Never before have wood and wood-like products been so widely available and so popular as they are today. Wood is a hot item—whether seen as real wood, vinyl or faux designs—and is used on floors; as window treatments in shutters, wood/wood-look blinds, woven wood shades and panels, decorative drapery rods and valances; and as wall treatments as moldings and wall coverings.
Wood in a natural, bleached or painted finish is seen in all styles of traditional
and contemporary furniture, moldings, and hard or alternative window treatments.
FOCUS ON TEXTURE AND SHAPE
Many factors and trend directions are at work creating an atmosphere in which
wood enhances or becomes center stage in today’s interior fashions. Perhaps
the biggest factor is the long-term trend that began in the early 1990s away
from pattern and toward texture. Prior to that time, there was a sharp focus
on printed and woven patterns. Floral fabrics dominated much of the scene with
their rich and flamboyant appearance. Beautiful as these patterns were, and still
are, long-term directions shifted towards less pattern in favor of subtlety and
understatement in textiles.
This trend has allowed designers to focus on the form and shape of the structural
members of an interior such as furniture, art, sculpture and, of course, window
treatments. Form is a key element in shutters and wood blinds where the linear
composition makes a striking and handsome focal point. That is a part of the
lasting appeal of shutters—the way the light and shadow form a pattern
through shape and horizontal lines.
The power of horizontal lines cannot be underestimated. There is a calming, reassuring,
sometimes relaxing and grounding psychology to these lines that are in harmony
with earth’s gravitational pull. They also make a room seem wider and more
expansive. Open shutter blades or blind slats bring natural light into a room
with a bit of class—more filtered and in an intriguing way, enhancing the
beauty of bare or untreated glass.
Another reason why wood has tremendous appeal is its low upkeep. Other than an
occasional dusting—or where the air quality is poor, an occasional cleaning—wood
and wood-like products can hold their good looks and handsome appearance indefinitely
with very little other maintenance. While it is true that horizontal surfaces
are natural dust catchers, they also are fairly easy to clean.
In addition, natural wood hues and white (the two most popular color selections)
don’t show the dirt. Although this is not a call for living with or ignoring
dust, it is a relief to many busy people to not have to see dust on a daily basis.
For many women especially, visible dust tends to produce guilty feelings, as
though the item to be dusted is calling out “Help me!” over and over
again. The rule of dust is that dark colors and shiny surfaces (including horizontal
glass) show the most dust. Selecting products that naturally do not call attention
to the presence of dust will mean lower upkeep and less emotional strain.
Keep in mind, however, that where smoke or oil-borne impurities exist in an interior
(such as generated from cooking with oil at high temperatures), the need to deep
clean will be dramatically augmented. Real wood is much more difficult to keep
clean of these contaminants as they tend to settle deep into the wood grain.
WOOD AND WOOD-LIKE SELECTIONS
There are many choices today—more than ever—in products made of wood,
engineered wood and wood-like products. As manufacturers incorporate technological
advances, continual improvements in the wood-like products have made them viable
choices in many circumstances. There is much talk these days about products made
of solid wood versus faux wood in all its many forms. Let’s take a look
at the advantages of real wood and wood imitations.
While some retailers will feel very strongly about a particular product, it’s
also great to be open-minded and realize that end-users and their interiors may
benefit from a different product in different circumstances. What is best may
change according to the budget, the environment, the desire for value versus
resale, and the amount of use a product will receive. A professional who can
offer a variety of choices will likely have more satisfied customers.
Also keep in mind that even in a single home, some rooms may call for a product
that varies from those in another area of the same home. For example, real wood
products may be most appealing in a formal living room and in a guest room a
vinyl product may be just the thing. In another area sliding woven wood panels
or shades can provide a change of pace while still offering the warm look of
Generally most people agree that the wood shutters of a generation ago fueled
the popularity of wood blinds, which tended to be less expensive and more versatile
while still adding the look and warmth of wood to an interior. In more recent
years, the popularity of wood blinds has, in turn, fueled the return to shutters.
Real wood proponents maintain that wood products are stronger and often lighter
in weight than many faux products allowing larger panels to be installed in some
applications. They claim the real wood finish, either stained or painted, is
unmatched in quality. There also is a constituency that believes that real is
always better than imitation.
Real wood products may be more expensive, but they offer higher margins for dealers
and represent an investment to customers that will add to the overall value of
a home. This perceived value of real wood is literal; even realtors agree that
real wood shutters or blinds increase the resell value of a home.
FAUX WOOD MATERIALS
Faux means false or fake, but those words are inadequate in describing the real
look of these products, which include wall coverings and custom technique painting.
Perhaps a better word would be trompe l’oeil faux, meaning fool-the-eye
Vinyl faux wood blinds and shutters have come a long way in the last 10 years.
No longer do vinyl products have a plastic stigma. In fact, from even a short
distance it's very hard to tell real wood from faux wood products. Faux wood
materials include vinyl and composite materials—for shutters, there even
is a third category that includes wood frames wrapped in polyvinyl.
Faux wood proponents say these window treatment products are often more versatile
because they can be used in high-heat and high-humidity installations without
chipping, cracking or warping. They also are available for custom coloration.
It might be noted, however, that most homeowners who opt for painted shutters
will nearly always want white, as white is a universal color that is handsome
from the street and can be used with nearly any color scheme inside or out.
A big plus for faux wood products is that they often are less costly than real
wood shutters. Their lower price points open the market to a much wider audience.
WOVEN WOODS—TIMELY TWISTS
Another example of wood in interiors is woven woods, originally introduced as
roller or Roman shades during the 1970s and losing popularity for over the next
20 years. They are back now as high-quality offerings in alternative window coverings.
Seen around at the International Window Coverings Expo in Baltimore, MD, last
spring were panel track systems with woven wood shades. Usually seen with sheer
fabric or shade cloth, these panel track systems with woven woods shades caught
the attention of many professionals who now have another viable and handsome
Bamboo and other natural fiber products also are appealing in interiors where
a less constructed or less perfected look is desirable. These light-diffusing
products, either real or faux bamboo, and the varieties of woven woods offer
a quality of light that is so beautiful as to be even somewhat mystical. And
no wonder, bamboo shades originated about 2,000 years B.C. in China.
A few manufacturers, such as Hunter Douglas, also offer a woven woods product
with a privacy pleated shade behind it that hangs from the same headrail. This
solves an age-old problem of providing the customer with privacy when the preferred
treatment is light filtering. This is a functional and innovative solution.
THE REAL WINNERS
One of the most interesting things about wood, or the look of wood, is that it
seems so popular these days that even faux wood wallpaper is being offered. These
wall coverings provide a rich look to vertical surfaces and can be hung vertically
to resemble paneling or horizontally to add a log cabin look to a room. Another
example of faux wood wall covering is the look of marquetry, or decorative wood
inlay, which is accomplished routinely in wall coverings.
Whichever way you view the issue of wood and wood-like products, the real winners
are customers who can get their preferred look in a price range that meets their
budgets. This is confirmed by the fact that many leading manufacturers offer
both real wood shutters and vinyl shutters, as well as real wood and faux wood
The broad spectrum of real and faux wood products assure us that the free-enterprise
system still works very well, offering something for everyone and every installation
and at a variety of price points.
J. Nielson, Allied ASID, WCAA, is assistant professor of design at
Brigham Young University. She is a practicing interior designer and
has authored several books including Window Treatments and Understanding
Fabrics. Nielson is a regular
correspondent for Draperies & Window Coverings addressing the areas of fashion,
education and merchandising.art finish and superior dovetail panel construction.