At Open Door Furniture we build 100% custom pieces of furniture on commission. Below is a list of the five most common wood species we build our furniture out of, why we like them, and the design traditions that they work well in.
At present, white oak is the most in demand lumber in contemporary furniture design. We have seen this popularity playing out in our own shop as around 40% of the furniture we have been commissioned to build in the last year is in white oak. We have also seen the strain of its popularity as the price of white oak has skyrocketed, and the boards that we are receive are requiring more attention to ensure our standard of quality due to how quickly they’re processed at the sawmill. To boast of its rediscovered appeal, white oak is long lasting, durable, and has a warm and inviting aesthetic. It comes in a variety of tones from honey to a light to medium tan. Outside of its natural tones, white oak also stains well. All these favorable qualities come together to make white oak the most in demand wood for every aspect of home interior design from flooring to cabinets and furniture. It is being used un a variety of popular design traditions from contemporary to Scandinavian and even coastal.
Not only does white oak have an aesthetic appeal, but it has a historical appeal as well. Because of white oaks abundance, durability, and rot resistance, white oak became the industrial wood of choice in the ‘new world’. It was used to build ships, barrels, wagons, and buildings. In the late 1800’s white oak crossed over from a primarily utilitarian wood, and into fine furniture. White oak has some incredible figuring when quartersawn, and the aesthetic, mixed with a golden stain became fashionable in the late Victorian era. White oak’s popularity as a furniture lumber was carried over into the arts and crafts movement in the 1920’s and has continued to be a popular choice for furniture ever since.
Lastly, white oak has a sustainability appeal. White oak is the one the fastest replenishing hardwood varieties in the US. According to the American Hardwood Assessment Council, a cubic meter of White Oak is grown in American forests every 1.57 seconds. In practical terms, this means that every second enough white oak is grown in the American forest to make three large tables. This rate of growth is second only to its cousin, red oak which generates a square meter of growth every 1.06 seconds. This is not necessarily because oak is the fastest-growing hardwood, but because its widespread presence all over the US.
These three appeals lead white oak to not only be the wood of choice for the present, but the wood of the past and future as well.
Walnut is a true American favorite. It’s demand waxes and wanes with the eras, but walnut has never fallen out of style; it has only decreased momentarily in its blistering popularity. Even in the height of bright and light home design, walnut has still maintained a place in the great American design traditions. As per domestic wood, walnut is the darkest lumber produced by North American forests. It is this natural, rich dark brown tone of that has proven to be so popular and that many other furniture designs have tried to replicate through stains and paints. Genuine walnut furniture is the standard that all others are measured by, and its beauty is difficult to match.
Because of its natural beauty, walnut is one of the only woods we don’t stain. Every piece of walnut furniture we build, we give a hand rubbed oil finish to give it a distinguished, refined, and durable finish. This process gives the walnut some depth and highlights its complexity as a building material.
Walnut has been a builder’s wood of choice in many design traditions. It was a dominant high end wood species along with teak in the age of mid-century modern and was sought after long before that in the traditional design expressions. In modern day, Walnut is utilized quite effectively in neo-traditional furniture, transitional furniture (as pictured below), contemporary furniture, as well as craftsman style furniture. Because of its appeal in so many traditions, walnut is the most timeless wood species we build furniture out of. It is a good investment for a homeowner to make if they want to keep up with the style, without having to buy new furniture after a few years. Despite its popularity, walnut is still sustainable and is farmed all over the US, often first for the walnuts themselves, and then for the lumber.
The origin of the name Mahogany is uncertain, but it has become a blanket marketing term today to cover up to 10 genetically diverse species of red woods found in four different continents across the world. The original Mahogany was a “new world” lumber brought to Europe and North America from the jungles of Caribbean. That species of Mahogany was called Cuban mahogany. It was first used by Spanish explorers to repair their boats and build smaller vessels, but it soon found popularity in western Europe as a cabinet and furniture wood. Its popularity was sudden and all-encompassing and it fueled entire traditional design styles such as Chippendale and Baroque. By the 1930’s, after centuries of exploitation and poor forestry practices, Cuban mahogany was commercially extinct.
