There’s no denying that the luxury interior design sphere has been dominated by dark woods for the last few years. Rich and powerful – it’s understandable. Ebony macassar, wenge and ziricote have become synonymous with opulence and quality whilst blonde woods being associated with a more simplified (particularly Scandinavian) design aesthetic. And if Scandi style wasn’t your preferred look, it became almost impossible to incorporate blonde woods into your scheme in a luxurious way.
The paradigm is finally shifting, however, and the trend towards paler hues is coming into its own with many designers opting for woods on the lighter end of the palette. Sycamore, eucalyptus and birds eye maple, along with limed finishes (see the newest Eaton Square collection), are experiencing a renaissance in the most stylish of ways.
Ahead of its time, Helen Green Design has been blazing the trail towards lighter woods for many years, championing the look in its transitional projects and in its classic contemporary furniture collection.
Sheena Notley-Griffiths, the studio’s Head of Design, explains, “[We’ve] been using limed light oaks for a number of years as it lends itself particularly well to both country and beach house projects, creating a refined rustic feel which is sympathetic to its surroundings. The versatile nature of pale timbers mean they are equally at home in city environments and townhouses. Used for joinery or flooring, they provide a subtle backdrop, often to colourful art collections or even to carefully curated accessories, both of which add interest to a neutral base build.”
Here, the designer discusses how her team have mastered the look, where to begin and where it works best.
Lighter timbers create a more open, less oppressive space as they are less noticeable. They blend easily into a space and, whether matte or gloss, their luminosity create[s] a feeling of light.
Where to use pale woods
Sheena explains, “Pale timbers work especially well in bedrooms; the light finish creates a soothing space and sense of calm.” Practising what she preaches, the design studio have just completed a beautifully airy bedroom at the Berkeley Hotel as part of a luxurious new suite. The choice of pale wood cabinetry (with simple bronze inlay) and matching television stand is nigh on celestial and makes the most of the light the space has.
But who wants to confine luminosity and light to bedrooms? We say try it in any room you’d like to add a bit of life. For a living room space, Sheen advises, “Pale timbers provide a neutral backdrop in a living room, working particularly well on joinery”, although she mentions that incorporating it into furniture is key for achieving a cohesive and balanced look.
“One of [the] characteristics [of pale woods] is their ability to introduce understated glamour to living spaces; [We] often pair these timbers with antique bronze which perfectly complements and enhances [their] luminosity.”
The best of pale woods
Beautiful markings are certainly one of the advantages of going pale and interesting. Who can resist the knots of bird’s eye maple or the ripples of sycamore?
However, because of the more delicate nature of pale woods, attention to the materials used is essential, making a well-crafted and high-quality light wood furniture piece a truly remarkable creation. Sheena says, “Unfortunately pale timbers are not as hard-wearing as darker finishes; they are prone to staining and, over time, joins can often bleach so the quality of craftsmanship is of utmost importance.” Invest in quality with any light woods you choose and enjoy peace of mind that they will last much longer than lesser quality alternatives.
The rules of using pale woods
“Matte finishes will keep the look contemporary as will furniture with clean lines,” tells the designer. This preference towards a sharp aesthetic is apparent in the studio’s classic contemporary designs. Their geometric Nino tables, klismos-inspired Tallulah side table and Hera console table are examples of how equally exquisite refined silhouettes are when realised in paler woods as they are in darker ones.
Her advice for the best colour palettes for pale woods is to “team [them] with a complementary soft palette. [Our] HGD Collection’s Betula finish looks especially effective with pink or even with a deeper blue for greater depth.” That makes pale woods bang on trend with the shift towards retro pastels and everything pink.
Some words of caution, however. “Be conscious of your surroundings when pairing paler woods with navy blue as it can produce a nautical effect and avoid pairing with darker greens,” Sheena points out.
The designer also mentions that hardware plays a key role. “Paler finishes pair well with antique bronze hardware,” she reveals, “The contrasting combination will create depth and add sophistication.”
And something to bear in mind for quality and care, “Avoid using in high-traffic areas such as [a] boot room, entrances and hallways,” Sheena suggests, “Pale woods require more upkeep than their darker alternatives as they are not as hard-wearing.”
How to use pale woods
The abilities of dark woods for marquetry, parquetry and other interesting woodworking techniques are well-known, particularly richly veined varieties like macassar. But dark woods certainly don’t have the monopoly on decorative techniques. “Pale timbers book-match well which adds interest to bespoke pieces of furniture and can also produce interesting detail when used for marquetry,” Sheena assures.
To the question of whether pale and dark woods can be mixed and matched, Sheena’s top tip is: “To introduce pale woods into a space which is dominated by darker woods, the easiest solution is to add a piece of furniture which combines the two, thereby creating a dialogue.” Follow this lead if the look is a new one for your space. Concentrate on contrasting lighter doors or tabletops with darker frames. As additional pieces are added, your space will gradually become lighter and take on a new, fresh aesthetic.