In nature, beauty often comes from imperfections. Uneven textures and mottled colors lend depth and character to materials like wood and stone, and people are increasingly looking to bring that authentic, organic look into their homes. Perhaps one of the best examples of nature's uniquely imperfect appeal is burl wood, which has recently been popping up across furniture and accessories.
Showcasing stunning swirls and knots, burl wood is the result of a tree deformity. Usually caused by stress from an injury or infection in the tree, burls are knobby-looking outgrowths that can be harvested and turned into slabs or veneers for furniture. "I think that is part of its allure-a disfigurement or unattractive element on a tree trunk hides such beauty and uniqueness beneath the surface," says Los Angeles-based designer Stefani Stein. The wood grain's irregular, kaleidoscopic pattern forms as the tree heals itself, so no two pieces of burl wood are exactly alike, making this material rare and highly sought-after.
Burl-wood furniture was popular throughout Europe hundreds of years ago, Stein notes, but the material regained favor during the Art Deco period a century ago and again in the 1970s. The current wave of popularity coincides with a "back to nature" movement in interior design. "It's made a comeback because layered, earthy elements have been trending over the last few years, and burl wood is a unique twist on a natural element with its marbled curves and organic feel," says Austin-based interior designer Sara Barney of BANDD DESIGN.
Burl wood brings gorgeous natural texture to both small accessories and large investment pieces. Try one of these designer tips for showcasing burl wood's beauty in your home.
For a dramatic dose of texture, bring in burl wood with statement furniture. "Pieces with a surface large enough to highlight the knots of the burl wood are the best way to showcase this trend," says New Jersey interior designer Beth Diana Smith. Credenzas, coffee tables, and even dining room tables can show off burl wood in a bold way. "Dining tables can be boring, but burl wood combines color, depth, and texture all on a flat plane," says Houston interior designer Mary Patton.
Because of its rarity, burl wood furniture can be expensive, but veneers that mimic the appearance of real burl make this look more accessible than ever. Although you'll sacrifice the appeal of owning a one-of-a-kind piece, burl wood veneer is much less expensive and "still serves all the drama of its all-natural counterparts," says Lance Thomas of Louisiana-based Thomas Guy Interiors. When shopping for faux wood burl options, search for patterns that replicate the irregular swirls and knots of natural wood without looking too repetitive.
Its spectacular graining makes burl wood furniture worthy of a prominent display. "I really dig burl wood for accent furnishings so that it stands out in its own little space," Barney says. Look to items like console tables, benches, or stools that can stand alone against a wall or in a corner as a functional piece of art. Burl wood is also great for layering in a bit of contrast. "If I wanted to add contemporary edge to a traditional bedroom, for example, a pair of burl wood nightstands would do just the trick," Thomas says.
"If a larger burl wood furniture piece isn't in the budget just yet, try shopping for smaller items such as picture frames or trinket boxes to incorporate this trend into your home's decor," suggests David Quarles IV, a Memphis-based interior designer. Dress up a bookshelf display or coffee table with one or two burl wood accessories for a subtle accent that draws the eye. A single burl wood frame can add impact to a favorite photo in a gallery wall.
Choose a color scheme that highlights burl wood's unique variations of tone and texture. New Orleans interior designer Maureen Stevens likes to juxtapose the material with bold, jewel-tone colors such as emerald green or cobalt. For a more organic look, complement burl wood furnishings with moody earth tones and other natural materials.