As the global stock of mature cuban mahogany trees continued to shrink, a taste for a different species of mahogany rose in its place. That species of mahogany is now referred to as “genuine” or “honduran” mahogany, and it is in the same family as the cuban variety. Honduran mahogany was briefly considered the king of the world hardwoods and was built into boats, cabinets, furniture, instruments and more. It’s popular use was short-lived however as 70% of this mahogany was cut down between 1950 and 2003 according to World Resources institute. The alarming loss of such a precious resource has spurred change in the lumber sector at every level from grassroots movements to government. Because of these efforts the native population of genuine mahogany is recovering. In the commercial space, the legal harvesting of mahogany has mostly left the old growth forests of south and central America and began to be grown and harvested at plantations all over the Americas and Asia.
The mahogany we use in our furniture is called Khaya Mahogany which is the current wood of choice for custom mahogany furniture. It comes from Africa and is a close relative of the genuine mahogany species. We buy all our lumber from a regional lumber supplier, who is thoughtful with their sources and is compliant with the LACEY act. As a furniture building wood, khaya mahogany is highly sought after as it has many favorable qualities. It is straight grained, easy to work with, dimensionally stable, stains and finished well, and free of many knots and other natural inclusions. Because of how easy mahogany is to work, stain, and finish we build mahogany furniture in a variety of design disciplines from traditional, to transitional, and contemporary. When used by a knowledgeable craftsman, khaya is used to make wonderful furniture rich in history and visual appeal, and it is a great choice for furniture in your home.
Ash is another iconic hardwood. It grows all over the northern hemisphere and had been an important wood in different cultures throughout world history. Ash has never been the most popular of furniture woods, but at the same time has never totally fallen out of style. Today, Ash is used in a variety of applications from cabinets and flooring, to sports equipment and finally furniture. Ash has been a mainstay in Scandinavian design for generations and is growing in popularity in the contemporary world. This is due to a number of factors including its affordability, unique staining advantages and consistent appearance board to board.
In a world where neutral colors are the rage, Ash is a perfect candidate as it is almost white in color. The last few years have brought into style the whitewash finish. This is the finishing process of adding a white pigment to the wood stain and bringing the whole wood a few shades lighter. This process works better in some species than others. In woods like mahogany and cherry which already have a red tone, whitewashes tend to make them pink, an unwelcome aesthetic in today’s homes. In darker woods like alder, the whitewash can only be so effective as the underlying wood tone will still show through. Ash stands out in the whitewash as it is already a light toned hardwood. But it is not only white stains that ash works well with as it easily be stained almost any color. This characteristic makes it a desirable wood for furniture designers and interior decorators as it is highly malleable and can be made to fit in a variety of settings.
The last enduring appeal of ash is its predictability. Ash is almost always straight grained with a light uniform color. This sets ash apart from the likes of walnut, oak or even mahogany where wood tones vary board to board and need to be carefully curated to make a matching piece. When a piece of ash furniture is commissioned, the buyer can anticipate with a high degree of certainty exactly what their piece is going to look like when its finished.
Cherry is a classic American hardwood, and it has been a mainstay in fine furniture for centuries. What starts as a pale pink wood with time and sunlight develops into a deep and charactered leathery patina. In addition to its interesting color change, cherry is favored by woodworkers for its ease to build with and its sustainable nature. When formed by a skilled craftsman, cherry has and will continue to be built into some of the highest quality furniture in the world. At present, cherry furniture is much less popular that it has been in the past. This is due to a variety of reasons both in the greater market and in popular design styles.
Because of its storied nature, cherry, like walnut, has a lot of cheap imitators. As opposed to its true nature of being an actual hardwood, cherry is often offered as a stain or paint selection in mass manufactured furniture. The oversaturation of the market of cheap “cherry” furniture has caused cherry to temporarily fall out of mainstream style. On top of this, Cherry is a more aesthetically difficult wood to build with in contemporary design schemes. One of the biggest values of contemporary furniture is flexibility, and this often manifests in a penchant for neutral colors. The red undertones of cherry make it difficult to fit in with most neutral color schemes, and therefore has made it less popular for now. We still build with it from time to time, both with natural finishes and stains. Whether in contemporary design or in traditional design, cherry can be used to build the highest quality furniture owing to its dimensional stability, ease of working, and its ability to accept stains and finishes.
Cherry is a great wood selection for an American traditional, transitional, mid-century modern, modern, or craftsman home. All five of these design traditions welcome and compliment the warm wood tones that cherry offers to a space. In contemporary applications, like the example seen below, cherry is often stained to give the furniture a more neutral color. In any application, both in design style and the type of furniture, cherry shines as a beautiful and sophisticated choice to elevate any home furnishing.
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