Paint and wallpaper have long been used to create an accent wall as a focal point in a room due to their relatively low cost. However, wood is making a comeback for homeowners looking to make more of a commitment. And I’m not talking about the popular wood-panelled walls of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which like orange shag carpets and blue bathtubs, were ultimately exiled but can still be found in the basement of some older homes. The once-ubiquitous home decor staple has cast aside its tacky stigma and been reinvented to create that striking modern-day statement homeowners covet to set a space apart from the rest of their abode.
Beyond their obviously striking appearance, there are many other reasons people are turning to wood walls. They add warmth and a natural uniqueness unrivalled by paint and wallpaper, are rich in depth and texture, and offer the opportunity to bring the outdoors inside, something increasingly desired after spending the better part of the last two years hunkered down at home due to the pandemic. What’s more, these standalone works of art suit just about any setting in the home, from living and dining rooms to kitchens, bedrooms, and even bathrooms, and can change the character of a space, from farmhouse to contemporary.
Types of wood and finishes in demand run the gamut, from pine and oak to redwood and cedar, darkly stained and polished, to whitewashed and pallet-style. Trendy options are floor-to-ceiling board and batten, herringbone or a geometric pattern for a classic look, age-worn reclaimed wood, shiplap (mounted horizontally or vertically), or wooden mosaics in different sizes, formats, and varieties that impart a rustic feel. Even wood flooring can be used on walls to add visual interest, so long as the manufacturer has categorically approved it for this type of installation. Decorative wood walls can also be found in commercial settings where the material is being progressively used not only for its aesthetic effect but its sound-absorbing qualities, too. Take Milky’s, a 300-square-foot java house in Toronto that’s completely wrapped in wood panelling. The luxury modular flooring system employed comprises oak in natural and white wood tones with interlocking Carrera marble segments. More than 1,300 planks were installed, transitioning seamlessly from floor to wall to ceiling, to create a dynamic graphic pattern that changes as it loops around the room and contributes to the loud minimalist aesthetic of an otherwise quaint shop.
Two major coffee chains recently refreshed interiors across 449 Canadian locations (437 Tim Hortons and a dozen Starbucks) with the help of Ancaster, Ont.-based millwork manufacturer, and installer Archmill House, adding custom wood-panelled walls. The eye-catching, branded walls are at the ‘front and back engines’ – order counter/point of sale and upon entry – for full view by customers.
Baltic birch and Medex were used in each brand’s locations for its strength, durability, longevity, and resistance to water, which is especially important given conduit and water lines run behind the wood walls. The quick-service restaurants diverge in what’s atop the Baltic birch. The wood is finished with a coloured laminate at Tim Hortons, specifically chosen to meet its brand guidelines, whereas it’s combined with Medex at Starbucks.
Engineered for interior high-moisture areas in non-structural applications, Medex is a sustainable, medium-density fibreboard that utilizes a synthetic resin system and pre-consumer recycled wood fibre. In both cases, the wood panels were fabricated in Archmill Houses’s factory to a standard size and then cut on-site for a custom finish. The panels were hung with Z-clips for a fast and cost-effective installation, and in some instances pinned to the blocking behind. A CNC machine was used to achieve the brand logos, with smaller pieces like the eyebrows on Starbucks’ twin-tailed siren cut by hand and manually glued to the wood wall.
Similar type walls can be found at CBC/Radio-Canada in Vancouver, where the vertical application is an extension of the ceiling system, and HOpe Centre at Lions Gate Hospital on the city’s North Shore, which features a linear style wall where each wood member is wider than it is deep. This lower-profile system is ideal for highly trafficked areas as the potential for wall damage is greater. If knocked, the risk of breakage is reduced compared to a wall with deeper wood panels. Ideally, panels should be attached to the wall via a clip system instead of a fastener like screws or finish nails. This allows the individual panels to be lifted off should replacement be required, ensuring the wall looks as good as it did from installation.
Clare Tattersall is an interior designer and decorator in Toronto, and the editor of Canada’s floor covering magazine, Coverings.