Walnut makes a comeback with midcentury modern

05/17/2014 12:00 AM

05/15/2014 4:25 PM

Here’s the latest example of a trend bounce: Walnut was once the wood of choice for many woodworkers but fell out of favor with designers and decorators for the past 40 years. Now it’s back again, big-time.

The new passion for this fine-grained hardwood is linked to another rebound: the resurge of interest in midcentury modern decor and retro interiors.

Historically, furniture- and cabinetmakers have preferred the rich, chocolate brown planks because they are easy to finish and blend well with leather and fabrics.

Today’s shades have more personality, running from light tans to purplish black. Manufacturers are creating tables, upholstered pieces, lighting, cabinets and accessories from this dense, shock-resistant wood. The look is defiantly retro, but the fresh, clean lines and warm tactical appeal are updated, inviting and easy to live with.

American Leather has introduced a sizable walnut furniture collection and launched a walnut-tree-planting initiative to help rebuild diminishing American forests. The Made in America furniture collection includes a selection of pieces upholstered in leather and fabric. It’s classic contemporary with an artsy attitude. From sofas to ottomans and benches, it’s hard not to go overboard with this unsullied look.

The scale of the new walnut furniture pieces is more in alignment with today’s new urban spaces. We are gravitating toward home furnishings of a more manageable size. Large, bulky furniture pieces just don’t have a place in this new design world. In Europe, where living spaces are generally smaller, the look and functionality of this style of walnut furniture has remained in vogue for decades.

Upholstery is key to making this new look fit in with your existing decor. Select a neutral, solid-colored fabric with texture, or pair walnut with a soft, smooth leather. The Greta Sofa from Studio A is an ode to midcentury modern with a classic twist. Steer clear of using retro print fabrics. They are too reminiscent of the ‘70s. Let the slender, balanced lines of the walnut frame define the piece.

If you’re not ready to transform your home into a Mad Men set, consider incorporating one or two walnut chairs in your family room, or decorate your front foyer with an eye-catching walnut bench.

Love the thrill of the hunt? Try to find vintage walnut pieces at resale shops and flea markets, but don’t be surprised to discover that classic walnut furniture has become very pricy.

Designer and home improvement expert Vicki Payne is host and producer of “For Your Home,” available on PBS, Create TV and in national and international syndication. Reach her at ForYourHome.com .

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