John Struble
Nest and Company

book review: Designing a Home with Wood

book-iconHeather and Earl Adams' Designing a Home with Wood is more an homage to the world's most versatile and expressive building material than a builder's instruction manual, but it certainly offers plenty of examples and good advice for those contemplating novel and attractive uses of a wide variety of woods (and wood-based or related building materials).

WoodcoverThe Adams' previous book, Stone: Designing Kitchens, Baths and Interiors with Natural Stone provides the basic framework for this newest volume. Profiles of a variety of structures, examining the use of finished and unfinished woods in a wide variety of settings - used structurally and decoratively - make up the body of the book. Short essays give background on the types of wood used in various historical building styles, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of most of the woods used in architecture and furniture making; concise and well-illustrated lists give general and specific ideas for integrating various types of wood into certain parts of the home (ideas for kitchen cabinetry; ideas for designing on a budget; ideas for vanities; ideas for wood paneling, and many more).



But the Adams' investigation into the uses of wood does not stop at examples and quick lists of building ideas: they go much deeper into the natural history and practical application of wood as a building material - with extensive and practical advice on the care and maintenance of a wide variety of woods including newer treatments and wood-based materials, such as bamboo and cork flooring.

Explanations and examples of a wide variety of millwork techniques and how to integrate them into your own home are clearly written and, like everything else in the book, very well-illustrated. Sections on grain, decoration, finishing, joinery and much more make the book a complete but not overly dense treatment of its subject. The outstanding photography, which serves more as a complement to the text rather than simply decoration - this is not a picture book, although it is quite attractive to look at - is matched perfectly with each section.

Of particular interest to me were the numerous examples of unpainted wood in use in historic and new Arts & Crafts homes. A welcome addition to this section was an extensive 22-point list giving ideas on how to integrate new wood fixtures into an A&C home project without disturbing the character of the structure; similar but shorter lists are also included for other specific design styles, such as the country cottage, contemporary and Scandinavian styled home, French country and a number of more exotic building and decorating styles.

Toward the back of the volume, the Adamses give step-by-step instructions for applying a number of paint and finish treatments, from general advice on painting wooden cabinetry to applying color and lime washes to a variety of wood substrates. Distressed "rub-through" finishes and other "shabby chic" styles are also addressed. The appendices include tremendously comprehensive identification tables for dozens of different types of wood, as well as Janka scores, possible uses and grain descriptions for everything from African Padauk and Alder to White Oak and Zebrawood. A glossary of woodworking and decorating terms is necessary reading for anyone who wants to be able to communicate effectively with their cabinetmaker or builder - it and the other reference material are worth the price of the book alone.

The book's only failure is perhaps in its lack of diagrams to illustrate the minimal scientific descriptions of wood grain. This is not a major fault, but the book would have been better served with a few informational graphics expanding upon the various parts of wood; the different cuts, for example, grains, and perhaps even illustrating some of the millwork techniques that are defined throughout the book and its glossary.

An attractively designed and illustrated volume, Designing a Home with Wood is not simply a coffee table picturebook. Its essays and advice are required reading for home builders and planners who want to emphasize the natural in their own projects, whether in the renovation of an historic structure or the building of a new more modern design. There is not a single aspect of the structural and decorative uses of wood in the home that is not at least touched upon, and you will find that the Adams' well-thought-out and sensible advice is sure to be a huge help in almost any wood-centric project.