GOATs have suddenly become trendy. Not the hoofed, horned, iron-gutted variety but the Greatest of All Time variety.
This type of GOAT is popping up all over the place, most notably in sports (e.g. Michael Jordan) but also literature (Shakespeare), singers (Aretha Franklin), conquerors (Genghis Khan), ice cream flavors (Vanilla), rappers (Vanilla Ice…..). OK, there can be some questionable choices. But when it comes to design materials, one material reigns supreme, above all others, one true GOAT that bleats alone astride the mountaintop = Wood.
Debatable? Hardly. Wood stands alone in the power and versatility it offers designers compared to other materials like concrete, metal, plastics and textiles. The unique design benefits of wood can be defined across four key categories – Beauty, Versatility, Durability, Sustainability.
Ah, where better to start than with beauty? True, timeless, universal beauty is ultimately ephemeral and undefinable, but also undeniable. And in this simple yet profound attribute, wood holds ultimate power for designers.
Humans are innately attracted to wood. It’s in our DNA. Whether you believe we descended from the trees (Darwin fans), got our start at the base of a tree (Adam & Eve fans) or were literally created from trees (Norse mythology fans) wood is fundamental to the human experience – for shelter, food, fuel, tools and uses too numerous and varied to ever hope to list.
Pause to gaze about – most likely there is wood all around you, in many shapes and forms, and most likely these objects and surfaces are all lovely to gaze upon, especially once attentively noticed and appreciated.
Most of us also carry deep emotional associations with wood that add to its power and appeal. This might take the from of a family dinner table, a beloved childhood possession (any Citizen Kane fans out there….?), a cherished heirloom or memento, a wood box holding treasured items, a hand-me-down wood kitchen utensil or tool worn smooth with expert use and long service and so on, different for each of us. These deep emotional associations with wood are part of our innate human attraction to wood’s beauty.
These emotional connections also help explain the magical way wood can instantly add warmth and soul to a space. This unique ability enables designers to make otherwise sterile spaces feel warm and welcoming in a way no other material can accomplish. This is especially important when considering healthcare spaces and learning spaces but also civic spaces, corporate environments and also commercial spaces like restaurants, stores and hotels.
Science shows patients heal more quickly in facilities that feature wood, students learn more effectively in classrooms that feature wood, workers perform better and are more creative in work environments that feature wood and patrons stay longer and spend more money in stores, restaurants and hotels that feature real wood. (See reference notes below.)
At some point, beauty transcends rational understanding. Much of wood’s special allure comes from its unique ability to appeal to all five human senses, an ability no other design material possesses. This means we experience wood not just on a surface, conscious level but also on a cellular, subconscious level through all of our senses.
1. Sight – wood is beautiful to the human eye
2. Sound – wood is naturally sound absorbing and softening
3. Touch – wood is naturally warm to the touch and tactile
4. Taste – wood naturally flavors foods and beverages like wine, spirits, grilled meats and vegetables
5. Smell – wood provides aromatic scents like pine, cedar and sandalwood
No other material offers the range and power to move us in a way we call “beautiful” like wood. Not concrete. Not metal. Certainly not plastic or vinyl. We could rest our case for wood based on beauty alone. But the design benefits of wood go so much further.
While wood is unique in its beauty it is also unique in its versatility, in terms of color, texture, pattern, and range of interior and exterior applications.
Color: Wood offers designers a vast array of diverse natural color tones – from rich, dense reds, browns and blacks to naturally weathered patinas, to more subtle and neutral hues. Natural wood tones can also be selected to compliment any color scheme. Add the ability to stain and color wood and the color options become limitless.
Texture: Wood offers a full spectrum of textures, from smooth and supple to weathered, rough-sawn, skip-planed, brushed, sculpted and more. These textures can be used in combination with other materials such as glass, steel, concrete and textiles – either in harmony or juxtaposition – to create infinite interplays of texture in a space. Wood is also naturally warm to touch, as we’ve already noted.
Line & Pattern: The human eye loves pattern and wood provides endless opportunities to introduce line and pattern into a space. Natural wood grains can add either subtle or bold organic lines and pattern to an interior. Wood can also be installed horizontally to make a space feel more grounded and expansive, or vertically to make a space feel more elongated, lofty and even soaring. Wood can also be installed diagonally and in angled patterns to add a sense of energy and movement to a space – either with subtle patterns or more bold, dynamic arrangements such as chevrons, herringbones and other patterns. Whether on the floor, walls or ceiling, wood provides infinite options and opportunities to add line and pattern to a space.
Acoustics: Wood also helps designers control the acoustic characteristics of a space. Wood is naturally sound absorbing, as noted, which helps create spaces that feel good to the ear as well as beautiful to the eye. The role of acoustics in how a space feels and is experienced can often be under-appreciated. Spaces with hard, reflective surfaces that ricochet sound can be jarring to the human ear and nervous system, causing discomfort, unease and the overwhelming urge to escape the space, whether a work place, restaurant, store, school or other environment. While hard, reflective surfaces may help create an “edgy” aesthetic, they also create “edgy” people.
Applications: Wood is suited to virtually any and all interior applications – from floors to walls to ceilings, to cabinets, furnishings and virtually everything in between – as well as exterior applications. Wood can help tie inside and outside spaces together and help create a sense of flow between indoors and the natural world outside. Wood exteriors are also simply beautiful in their own right. All the features and advantages discussed that make wood a beautiful interior material are also true for exterior applications.
Wood is a material with timeless appeal and endurance. With reasonable care, wood can perform aesthetically and functionally for decades, even centuries. The older the wood in a space, the richer it feels. To stroll through an old library, university or country inn with original wood floors and surfaces, featuring patina acquired over generations of use and care, is invariably a gorgeous experience. While so many other materials are transitory and disposable, wood lives on in a space. Wood endures not only through use and service but also through style trends and fashions. Wood’s timeless appeal and durability also expresses a commitment to quality by those who created and invested in the space. This can be especially impactful in public spaces such as classrooms and civic buildings, where the use of real wood makes a statement about the care and commitment of those who built the space.
Unlike most other design materials, wood is a renewable resource. Wood also requires low energy to produce compared to other materials like metals, vinyl, glass and plastics. Wood is carbon sequestering. Roughly 50% of wood by weight is carbon. This carbon will remain sequestered for the life of the wood product. Wood is also recyclable. Carbon from wood is released only if the material decomposes or is burned. Reclaiming wood ensures the carbon will remain sequestered. It takes only 1/13th the energy to produce wood flooring and cladding from reclaimed wood versus new wood.
The Lone GOAT
For all these reasons, wood bleats alone as the designers lone GOAT. Beauty, versatility, durability and sustainability – wood does it all. No other design material can compare. When it comes to wood as a design material, there is no LeBron to Michael, no Stones to Beatles, no DaVinci to Michelangelo, no chocolate to vanilla, no Notorious B.I.G. to Vanilla Ice…..and here we are, full circle.
For design materials there is one that reigns above all others in its power and versatility, one true and undisputed GOAT = Wood.