Hot or Knot?

Country, modern or eclectic, rustic wood branches out
By Ellen Sturm Niz
March 16, 2010

Knotty, grainy and full of character, rustic wood brings warmth to cabinets, countertops and floors. Long popular in traditional and country decors, rustic wood is now being seen in myriad interior design styles for a modern, timeless aesthetic.

“Because of the economic downturn, we are going back to our roots, such as slow food, farm to table,” said interior designer Kasey McCarty, ASID, of Kasey McCarty Interior Design Studio in Austin, TX. “We are getting back to basics, and rustic is another form of that. We are realizing that we have overdone things, and let’s not overdo it anymore,” said the designer, who recently completed two interior design projects using rustic wood. “We want to make our houses feel warm and inviting because we’ll be spending a lot of time at home.”


While one of McCarty’s recent projects featured rustic wood in a traditional way—suitable for the classic Hill Country house in which it is featured—the other project put a modern spin on the material for an urban Austin residence. “The client was a real cowboy at heart,” she said. “He saw the spalted pecan and mesquite wood and they reminded him of his ranch house, so he wanted to bring a little of that into his city house.”

For the flooring, custom made by Artisan Hardwood Floors, McCarty used random butcher-block end-grain pieces of mesquite to create an overall pattern. In some areas of the house she transitioned into planks of mesquite arranged in a more formal European chevron pattern. “The flooring is so full of pattern and creates its own texture, so I pulled back on other areas,” said McCarty, who worked with contractor Nick Burkhalter and architect Jay Corder, AIA, on the home’s design. “But every room has one other focal point, like a strong textural treatment on the fireplace in the living room and a strong headboard in the bedroom.”

Kitchen designs with rustic wood

Spalted pecan cabinetry and mesquite flooring bring a taste of a rustic ranch to this home in Austin’s city limits, designed by Kasey McCarty, of Kasey McCarty Interior Design Studio. (Photograph by Paul Bardagjy, www.bardagjyphoto.com.)

In the kitchen, the strong element is the spalted pecan cabinetry, custom made for the home by a local craftsman from Jeff Roebuck Custom Designs (512.517.8407). The other design elements McCarty used—such as backsplash tile from Walker Zanger, simple hardware from Colonial Bronze, a custom limestone countertop from Berthold Haas and furniture from Scott+Cooner—contrast with the cabinet and flooring’s rustic feel, creating a clean, sleek look.

“I like using rustic materials in a more modern way, but it has to make sense where you’re putting the rustic elements, like in old lofts, warehouses, factories, raw spaces or a home that the period speaks to,” said McCarty. “You have to speak to the architecture and the vernacular. It has to look seamless and like it belongs.” For example, McCarty believes rustic floors work in her ranch-loving client’s city home, but rustic barn beams would not. “Use rustic materials to hearken back to something that’s been there a long time,” she said. “If used appropriately, it can capture the timelessness.”


Jean M. Buchen, CKD, of K T Highland, Inc. in Lancaster, PA, has designed kitchens with rustic wood cabinets, floors and countertops throughout the last decade, depending on client requests. “Clients want the rustic look because of a feel of homeyness,” she said. “They want it to look more lived in and warm—less sleek and clean where they are afraid to use it. If it already has character, when the family uses it, it just adds more character on top.”

In addition to using reclaimed wood on floors, Buchen has used standard alder, cherry and pine wood that has been separated from the normal lumber stock because it had “too many knots and character marks and too much wild graining” to create rustic cabinets. “It is a little less expensive, but that’s not why people choose it,” she said. “It’s the look they want.” Plus, Buchen recently used a rustic cherry countertop from Grothouse Lumber that featured a lot of knotholes. “The client was looking for a more aged look, preferring that to a more fine finish on her countertop,” said Buchen.

Kitchen designs with rustic wood

Rustic cherry cabinets create a warm and cozy space in this Lancaster City, PA, kitchen renovation, designed by Jean M. Buchen, CKD, of K T Highland, Inc. The homeowner refinished the original pine floorboards himself after scraping away layers of linoleum.


About a year and a half ago, The Craft-Art Company rolled out a line of reclaimed wood countertops, including antique hard pine, beech, chestnut, cypress, red gum, red oak, white oak and redwood. “We decided to launch the line because we were getting questions about green products and the use of reclaimed materials from the design community due to interest from their clients,” said Dan Coats, VP of corporate accounts and strategic partnerships at Craft-Art. The company also produces the Heritage Wood Collection of countertops, which includes reclaimed wood options, for the Artisan Group, said Coats. Plus, Craft-Art offers a popular line of distressed countertops that can give a rustic look.

Rustic wood kitchen countertops

A reclaimed beech countertop from The Craft-Art Company added warmth to this eco-friendly, modern and fun kitchen remodel by designer Janice Donald, of Eren Design & Remodeling (www.erendesign.com) in Tucson, AZ. (Photo Courtesy of Janice Donald.)

Since launching the reclaimed line, about 20 percent of traffic to the Craft-Art website goes to that product section. “While not all buy it, we have seen a significant amount of interest in the offering,” he said. “Some people are really interested in a green renewable product, but the reclaimed countertops have also drawn a lot of interest from designers and homeowners who are looking for something unique and different.”

While Coats said reclaimed wood is most often used in a traditional-style design, the trend of combining multiple surfaces works well with rustic wood countertops. “In the kitchen, combining wood and granite is very popular,” he said. “They are both natural products and go well together. In a bathroom, a wood countertop combined with tile looks absolutely stunning. Just as people react to a piece of fine furniture in your living room, when they see a reclaimed or distressed wood countertop, they like the beauty and warmth of it.”
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