Ideas + Inspiration

Decoding the World of Wood

From Alder to Zebrawood, there’s certainly no shortage of wood varieties, which can lead to some overwhelming research. Trust me, I know. But I’ve done the hard work for you, diving deep into the pros and cons of some of the most popular wood varieties for modern furniture makers today, to help make your life a little easier. You won’t find any pine furniture here. The cream of the wood crop lies in hard woods, which typically come from deciduous trees, and have a wide variety of grain patterns and colors. Let’s take a look at nine of the most favored hardwoods.


Eames® Lounge Chair with Ottoman, White Ash from Herman Miller

Ash is a pale wood ranging from white to a light brown that resembles oak. With its dense, strong body, and a straight grain, these qualities make ash great for a multitude of purposes. A perk of ash is its ability to form modern bentwood pieces, as seen in the Eames® Lounge Chair with Ottoman, White Ash. Even better is the fact that Herman Miller produces all of their Eames Lounge Chairs from wood harvested exclusively from sustainably managed forests.


Elko Credenza Small – Linear from Eastvold Furniture

With bamboo’s rapid growth cycle, it’s one of the most sustainable wood types on the market. Unlike the rest of the woods on this list, bamboo is unique in that it’s part of the grass family! The typically iconic yellow to white color of bamboo is eschewed here in the Elko Credenza Small – Linear, which features a warm brown tone. The doors of Elko are made of an engineered bamboo that combines different colors and are layered for added interest.


Cherner Side Chair and Cherner Round Table from Cherner Chair Company

Beech’s signature cream color and ability to be bent and molded make it a favorite in Scandinavian inspired designs. Though some may think beech wood bland, what it lacks in pizazz it makes up for in versatility. The Cherner Round Table and Cherner Side Chair use beech core laminations as well as a fine beech veneer, so it naturally takes on a more golden hue through the process of steaming and applying the veneer.


Fan Chair and Fan Table with Screw Table Top – Small from Tom Dixon

There are many varieties of birch wood, the most important being yellow birch, paper birch, and sweet birch. Sweet birch, also known as black birch, is the strongest of the three and is commonly used in plywood. Birch’s natural proclivity for turned objects make it an obvious choice for Tom Dixon’s Fan Collection, which heavily relies on turned spindles for its design aesthetic.


Astrid Bedroom Collection from Copeland Furniture

The ever popular cherry wood, loved by furniture makers for its easy workability, and by everyone for its beautiful color and grain. Over time, cherry’s lustrous color deepens into a rich reddish-brown, evoking the fruit it bears. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in the beauty of cherry, look no further than the Astrid Bedroom Collection. With everything from a Five-Drawer Dresser, Nightstand, Mirror, Bed with Double Headboard, and more you can truly become ingrained in this luxe wood.


Avon Round Maple Dining Table and Slip Plyshell Dining Chair from Saloom Furniture

For a hardy wood, look no further than maple. This wood is so hard they use it for the flooring of bowling alleys! In fact, some varieties of maple are so tough that they’re extremely difficult to work with. Where better to put maple’s solid form than your dining room? Saloom’s Avon Round Maple Dining Table is made from solid maple and its Slip Plyshell Dining Chairs feature a solid base, perfect for the wear and tear of everyday use.


Corridor Bar from BDI

Oak is one of the most used woods in furniture making with two main varieties, red and white oak. White oak is especially popular in furniture making as it’s strong, economical, resistant to rot, and easily workable. Not to mention it’s beautiful as well with a unique coarse grain. Another sought after quality of white oak is that this wood can be quartersawn, which means the wood is more stable and less likely to warp. The Corridor Bar uses oak to great effect, providing sturdy shelves for all your cocktail needs.


Garden Court Dining Chair, Teak from Harbour Outdoor

Teak is the king of woods when it comes to the outdoors. Like the tropical regions it’s grown in, teak can handle extreme weather conditions. With a high resistance to rot and decay, this ultra-strong wood will last you many years to come. Harbour Outdoor’s Garden Court Collection features planks of teak that will naturally weather over time to a silvery-grey finish, evolving like the seasons.


Estelle Counter Stool from Copeland Furniture

Last, but certainly not least, comes walnut. Walnut has a huge range in species with a wide variety of colors, but is most known for its deep chocolate color. With a long storied history in furniture making, walnut is a classic wood that still fits into today’s modern life. Keeping traditional values alive, Copeland Furniture sustainably harvests their walnut from Northern American forests, crafting elegant designs like the Estelle Counter Stool and Estelle Side Chair.

Jennifer Harford

Jennifer Harford

Jennifer is a Senior Site Merchandiser at YLiving and an interior design major dropout. With a passion for design, but a total lack of CAD skills, she went on to a career in metal working at SDSU. In her free time Jennifer enjoys reading Sci-Fi novels, hiking the Bay Area wilderness, and obsessing over Game of Thrones.

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