When I first learned about teak, its history, and all its benefits, I was fascinated by it. Over the years at TerraMai, we work with many wood types and surface materials but teak holds a special place. In many ways it reminds me of the great redwoods in the U.S. Another really majestic and amazing tree that deserves some reverence. Many people know teak for its rich beauty, but there’s much more to teak than meets the eye. Beyond its great looks and extreme versatility (attributes architects and designers love), it has a history that draws us in and helps us value it all the more. Teak has been used for thousands of years and is still one of the most desired woods today. But what makes it so special? Here’s a look into the universal popularity and timelessness of reclaimed teak wood.
The Amazing Properties of Reclaimed Teak
Teak is native to South and Southeast Asia. While the teak tree has been exported to other countries, the world’s best old-growth teak can only be found in Asia. Naturally, the native people used the wood that was readily available discovering that teak was a particularly durable wood and thus used it for many applications. Teak first saw major use around the Middle Ages, when shipbuilders would use the wood to construct sturdy vessels. As the British Empire expanded, and with it trade, teak found its way into Europe often utilized for bridge building, many of which are still in use today. It’s usage expanded further into luxury furniture for royalty to railway cars.
There are many factors that contribute to teak’s amazing quality. First, it’s an extremely strong and resilient wood. With exceptional dimensional stability, teak is able to withstand heavy use and last for centuries. (Teak can be found today in palaces and temples that are over 1,000 years old.) Because teak is native to areas where volatile weather is common, it’s adapted to survive even the most extreme environments. It stays strong and unchanged even in blistering hot or freezing cold temperatures, and its low shrinkage ratio helps it resist warping when changes in moisture or humidity occur.
From TerraMai: Reclaimed Teak Flooring and feature wall in a luxury bathroom.
Teak also contains two elements that are incredibly potent: silica and oils. The silica impregnates the wood and makes it virtually waterproof. Teak also possesses many natural oils that give the wood its trademark luster. In fact, that striking luster from these oils is why many architects and designers choose teak. With both beauty and brawn, teak is often an easy choice for commercial projects.
The high amounts of silica and oil give teak an astonishing resistance to rot, fungi, and mildew. The oils act as natural repellents, deterring termites and other pests. Best of all, teak finishes and installs well so there is no compromising equipment loss (drill bits and saw blades) for the benefit of durability.
From TerraMai: Unused structures in Asia often have old-growth teak that can be reclaimed
Teak is not only strong but also long-lasting. In addition to being resistant to rot, fungi, and mildew, it also resists stains, and overall corrosion. While many woods attract dirt and grime, teak repels them. As a result, even incredibly old teak often looks polished and attractive. In contemporary interior design, this means that teak will last for lifetimes without excessive care and maintenance. This is especially true for outdoor usage. Many other woods require more maintenance when used outdoors, but teak’s natural properties make it ideal for outdoor applications.
From TerraMai: Naturally Distressed Long Plank Teak Siding
Reclaimed Teak’s Timeless Beauty
From TerraMai: HOK’s office makes a statement with Reclaimed Teak Paneling
Wood has been proven to be extremely pleasing to the eye, and this is especially true of reclaimed teak. Much of wood’s natural appeal comes from biophilia, or the fact that humans innately desire to be connected with nature. In their landmark study “14 Patterns of Biophilic Design,” Terrapin Bright Green enumerated the various ways biophilia works. We as humans connect to nature through our senses but mostly visually, so aesthetics are crucial for creating a biophilic environment. Wood brings many natural aspects together. The look of wood is immediately evocative of the natural world; it’s uniquely textured; and it reminds us of the organic processes of life. Reclaimed woods displaying character and patina that has developed over the years of use and exposure like Naked Teak and Naturally Distressed Long Plank Teak enhances that connection even further.
Teak in particular is so attractive because of its natural shine, rich colors, and exquisite grain detail. Most teak ranges from tan to medium brown with many grain highlights. Its deep honey tones are reminiscent of the opulence of nature. Even better, teak only gets more beautiful over time. For interior applications, the wood develops a richer, deeper color while outside teak will weather to a grey-silver patina.
From TerraMai: Reclaimed Teak Bench at NYC High Line shown in 2017 versus 2011 installation
Why Old-Growth Reclaimed Teak Is So Special
You may have come across the term “old-growth wood” before. In 1994, old-growth forests were defined as “ecosystems distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes.” Old-growth characteristics, such as fortified strength, occur when the wood has matured. The exact age depends on the type of tree, but generally, old-growth features can take 120 to 500 years to show.
Old-growth wood is extremely sought after because it’s stronger and lasts longer than new wood. However, there isn’t a lot of old-growth forest left in the world due to deforestation and the increasing usage of wood. The United States Forest Service estimates that only about 3 percent of the country’s old-growth forest has survived to this day. Unfortunately, due to tree poaching, that problem persists, making old-growth wood even rarer. Despite these conditions, old-growth timber is still in demand.
From TerraMai: Old-growth teak is highly desired for its natural, rich appearance
Since harvesting the remaining supply of old-growth trees is not be a viable option, the best method is to find alternative sourcing for old-growth wood. The ethical environmental option is to purchase reclaimed old growth wood. Reclamation doesn’t require any living trees to be cut; instead, the wood is salvaged from aging vintage structures slated for demolition. This preserves the remaining old-growth forest and repurposes a valuable resource.
There’s no other wood that’s quite like reclaimed teak. It’s remains a popular design choice, and it’s easy to see why. Reclaimed teak is a gorgeous, durable, sustainable building material that’s a perfect fit for all kinds of commercial environments. Whether you want to bring a touch of nature to a space or foster a more calming atmosphere, reclaimed teak can do the job.