Home & Garden

A new look for dated oak furniture

“Industrial chic” describes a look that blends utilitarian design and vintage materials for irresistible urban design. Aged woods, worn textures and metals with rich patinas are essential to this style.

Surprisingly, oak is one of the leading wood types for this popular décor trend. Not your everyday oak but “cerused” oak, also known as limed oak because of the whitewashed appearance.

Creating a ceruse finish is a process that begins by opening up the grain of the natural wood surface using a wire brush. A base color ranging from black to clear is applied. A contrasting grain filler, generally white, is added, resulting in a distinguishing grain pattern. The effect can be bold or subtle, depending on the applied color of the base stain and filler.

Ceruse dates back as far as the 16th century. Remember Queen Elizabeth I’s shocking white face? We now know it was extremely toxic to human skin, but cabinet makers also came to value it. It was revived again during the Art Deco era and again in the 1950s with midcentury modern pioneers such as Paul T. Frankl. Today nontoxic waxes are used to create the results.

Oak’s strong graining makes it the best candidate for a ceruse finish, but you can certainly apply this technique to any wood surface. The Internet is full of tips and DIY information, if you decide to try it.

Designers are using ceruse to brighten existing oak cabinetry, paneling, ceilings, floors and bookcases. Builders are installing new or salvaged oak paneling and applying the finish on job sites. Furniture manufacturers such as Saloom have created complete furniture collections with this finish.

What does this mean for you? You may have just discovered an affordable way to transform your old oak cabinets into design-forward keepers. If you’ve been collecting antique oak furniture, breathe new life into those furnishings and start enjoying them in a bold new way.

Vicki Payne is host and producer of “For Your Home,” available on PBS, Create TV, and in syndication. Reach her at foryourhome.com.