seem to be going the way of all-white rooms and steel and glass furniture. Instead of the pure look of previous decades, we’re seeing a big new interest in exotic wood finishes.
Today’s wood finishes are dyed, bleached or ebonized. Dyeing is a simple process, used to add color to pale wood while still allowing the grain to show through. Dyes, mostly of aniline, are available in brilliant hues. Once the dye is set, a coating of urethane seals it and protects the finish. Dyes are wonderful for chairs, because the colors penetrate the surface and, unlike paint, can’t chip off.
Bleaching is an older process, easy to accomplish if the piece is not too large. There are new dips for furniture that can make the process less time consuming, but for floors or walls, there is no substitute for the hand-bleaching process. Bleaching works wonders with golden oak furniture.
Ebonizing is also an old process, which involves adding dense black to any open grained wood. The graining shows as a texture, rather than a different color (as with dyed woods). Ebonizing can be a practical surface for a table top, for instance, where the wood texture disguises scratches or stains.
You can, of course, leave the wood in its raw state. In a living room I designed, the space was small and undistinguished. The room was a square, with two small conventional, double-hung windows on one wall and an untrimmed fireplace on another.
I decided that raw pine paneling would do wonders for the space, while still allowing the room a contemporary look. The paneling was relatively inexpensive. I used a plain, unfinished pine board measuring 4-by-8 feet to line the walls, and found an equally unfinished pine mantel to fit the fireplace opening. I also added unfinished pine moldings to make panels on either side and above the mantel, and a more elaborate crown-molding at the ceiling.
Moldings do wonders for the plain windows. By using several pieces of molding, I was able to build up the size of the window to give it an important look it otherwise lacked. Panels below the windows add to the finish of the space. I splurged by bleaching the original oak floor and whitening the newly exposed grain with pigment, before sealing it all with a coating of non-yellowing urethane.
I decided on white furniture to go with all this light wood. A pair of two-seaters flanking the fireplace is covered in thick white polished cotton. Wider arm chairs in a natural finish complete the furniture grouping. Soft cushions for the chair seats are covered in heavy textured white Haitian cotton. A bleached oak drum makes an appropriate end table for the love-seat and a huge green tree softens the square edges of the paneling.
To keep this elegant, neutral room as flexible for the future as possible, I designed a coffee table that can be re-painted to suit changes in color taste. I painted the table in a pale mauve hard enamel with a low gloss finish. Ceramic vases in different shades of mauve stand on the mantel while a mostly mauve painting and patterned occasional pillows add to the color accent of the room.