Wild For Wood


L-J Andrew gets to the root of whether a recent rise in the popularity of wood panelling in interior designs represents a shift away from minimalism and toward the celebration of nature and craftsmanship fuelled by the recent 70’s Style revival

Wood is no longer just for floors or log cabins. Now, wood clads the walls and ceilings of many New York City buildings, a feature that helps to add a dose of warmth and welcome into any common space, creating a cosy but elevated experience that honours the quality of the material. The reason for woods revival could be down to a few trends perfectly coinciding.

To understand its revival, it's important to understand its past. Wood panelling was all the rage in the 70’s, adorning the walls of the grooviest homes. And, anyone who has flicked through a design magazine or scrolled through Instagram or Tik-Tok will be unboundedly clear on the 70’s far-out look resurgence. As Linda Zarifi, Founder of Zarifi Design explains “The ’70s didn’t just bring shag carpets and orange palettes. We’re now seeing homes that are full of earth tones with pops of colour throughout, especially in kitchens. The classic low-slung furniture has been making a revival as well, with a more minimalistic approach.” So, this trend is showing no sign of slowing down anytime soon, pulling wood panelling very much back into the limelight and making it a must-have in today’s funkiest homes.

Although wood panelling became most popular in the ’70s, the use of it today has an undeniable modern twist. During its original growth in popularity, the design was used with a more blanket and pedestrian approach. Whereas, with its resurgence, you’ll see a modern upgrade. “For example,” Nancy J. Ruddy, founding principal and executive director of interior design, CetraRuddy, highlights, “We like to incorporate wood into our modern designs with a three-dimensional expression instead of just in uniform flat panels. The visual interest this creates is very compelling, especially when shadows play across the wood and add dimension and depth.” This appetite for more personality, texture and craftsmanship also taps into another trend.

There’s a huge desire for our interiors to highlight craftmanship, whether this be bespoke woven rope potholders to a handmade rattan chair in the home office. As Nancy J. Ruddy points out: “The heart of this trend is its ability to instil a feeling of warmth and attention to detail that speaks to people’s desire for spaces that nurture and feel welcoming. At our 200 East 59th Street project, for example, we crafted a beautifully detailed wood tambour concierge desk in the otherwise pristine white marble and glass lobby — and residents have noted that it provides a sense of nature and authenticity and a feeling of welcome.”

200 East 59th Street Residents Lounge - Image Credit: Nelson Hancock

As a reactionary move against the past few years of minimalist, chromes and whites, modern design is moving away from the shiny, high-gloss finishes in favour of natural finishes that allow the character to be expressed.

“Especially after the pandemic, people are craving cosiness and spaces that nurture and embrace,” she continues, “Wood is an ideal material for helping to create these feelings in any space. Much of this sense of warmth and nurturing comes from authenticity and natural feeling.”

“It also adds warmth and an old-world charm to interiors,” adds Linda Zarifi, “It’s very inviting. While you expect wood floors, beautiful wooden walls add an extra flair that captures your eye, which is exactly what we wanted to offer in The Parker’s lobby in Boston.”

But now we have cemented the reputation of wood panelling as a much have in chic design, the only other question is, how to use it?  Fortunately, there is a very simple answer. As long as it's done right, it works anywhere and everywhere.

Nancy J. Ruddy explains her preference: “We love using wood ceilings in our work, for instance. It’s an approach taken by classic Japanese architecture, and there benefits in many different design contexts. Because a wood ceiling provides a sense of warmth and enclosure to otherwise modern spaces, for example, adding this texture on the ceiling allows the walls to remain pure and architectonic.”

Whereas, in a more traditional western use, Linda Zarifi explains: “At The Parker, we used the wood wall in the lobby as a gorgeous counterpoint to the decorative brass wall and sculptural desk. The smooth, curved edges of the wall and seamless finish of the wood create a distinct, one-of-a-kind moment that speaks perfectly to the ethos of the building.”

The Parker Lobby - Image Credit: Courtesy of The Parker  

Well, it all just goes to show, if you want a modern design that echoes the freedom and beauty of nature, whilst still keeping a #instaglam ready look, wood panelling is the perfect addition.

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