It's hard to resist the warmth, texture, and authenticity of wood. Next to stone, it's one of the most beloved materials used in home décor, a link to the natural world that provides us with a sense of harmony and well-being. But in the bathroom? Mixing wood with moisture might sound like a recipe for disaster, but thanks to a host of modern technologies, this deeply ingrained taboo no longer holds water (sorry, I couldn't help myself).
Picture this: cozy hardwood caresses your bare feet as you brush your teeth at your bamboo vessel sink or step into your teak soaking tub. Whether it's on the floor, the countertops or even in the shower, wood provides a seamless transition from the bathroom to other areas of your home, and, when used responsibly, is an eco-friendly material that blends with every style from minimalist to traditional. Here are some tips for incorporating wood into your bath design:
Hardwood floors are on the "must-have" lists of many homebuyers, and they are becoming an increasingly popular option in the bathroom as well. In fact, wood can be a surprisingly strong performer in a humid environment — provided that it's safely protected and maintained, of course. John Ahlen, owner of a 19th-century Victorian home in Arkansas, used salvaged wood from an old farmhouse for his bathroom floors to keep the original look and feel of the house.
"We applied a couple more layers of oil-based polyurethane than we normally would have," Ahlen explained in an HGTV article. "We also made it a point to fill cracks between the boards with wood putty to prevent water from seeping in between or under the boards."
In fact, flooring expert Joseph Lewitin says that keeping an eye on the top coat is your first line of defense against moisture problems. "You can test if the finish layer is still intact by dropping a small amount of water on it," he explains. "If it beads up, it is fine, but if it sinks in, then you need another coat (of polyurethane) as soon as possible."
The dynamic interplay of a richly textured, reclaimed wood countertop with a smooth ceramic basin and gleaming metal fixtures can be the focal point of your bath design. There are several options available for protecting the wood from water splashes (not to mention mascara and toothpaste). The first is tung oil, a naturally-derived product that is used to waterproof ship hulls. However, the quality and protective benefits of tung oil can vary according to brand. Many professionals recommend Waterlox as a top choice.
Another environmentally-friendly product that provides color and protection in a single layer is Rubio Monocoat. This mixture of linseed oil, wax , and catalytic driers helps to prevent stains from seeping into the surface of your counter, at the same time adding a satin finish and a rich hue.
Finally, the most durable (and costly) option for protecting your wood countertop is epoxy, a plastic-like resin used to coat surfboards. When selecting an epoxy, always look for a low-VOC product.
Reclaimed Wood vanity
The principle behind reclaimed wood is to re-shape old wood into new forms and for new purposes. This means, for example, taking old barn wood and turning it into a beautiful vanity.
Reclaimed wood projects often involve cleaning, treating and staining old wood so it can work well in its new environment. And as mentioned above, wood does really well in humid environments, so there's no reason to be afraid to use them.
For DIY lovers, you can find pallet or old wood pretty much anywhere these days. With a little imagination and some know-how, you can transform other people's leftovers into a beautiful reclaimed wood vanity that's made just for your bathroom.
Wooden Sinks & Tubs
A wooden washbasin or tub may seem like a dangerous design choice, but neither is as off-the-wall as it sounds. Cedar, hinoki, and other aromatic hardwoods have been used for centuries to make ofuro, the deep soaking tubs beloved by the Japanese; while sailors and shipbuilders around the world have long relied on teak for its natural water resistance.
While a revered tradition in countries like Japan and Denmark, wooden tubs are still something of a novelty in the United States. A rustic oak tub complete with padded headrest is available from Alfi, while Bath in Wood of Maine can custom design your (very expensive but gorgeous) tub in a choice of eight hardwoods.
How do you keep your wooden tub in peak condition? Online retailer Signature Hardware recommends a rubdown with linseed oil every couple of months and a daily rinse with plain water to remove soap residue.
With just a little TLC, wood is a fine and functional choice for the bathroom.