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. And this link to the outside world provides us with a sense of harmony and well-being. But should we use it in the bathroom? Mixing wood with moisture sounds like a recipe for disaster, but thanks to a host of modern technologies, this deeply ingrained taboo no longer holds water.
Picture this: Cozy hardwood caresses your bare feet as you brush your teeth at your bamboo 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 into other areas of your home. And when used responsibly, wood is an eco-friendly option for almost every style—from minimalist to traditional.
Hardwood floors are on the must-have lists of many homeowners, and they are an increasingly popular option in the bathroom. In fact, wood is a surprisingly strong performer in a humid environment—provided that it's safely protected and maintained, of course. John Ahlen, the owner of a 19th-century Victorian home in Arkansas, used salvaged wood from an old farmhouse for his bathroom floors to keep with the original look and feel of the house. Ahlen applied several coats of oil-based polyurethane and then filled the cracks in between the boards with wood putty to assure a waterproof seal.
Former Spruce flooring expert Joseph Lewitin suggests keeping an eye on the top coat, as it's 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 smooth ceramic and gleaming metal fixtures makes an amazing centerpiece to any bathroom. And there are several ways to protect the wood from water splashes (not to mention mascara and toothpaste spills). Tung oil—a naturally-derived product that is used to waterproof ship hulls—is one such option. Tung oil provides a non-toxic, water-resistant finish to any wooden countertop. However, the quality and protective benefits of tung oil can vary by brand. Professionals recommend Waterlox as a top choice. Another environmentally-friendly product that provides both color and protection in a single layer is Rubio Monocoat. This mixture of linseed oil, wax, and a catalytic driers helps prevent stains from seeping into the surface of your counter and adds a satin finish and a rich hue. The most durable (and costly) option for protecting your wood countertop is epoxy; a plastic-like resin used to coat surfboards. When considering epoxy, note that while the seal is permanent and virtually impossible to penetrate, it will also give the countertop a plastic look, taking away from the natural feel of the wood.
Reclaimed Wood Vanity
Reclaimed wood is a popular addition to both home construction and decor. By recycling and re-shaping old wood into new forms for new purposes, you can get the look of a salvaged product without having to distress new raw materials. In the bathroom, beautiful vanities can be crafted from old barn wood (as well as countertops and storage shelving). For DIY lovers, reclaimed wood projects often involve cleaning, treating, and staining old wood so it can work well in its new environment. And while builders pay big bucks for trestle wood and reclaimed timbers, pallet wood and other types of old wood can be sourced on the cheap or for free. With a little imagination and know-how, you can transform other people's leftovers into a beautiful rustic focal point for your bathroom.
Wooden Sinks and 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 in Japan to make deep soaking tubs (or ofuros). Plus, sailors and shipbuilders around the world have long relied on teak for its natural water resistance. And while wooden tubs are a revered tradition in countries like Japan and Denmark, they're still a novelty (that comes with a cost) in the United States. But if you want to splurge for a luxurious tub that definitely has that "wow factor," get one custom designed from your choice of hardwoods. Then, keep your wooden tub in peak condition with a rubdown of linseed oil every few months and a daily rinse with tap water to remove the soapy residue.