The entranceway to Betsy and Bryan Hendershot’s home in the Country Club Plaza had a lot going for it. The open stairwell reached up, offering a glimpse of a double-sided fireplace on the second floor, as well as a bright living room.
But until the couple called on Matthew Keller Design, the space didn’t have much impact.
Black walnut, stretching from the first to the second floor, gave it the wow factor the couple wanted.
“I think it adds warmth and originality, and it’s something you don’t see every day,” Betsy Henderson says of the couple’s vacation home. “And he carried those wooden details through the space to draw it all together.”
“Warmth” is the first word designers, architects and craftsmen often use to describe the use of wood in homes. And these days that goes beyond trim, beams and paneling to covering walls and ceilings with timber.
Ryan McNary, marketing director at Elmwood Reclaimed Timber, in Peculiar, says a timber wall, ceiling, or other accent piece is a good way to bring warmth to what might be a sterile home.
His company supplied the black walnut for Keller’s project.
“We have a huge demand for our walnut products because they offer a rich brown color that lends itself well in both traditional and modern installations,” McNary says.
That walnut wall draws the eye from the first floor up to the second floor, where it wraps around to embrace the fireplace and entertainment center. Keller’s goal was to contrast with the black stair rails and gray paint. Continuing the look by capping the handrail with the wood helped to carry the look through the home, Keller says.
At reclaimed wood businesses like Elmwood, visitors have their choice of hardy wood, which can remain rustic-looking, or it can be polished for a more finished look.
“The qualities of reclaimed and old-growth wood products come from the environments in which they grew,” McNary says. “This slow, natural growth process allows these woods to achieve durability.”
Even something like pine, often considered a soft wood, can be a hard enough to stand up to the toughest foot traffic. Heart pine, for instance, is dense, with tight growth rings, he says.
“It can be as durable as oak or other hardwood species,” he says, adding that antique oak is also a top choice, both for floors and wood paneling. He points to a project in which a garage door was created with antique oak paneling. Even the outside of a home will warm up with a rustic wood touch, he says.
Troy Roberts, project manager at Beaver Timber, in Kansas City, Kan., says that wood salvaged from old barns is increasingly popular.
“We salvage the posts, beams and the floor if there’s a loft,” he says. “It’s the story behind the wood people seem to like. Antique wood is getting popular.”
As is a very antique appearance. Simply look up to the ceiling at a new home on Lake Lotawana to understand the power that wood can bring to an interior.
Pat Conner, a designer with Madden-McFarland Interiors, worked with Free State Timbersmiths, a company out of Stilwell that specializes in hand-cut frames.
The oak beams fit together, almost like a puzzle, in an artform that goes back to the 1600s.
“This craftsmanship is nearly a lost art,” says Conner. “You walk in and it takes your breath away. It’s an old, but tried-and true process, and you know it’s one of kind when you see it.”
Matt Smith, owner of Free State Timbersmiths , said the beauty of timber framing is that it makes the home feel open and airy. And there’s not a bolt to be found in his handiwork; he uses an intricate system of interlocking wooden joinery for support.
“Those tresses are all pegged together with mortise and tenon joints,” says Smith, whose craftsmanship graces homes across the U.S. “It’s structural, but it brings an architectural element to the house.”
What homeowner Russ McElliott was looking for in his second home on the lake was a mecca for his children and grandchildren, who live in the Kansas City area.
“We wanted a place for us all to meet,” he says. “And we wanted it to look different from most Johnson County homes.”
He settled on a mountain lodge theme.
Keller agrees that a solid wooden feature, whether wall or ceiling, will ensure a great gathering spot.
“I see people, especially with some of the newer homes, who are living in spaces with little architectural detail, and that can come across as cold,” Keller said, looking at the stunning black walnut wall in the Hendershot home. “Incorporating wood warms more than any other material.”
About the wood
Tips from designer Matthew Keller and Elmwood Reclaimed Timber’s Ryan McNary:
▪ McNary says a few of the most popular choices are walnut; reclaimed rustic oak for flooring and paneling; and reclaimed heart pine flooring, which provides a timeless look. Unlike some of the new, softer pine you might find at hardware stores, old pine tends to be hard, and wears well.
▪ Keller notes that Kansas City area homes often have a ton of golden oak in flooring, trim, walls and cabinets. If you don’t like the color, resist the urge to rip it out, he says. Several products can help you tone the wood slightly, then re-stain so you can still see the wood grain.
▪ Once your wood is in place, it’s essential to take care of it, McNary says. Vacuum and dust to prevent scratches from debris, use a damp rag to spot clean, never use a wet mop or rag, avoid harsh chemicals and only use polishes approved for use on wood.