White with wood furniture is easy on the eyes, and for many, that’s a relief. For the uninitiated, the mash up suggests a sort of split personality. There’s definitely a bit of retro going on, whether it’s Art Deco, mid-century modern or Scandinavian style that’s informing the latest designs. Wood in all shades from blond to the darkest brunette is cohabiting with white surfaces, drawing new admirers.
White can add a fresh feel to decor, one reason that snowy slipcovers are perennial favorites, as classic as crisp white bed linens and shirts.
But when it comes to case goods (tables, consoles, everything not upholstered), white isn’t the usual go-to choice – unless it’s in a beachy or country cottage setting or for more drama and edge, ultra glossy white, which is especially in sync with mirrored pieces in Hollywood glam interiors.
For some, whiteis too stark, too casual or too over the top. Wood is preferred for the visual strength or even elegance that it lends. Some are diehard enthusiasts for a particular species, such as cherry, particularly in period styles, while Arts and Crafts aficionados can’t get enough oak. Wood hue preferences, both natural and stained, also go through cycles of popularity.
Most recently, there was a spate of espresso, partly launched by the French designer Christian Liaigre, whose fondness for nearly black wenge wood has trickled down to big-box stores. Then there were the limed or whitewashed woods, a look hugely embraced by Restoration Hardware, where it even translates to outdoor furniture.
Now comes this hybrid: a dramatic teaming of wood offset with white or ivory frames generally expressed in contrasting doors, drawers or tabletops. The white may be painted, lacquered, stained. Or it may be applied to the surface with leather, fabric or some other material.
Wood plus white has been a staple of mid-century modern style, but it seems to be showing up in a wider selection of designs. At the Maison et Objet show in Paris, the look even spread to outdoor furniture, where white teamed with teak seems sooo chic.
“White gives the eye relief in a sea of brown,” said New York-based designer Jena Hall. “It lightens up a room.”
White can ring a casual or luxurious note, with a range in materials that includes laminate, painted metal, fine wood and even exotic covers like shagreen (stingray or sharkskin) or vellum (fine parchment made from the skin of lamb, calf or kid). London-based designer Julian Chichester for some time has manufactured cabinets clad in faux shagreen or vellum.
The newest designs are simple in form: mostly boxy, distinguished by either the legs or base used (pedestal, square, tapered or even a hint of cabriole) and the materialsoffer matte, a slight sheen, glossy or textured finishes. And these mixed media pieces are designed to be used eclectically, which is the trend for most furnishings today.
Designed as standout, stand-alone pieces, some offer even more bang for the buck with concealed storage, for example. One of the pieces designed by Hall for the HGTV Home collection manufactured by Bassett Furniture is a simple cabinet in an ivory case with walnut marquetry doors. It’s a compelling piece, as the form is clean-lined, and the Middle Eastern inspired motif, an ogee pattern very much on trend today. Even more impressive is the functionality: Its creamy interior is outfitted as a bar, with refrigerator-like storage on the doors, shelves and a pair of drawers (matching the walnut) as well as storage for 16 bottles. Still, it’s priced affordably, under $1,000.
Another cabinet that’s also a bit more dressed up is a chest from Hooker Furniture. As with most pieces in the Melange collection, the dark cherry cabinet blends a mix of design influences. Its off-white doors, set into a case that combines poplar solids and cherry veneers, are embellished with a soft, hand-painted swirl that splashes asymmetrically across in soft gray.
“It’s a merger with modern,” said Hooker spokeswoman Kim Shaver, “pretty and soft, not hard-edged.”
Equally subtle are the upholstered cabinets and chests that are part of the Remy collection from Hickory Chair. The dark wood cabinets are clad in natural linen and trimmed in bronzey nailheads, to match the simple hardware.
In addition to a formidable choice of styles, there’s a considerable range in prices, up to several thousand dollars, depending on materials and craftsmanship. But some modular pieces start at less than $30.
An updated version of a customizable cube system from Yube consists of interlocking frame and outer panels. The outer panels are made from sugarcane. Aluminum in black, silver or white is another option. These are set into frames made from Woodlite, a proprietary compound of non-toxic moldable plastic made with bamboo. The Yube Cube in white starts at $29.50 , and doors, shelves, drawers and feet range from $10 to $28.75. There also is an online customization that even allows stenciling or painting for a personal touch.
Sustainability is combined with fetching design in a table from Regina Andrew, which teams recycled lumber in a rough-sawn tripod base with a marble top, underscoring a striking dichotomy between the earthy wood and smooth stone. The Gus Design Group’s Root table sits on four hand- turned, tapered, FSC-certified ash legs. A high-contrast circular tabletop is both witty and cool: high gloss white lacquer, grooved in a faux bois pattern to mimic the organic lines of a sawn tree trunk, including a teeny slice removed.
Ultimately, it’s the design tension between the warmth of wood versus cool white and the play on contrast that sells. Even if the graphic punch is one that’s more than a little familiar.
“What’s old is new again,” said Jena Hall about the newest crop of white-with-wood furniture. “There’s certainly renewed interest in anything 20th-century: Art Deco, mid-century modern, Scandinavian. And the white is so appealing against darker pieces. Today, people like eclectic decorating. A good designer is looking at multiple influences – from movies, TV, books, constantly absorbing the culture around us. This (trend) is just another way to stay fresh.”