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Hamptons Life

Feb 21, 2019 12:53 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Working With Wood

A limited palette of oak is employed for the flooring, cabinetry and breakfast table in this modern kitchen in the Bowery neighborhood of New York City. CHRISTIAN HARDER
Feb 25, 2019 11:04 AM

For good reason, wood is one of the more popular materials that interior designers choose when creating spaces on the East End.

Wood evokes a sense of warmth, and an intrinsic connection to outdoors, which is often exactly why people head out east on their weekends—to escape their more concrete and glass-filled urban landscape—and why others choose to live here full time. With so many species of wood available for interiors today, there are certain strategies to employ carefully beforehand.

The first step typically is to consider the more permanent elements, such as the flooring, cabinetry and wall paneling, since these elements are particularly popular in wooden form in the Hamptons design world. (And likely will remain so for some time.) Anyone designing a room from scratch should usually choose these permanent elements first, and from a seemingly endless set of wood species and shades. White oak tends to be a favorite of contemporary homes in its natural shades, especially in matte finishes. Pine, if reclaimed and available in oversized widths, is often the perfect fit for a historic Sag Harbor cottage’s floor boards.

On the other hand, if one is working with an existing framework and keeping the wooden finishes as is, it’s worth confirming the species at hand. That way, the designer can make more informed decisions and ensure that all of the furniture elements are cohesive with the overall framework. Otherwise, the homeowner may end up with what is ultimately a competitive environment and a lack of calm. It may be wise to consider sanding and re-staining (or painting!) floors, cabinetry or wall paneling, depending on their condition, to create a new look without having to bring in entirely new raw material.

If opting for a brighter and more minimal experience, which often befits newer homes—though not exclusively—it’s usually best to stick to one or potentially two species, in a limited number of lighter shades that are less saturated. Think ash, birch or maple. These wood colors tend to lean in the gray and off-white family. As an experiment, try practicing extreme restraint and stick to just one species in one finish for an entire room; it’s generally always well-received, as long as the rest of the elements contain substantial variety. If woods for this end of the spectrum are painted, a crisp white coat pairs well with this aesthetic.

When choosing for a cozier and richer experience, you can achieve a more storied look by mixing in darker shades that are more saturated. Such layering often works well with older homes, or those that have a lot of inherent architectural detailing. Think walnut, mahogany or cherry. (Although it should be said that cherry is definitely not having its moment right now.) These wood colors tend to lean in the red and orange family. If you prefer this kind of natural mix of various species and shades, it requires an extra careful attention to detail, and a methodical precision regarding placement. For example, natural walnut and a dark-stained red oak can pair just fine in one room as separate elements, but it’s usually more impactful when they don’t directly abut one another. For some visual padding, add a light colored textile to balance the two disparate elements, such as an area rug or a throw blanket. If considering painted woods, try darker tones like black or forest green.

In general, it’s also worth researching what species are local or present on the property. Having a nod to the natural landscape outside is never a bad idea. To take it a step further, if any trees are cleared during a new construction project or an existing home renovation, try reusing some of the timber for the interiors. It’s better for the environment and instantly a good story to spark envy in your big city guests.

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