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Decorating Your Home With Wood

When it comes to interior design, wood is one of the most versatile materials. Some types of wood act as a neutral; others draw the eye in, leading the object in question to become the focus of the room.

With so many different options available, deciding on a type of wood can be overwhelming. This guide will introduce you to a wide selection of wood varieties (though by no means exhaustive) and will help you determine your own preferences.

Softwood vs. Hardwood
Despite the titles, the distinction between hardwood and softwood doesn’t have to do with the strength of a wood—it actually relates to the botanical classification of the type of tree.

Softwoods come from coniferous trees (like cedar, fir, pine) and typically have a red or yellow tint. The trees that yield softwood tend to grow fast and straight, making it a little more straightforward for turning into flooring, furniture and objects. As such, softwood is often a more affordable option.

Hardwoods comes from deciduous trees (like oak, ash, maple, cherry) and are available in a wide range of textures, colors and patterns. Hardwood generally costs more than softwood, especially the more rare varieties.

Which is better? It really comes down to the specific type of wood, its intended use, the aesthetic you prefer and the budget. Generally speaking, softwood is easier to shape, making it better for more ornamental pieces (think furniture), while hardwood is more resistant to denting, which is great for flooring.

About Grain
The grain of the wood refers to the fibers in the material. A close grain wood has small, tight pores, whereas open grain has larger pores and a coarser texture.

Types of Wood

Ash is a heavy straight-grained hardwood, less common than some other wood varieties. Its color can vary from white to tan. Ash is considered to be easy to work with, and is used in everything from structural frames to furniture pieces.

Birch is a close grained hardwood that comes in two main varieties: yellow and white. Yellow tends to have a red tinge, while white tends to be a little more neutral, slightly richer in color than maple. Both types are somewhat resistant to wood stain, but are beautiful left in their natural state. Alternatively, birch can be painted over quite easily. Birch is one of the more affordable and accessible hardwood options.

Cedar is a long-lasting softwood with a straight grain. Cedar is known for its slightly sweet scent (which is a natural moth repellant) and has a reddish-brown color with light streaks throughout. Its durability and ability to handle moisture without rotting makes it ideal for outdoor furniture and decking.

Cherry has a warm finish, making a room feel bright and energetic. This denser, closed-grained hardwood will turn redder over time, a process which is accelerated by exposure to sunlight. Cherry wood tends to resist warping, and takes well to polish. Cherry wood is somewhat of a specialty wood, so it might be a bit more expensive or harder to come by than some more common types of wood.

Douglas Fir
Douglas Fir is a softwood with a straight grain, often used for building homes.  It is one of the most affordable wood options available and is quite easy to work with. Douglas Fir is a great neutral for blending in. It does not absorb stain very well, so it is better-suited for those who prefer a natural finish.

Mahogany is popular for statement pieces of furniture—think a tycoon’s mahogany desk. Different types of mahogany will inspire drastically different feelings: African Mahogany is almost copper-toned, while Honduran Mahogany is a rich, regal brown. Mahogany is a strong wood and takes to stain very well.

A light, peachy colored hardwood, maple comes in two varieties: soft and hard. Soft maple will have a more uniform look, while hard maple shows the wood’s natural swirls and lines. Both versions are quite durable and stable, with a fine, straight grain. Maple is clean-looking and relatively affordable.

Red Oak and White Oak
Oak is a durable, popular hardwood—arguably the most widely used of all the hardwoods. It deals with moisture very well. Red oak has a strawberry tone, inviting warmth into a room. White oak is usually tan-colored, making it a great neutral option. It won’t fight for attention with the rest of your home. White oak tends to be favored for furniture—as a bonus, it is quite resistant to moisture, so it can be used outside.

Pine tends to be all-around good quality and it quite easy to work with, making it a popular softwood option. It takes well to stain, is easy to shape, and resists shrinking and swelling. There are several different varieties and qualities of pine available, so look around before deciding what works best for you. Knotty pine shows lines, swirls and circles from the knots in the wood, giving it a distinctly natural, rustic look.

Poplar is one of the least expensive hardwoods available, and is known for being easy to work with. It can feature a range of colors, with streaks of brown and green. Some people like this contrasting look, while others find it unappealing. It’s a good option for a piece of furniture that will be painted over.

Redwood trees are the infamous giants of the Pacific United States—they can grow higher than 300 feet tall! This straight-grained softwood is able to resist moisture and sunlight quite well, making it ideal for outdoor projects.

A more expensive wood, walnut is durable, with an attractive, rich brown color. It takes well to stain and can vary in color from light to dark brown. It is not always readily available, especially in large quantities.

Experiment with the use of wood throughout your home. You can a single type of wood throughout to create a cohesive feeling, or you can play around with contrasting finishes to create some visual interest. Pairing a bright wood with white makes the wood stand out; pairing a darker shade with rich colors will give off a luxurious feeling.

Painting, staining, or leaving the wood in its natural state can also change the way a wood piece shapes a room. Play around with different options to decide what works best for your home.

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