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For The Home

Into the Woods

Author: Carly Scholl
Issue: March, 2018, Page 55
A facade of natural ipe wood siding brings warmth and character to a midcentury Modern home. This species is particularly good at resisting the harsh desert elements (
Local timber connoisseurs help you decide whether to go with or against the grain

As desert dwellers, we know that using wood in our homes and landscaping is often a gamble. Extreme temperatures, sun damage, dry air and termites all pose a threat to the lovely lumber that gives our homes warmth, character and organic charm. However, today’s leading designers, builders and architects are outsmarting the elements and reclaiming wood’s rightful place in and around the modern Southwestern home.

Sanded and smoothed reclaimed wood makes a subtle statement as a built-in bench and storage unit. (
The Real Deal
“Few materials do a better job of bringing warmth to a house than natural wood,” says Daniel Barnes, founder of Phoenix-based design firm Mod Haus Group. “The connection to nature and the incredibly rich texture wood in its unaltered state can bring rarely goes wrong. It works in modern and contemporary homes, in farmhouse styles or in old-world designs.” But how do you stave off the aforementioned desert elements that can wreak havoc on natural wood?

According to Barnes and his partner, Michele Williams, it all comes down the exact type of material used. After years of research and experimentation, the duo discovered a handful of favorite tree species that provide long-lasting, durable lumber. “As a siding, Brazilian ipe has a lifespan of more than 50 years in a desert environment,” Barnes explains. “It’s extremely hard, suffers little to no warping, has an “A” fire rating—the same as steel or concrete—and is resistant to insects, including termites. Brazilian cumaru shares many of the same attributes as ipe but has a little more movement to it and will hold up incredibly to our  climate. Finally there’s garapa, the lightest wood we would consider for a durable exterior siding. Its natural color is much more yellow and will be the softest of these three.”

Tobacco-gray barn wood applied as a wall covering and matching sliding door adds rustic charm to a master bedroom. $8.90/square foot (
These species are your best bet if you’re seeking newly hewn lumber for home projects that get heavy sun exposure, such as exterior siding, patio accents and interior surfaces and flooring. While real wood requires a bit more upkeep, Barnes reassures that “if you can wash a window, you can take care of such materials. Diligently oiling these woods will bring them the most beauty and longevity, and the process can be done simply with a sponge, a mop or a rag by even the most novice homeowners.”

Finely Aged
Another way to combat the wear and tear of the desert elements on wood is to simply embrace it. Choosing reclaimed, recycled lumber to construct home projects capitalizes on the current shift toward going green and embraces the rustic farmhouse and industrial trends popular today, while also celebrating wood that has already been warped and weathered. “The benefit of using reclaimed materials is that the results of rapid drying, UV rays and weather in general are what make this kind of wood so beautiful to begin with,” says Thomas Porter, owner and lead designer at Porter Barn Wood in Phoenix. “The cracks and worn appearance not only give it an organic and warm presence, but they also hide any more movement and distress that it endures as it continues to age.

Faux beams cast from natural wood in high-density polyurethane add architectural interest without requiring much upkeep. Prices vary. (
“These salvaged materials have gained in popularity because they provide a level of genuineness, nostalgia and natural texture that other materials do not,” he continues. “Their storied past, their imperfections and the responsible collection and use of these materials provide a good feeling that cannot be found in mass manufactured textiles
or counterfeits.”

Porter suggests using reclaimed wood for interior accents, including sliding barn doors, paneling, shelving, mantels or focal walls, though it should be avoided as a structural support material. It functions best as a facade or trim. The most important advice to keep in mind is to simply get creative with how you use reclaimed wood, as it’s an excellent product for those who enjoy doing the work themselves. “DIY-ers love salvaged lumber,” notes Porter, “because it is generally easy to work with, unique in texture and forgiving when it comes to flaws and appearance.”

Extruded aluminum siding finished in a woodlike veneer offers the same visual effect as real finished lumber but can withstand the elements with ease. (
Of course, if real wood truly isn’t an option for your project plans, you can take heart in knowing today’s “faux bois” options can be incredibly convincing. With modern advancements made in the manufacturing process, fake wood products or wood substitutes are looking and acting more and more like the real thing.

“One of the main factors that leads Arizona homeowners to choose fake wood is the obvious low maintenance,” says Tim Williams of Volterra Architectural Products in Phoenix. “Polyurethane, which is a common wood substitute, does not crack, twist, cup or rot and is both termite- and waterproof.” But like any building material, this type of man-made faux wood is better suited to some home projects than others. “Use it for elevated applications such as wainscoting, beams, truss systems and corbels, in both interiors and exteriors,” Williams advises. That way, he explains, the more delicate material won’t encounter much wear and tear when out of reach and will maintain the authentic appearance of real wood from up above.

For flooring or wall paneling, consider a wood alternative, such as bamboo or an engineered wood that can take heavy foot traffic and resist termites; for heavy-duty exterior use, metal products with a woodlike finish are an excellent alternative. In his own home, architect Dale Gardon wanted the organic look of lumber to accent select external spaces and found extruded aluminum siding was just the thing. “I wanted a durable product for the harsh desert environment,” he says. “I researched several composite or thermally modified woods but ultimately chose aluminum for its realistic look, durability, low maintenance and quality.” While it can be more difficult to find an installer with experience using such a rigid product, Gardon assures that, with a little preplanning and dedicated professionals, the effect is well worth the effort.

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