Monday 23 April 2018

Interiors: Firm favourite - solid wood

Wood still the old reliable in Irish homes - once it's not orangey pine!

Inreda Design make good use of curves with plywood
Inreda Design make good use of curves with plywood
Interior by Patricia McGinnis
Wooden interior by Patricia McGinnis
Wooden furniture to feature in the deVere's auction
Interior from Inreda Design
Interior by Inreda Design

I grew up with mahogany and lots of it. My grandfather collected antique furniture and every room in our family home had at least one looming mahogany monster. Now, I can see the beauty in the deep sheen and subtle grain of the wood.

Then, I couldn't wait to see the back of it. As soon as I got my own gaff, I filled it with pine. The old doors and wardrobes were brutally stripped back to the original timber and a cheap orangey pine kitchen was installed. Thankfully, that kitchen is no longer with us. By the time it fell apart it looked as dated as a swirly carpet.

Irish people love wood. It's a warm, natural material that brings texture and cosiness into our homes in a climate that doesn't get a lot of sun. Good quality wood will last. It will develop a patina with age and, if you treat it nicely, you'll still have it 30 years down the line.

That's why it's important to chose carefully. Too much of a particular type of wood is as liable to date an interior as wallpaper. In the boom years I wrote about a lot of houses where the wood of choice was dark walnut or wenge, which is almost black and incredibly expensive.

Often, the dark wood was used to create built-in wardrobes that covered an entire wall. In one way they have aged well - solid hardwood is almost indestructible - but they fix the interior back in the years where claustrophobic walnut wardrobes were the height of style. And the owners, having spent so much money on the units, are pretty much stuck with them.

"In general, wood is quite timeless but there are colours and shades that are subject to change," says the Belfast-based interior designer, Patricia McGinnis. "The orangey pine of the early 1990s seems quite dated now. The floor is the only place in the house where you'd still get away with it.

"One of the virtues of a floor is you can put rugs over it so it doesn't read like a big expanse of wood."

Similarly, solid wood doors in a new house can be a bit too much of a good thing. "Wooden doors can work well in an old house. In a new one, you can almost tell what year the house was built by looking at the colour of the wood. I think you'd be better putting in cheaper fire-rated doors, and keeping the wood to the floors and the furniture," adds McGinnis.

Just as one generation rushes to strip the paint off old furniture, the next seems equally keen to paint it again. On this topic, McGinnis is on the fence. "I really like a painted floor, but that's the only place where I would use painted wood," she says. "I'm not so keen on painted wooden furniture. There's a big trend for upcycling and people have gone mad with the chalk paint. I think it's because they like the shape of the furniture but don't like the colour of the wood."

Where upcycling does work well is in flooring. "People love reclaimed floors, especially if there's a story that goes with it. They like to know that their floor has come from an old school house and there's a sense of romance in giving it a second life."

Our own maple floor was rescued from a parish hall in Scotland and driven over to Ireland in the back of a van. Somehow, it never quite made the transition to domesticity and looks a bit like a school gym. McGinnis feels that using an expert fitter can avoid this problem.

"Watch out for woodworm, that's the main danger, but also be aware that old floors may be stained and marked. You want to make sure you've got a fitter with experience in reclaimed flooring and will clean it up properly." She recommends Wilson's Auctions as a good source of reclaimed flooring with a team of expert fitters.

Birch ply is one of the upcoming trends in wood, used subtly and often revealing the layers of ply around the edges. The new Dunnyneil mirror from Donna Bates with a birch-ply surround is available for around €228 from Maven in Belfast, which has just opened an online shop.

The simple but elegant Copenhagen range, designed by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, celebrates the curves that can be achieved with plywood. The table costs €625 and the chair €276 from Inreda Design. There's also plenty of accessible birch ply at Ikea, such as the Frosta stackable stool (€11). But do bear in mind that, whatever you pay for it, plywood will never be as tough as solid hardwood.

I've also heard a rumour that mahogany is about to make a comeback. "Mahogany has been out of fashion for years, but I don't think it's anything against mahogany. Every generation seems to react against the furniture that their parents had," says Rory Guthrie of deVere's.

"Mahogany is a beautiful wood - there's such richness to it. People say it is too dark, but rosewood is also a dark wood and it is very popular. There's a grain to rosewood that you don't get in mahogany. It's not just a blob of brown."

DeVere's forthcoming design auction on October 6 includes several pieces of 1960s Danish furniture in rosewood ranging from desks, cabinets and trolleys, estimated to sell between €400 and €600, to sideboards that might go for between €2,000 and €3,000.

"The Danish furniture of the 1960s is almost as well made as Georgian furniture and the deep grain of the rosewood gives a punch to the room. It's a look you don't get with modern furniture," says Guthrie.

He also recommends you don't overdo the rosewood. "One piece of rosewood furniture makes a big statement. The sideboards are very popular but if you put a rosewood dining table and chairs alongside that then it's overkill. I'd put in a few different types of wood and a mixture of old and new furniture to create a balance."

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