Beam me up
Wood you believe it? The rugged charm of oak is enjoying a revival, says Amelia Thorpe
Anew generation of architects and designers is celebrating the colour, texture and resilience of oak. ‘It’s reliable, steadfast and has historic value,’ states Peter Russell, partner of bespoke joinery specialist Stuart Interiors. ‘we’ve seen a change from the throwaway culture of the latter part of the 20th century—now, people want things that will last.’
Mr Russell says he’s currently creating a large solid-oak staircase for a new-build house, with a construction team worrying about whether they need to create a special steel support. ‘I have to explain that there’s no need: solid-oak staircases put into houses 500 years ago still exist today,’ he says.
‘Other blonde timbers, such as sycamore and maple, tend to yellow, whereas oak improves with age,’ explains Bruce Hodgson, MD and creative director of bespoke kitchen specialist Artichoke. ‘It can be fumed to take on different colours, offering a wide choice of possibilities from raw blonde to almost pitch black.’
Stains, washes, waxes and oils can all be used to introduce variety and Artichoke might also use copper or nylon brushes to create burnished finishes that break out the natural figuring of the wood. ‘Oak sits well with most colours, including just about the entire Farrow & Ball paint chart, as well as with all kinds of other materials, such as stainless steel, chrome, nickel, bronzes and aged brasses,’ says Mr Hodgson. ‘It fits well in all kinds of interiors, just as it has always done, and that also makes it a good investment for the future.’
For Andrew Inchley, a director of Yiangou, it is oak’s functional benefits that are the main attraction. ‘It is a very strong, stable wood, making it a great building material, and it’s also highly versatile,’ says Andrew Inchley, director of Yiangou Architects. ‘You can treat it, polish it and get a very “finished” look that works beautifully on panelling in a traditional interior, for example, or you can leave it in its natural state, without waxes and oils, to create a more stripped-back appearance, which works well in a contemporary home.’
Mr Inchley reveals that he enjoys using oak cladding on the exterior of a building, so that the timber has a chance to silver over time, or combining oak with other construction materials to create variation. ‘I like the contrast between something perfect and sleek, such as metal-framed glass, with something natural, such as oak, which will age over time,’ he says.
And to avoid oak looking heavy? Again, he believes in creating contrast, setting oak beams against a light-painted ceiling, for example, or using a slender oak frame around a large panel of glass to create a beautiful picture window. ‘A sea of oak just doesn’t have the same impact,’ he says. ‘It’s far more effective to allow the wood to stand out.’ Artichoke (www.artichoke-ltd.com; 01934 745270) Stuart Interiors (01935 826659; www. stuartinteriors.com) Yiangou Architects (01285 888150; www. yiangou.com)
Above: An oak ceiling and beams add warmth to this Cotswold barn by Mcclean Quinlan (020–8870 8600; www.mcleanquinlan.com). Below: Panelling by Stuart Interiors (01935 826659; www.stuartinteriors.com)