When I visited designers Emily Bode and Aaron Aujla’s New York apartment in 2019, I felt instantly transported. Their front door opens into the kitchen, which is almost entirely clad in warm, coffee-stained Douglas fir. Was I in a quaint cottage on Cape Cod? A rustic cabin in upstate New York? I certainly was not in a rental apartment in Chinatown.
To be fair, it wasn’t a total shock. Green River Project, the buzzy design firm founded by Aujla and Ben Bloomstein, has made its name with a liberal use of timber, much of it sourced in Hillsdale, New York, where the studio’s eponymous waterway is located. But something about that kitchen feels as if it has hung around in the zeitgeist ever since. As a particular variety of au naturel woodworking has entered the spotlight—just look at the sculptural furnishings of rising talents like Ido Yoshimoto, Dan John Anderson, and Vince Skelly—the homey, wood-clad kitchen is officially reentering the spotlight.
Does this finally mark the end of the reign of the pristine white kitchen? Probably not. But as Aujla points out, “During moments of crisis people return to natural materials.” And indeed, after a year in which most of us have clocked more time than ever in our home kitchens, the tide has turned toward materials that feel rustic, rough-hewn, and intensely comforting.
“We try to use as much wood as clients will let us,” admits Aujla of the material that has been fundamental to the Green River Project ethos from the jump. The firm recently outfitted a kitchen in New York’s Rockaway, Queens, neighbourhood, with coffee-stained lauan and mahogany. “The rougher the wood, the harder it is to clean, but it has a much warmer feel and a softer touch,” explains Bloomstein, who paired the natural material with stainless steel in heavier-use areas to make cleaning easier. The look, he admits, requires a rather adventurous client.
Other examples abound: Director Ryan Murphy’s David Cafiero–designed New York kitchen is wrapped in white oak, as is director Anthony Russo’s in his off-the-grid cabin outside Los Angeles that was designed by AD100 firm Commune Design. Restaurateur Keith McNally’s kitchen in the Cotswolds is framed in thick wooden beams.
For a more polished variant, Medellín, Colombia, design firm 5 Sólidos wrapped a pitched-roof kitchen with warm planks of French oak in musician J Balvin’s country retreat. And designer Oliver M. Furth restored the kitchen walls’ plywood panes in artist Mary Weatherford’s modernist pad.
“We have always preferred a wood cabinet and have used them in most of our projects,” says Roman Alonso of Commune. Most recently, the firm outfitted kitchens in Claro walnut, Monterey cypress, and white oak (as seen above). Alonso likes to choose the variety based on the vibe of the project and the nature of the space. As a rule of thumb, he says, “Walnut cabinets might feel more elegant and white oak ones more casual. Rough planks more rustic; a smooth, sanded finish more refined.”
Even for a painted cabinet, Alonso likes to use white oak and let the grain show through. In fact, Commune almost always selects wood when it comes to kitchen cabinetry: “They are certainly an investment, particularly if well-built, but they are forever,” says Alonso.
Feature Image: Unsplash
This originally appeared on AD Pro | Hannah Martin