Friday, September 26, 2008

Wallpaper - "It Ain't What It Used To Be!"

I just finished wallpapering my foyer and am so pleased with the results I thought providing some information on the wallpaper of today would be a good idea.

When I mentioned to friends that I was going to be wallpapering, the reactions for the most part were of horror and amusement. Being in the design industry, I have the advantage of knowing that the wallpapers of today are a far cry from what our parents or grandparents used. Previously, wallpaper was relegated to second place for wall coverings, as the paint industry constantly strove to improve not only its products, but also its advertising. The problem with paint is that regardless of the shade or hue, it is still just paint, and can be boring. Not providing your wall(s) with any dimension or personality. However, today with the new technology “wallpaper” is no longer just paper. There is a wide range of wall coverings available so that a consumer can find exactly the type of finish, style and pattern they desire to match the d├ęcor of their home.

Here are a couple of my favorite wallpaper suppliers where you can view their wall coverings online.


I've also listed below the various types of wallcoverings available in today's market:

Solid Paper - This is the most basic type of paper. It has no vinyl protection and takes a great deal of careful maintenance to keep it looking fresh and clean.

Vinyl-Coated Paper - This wall covering has a thin layer of vinyl coating. It has the look of paper which appeals to some consumers, but must be handled with care as it tends to tear. This wallcovering can withstand some light washing.

Paperbacked-Vinyl Paper - A top layer of vinyl and an undersurface of paper is how this covering is constructed. It is usually prepasted. It is washable and very often peelable. This is the paper usually preferred by buyers today.

Fabric-Backed - This wall covering has a top layer of vinyl with a fabric undercoating made of fiberglass or cheesecloth. These are more moisture and grease resistant than other types of wallcoverings. It is also sturdier and less likely to tear. These papers are heavy and usually not prepasted. When backed with cheesecloth, the covering has some texture, which makes it ideal for hiding less than perfect walls. Most of these are scrubbable and usually strippable.

Specialty Products - These run the gamut from textured, embossed, and flocked papers, to special coverings such as silk, bamboo, grasses, and Mylar. Murals and wallpaper borders also come under this category.

Handprinted Products Wallcoverings - These are hand-created to restore historical buildings, co-ordinate with special fabric, or produced by designers offering distinct patterns. They are created by the silk screen process or by inking with carved wooden blocks. These are top of the line coverings and require much care and attention to detail.

I encourage you to consider a wallcovering the next time you are looking to update your home. Even adding a treatment to one accent wall will make a huge difference!

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Truth About Veeners

Solid Wood vs. Veneers
You may have been told that solid wood furniture is better than furniture with veneers - the fact is they are both good things. It depends on the type of furniture, its purpose, location, etc. Knowing the difference between the two will help you evaluate what's best for your home and your lifestyle.

The comfort people find in solid wood furniture comes from the "what you see is what you get". Although stains can give one wood the look of another, especially if the grains are similar. Solid wood construction indicates stability and integrity, especially with such woods as mahogany, cherry, birch, maple and oak. Solid woods also have the advantage of being easily refinished, should the need arise.

Today, much of today's quality furniture is a combination of solid woods and veneers. This method allows the furniture to have the strength offered from solid wood in the frames, legs and other supporting components, while veneers can be applied to solid wood or wood composition material. This prevents the warping, splitting and denting that sometimes occurs when solid wood expands and contracts from humidity changes. A veneer is simply a thin layer of wood, chosen for beauty and character, then glued or bonded to another wood surface. It's not a poor substitute for solid wood or a synthetic material printed with a wood grain effect. In fact, bonding a veneer to another surface creates extra strength and allows for surface patterns or designs that would otherwise be impossible.

The History of Veneers
The art of veneering goes back to ancient Egypt. It was reclaimed by the master furniture makers of the 18th century who realized that sheets of expensive and exquisite woods such as mahogany, satinwood and rosewood could be glued to other surfaces to create beautiful and strong pieces of furniture.

During the Industrial Revolution, veneer lost some of its appeal as mass production led to shoddy manufacturing practices. Veneers were often low-grade woods, poorly applied to inferior materials. Understandably, such cheap veneers often warped or become detached, giving all veneering a bad reputation. However, for those willing to spend the time and effort required to do it right, veneering remained the preferred technique for achieving artistic and beautiful surfaces. This is still true - and not just for traditional or reproduction furniture. The simple lines of fine contemporary furniture also gain beauty and sophistication with veneers.

The Possibilities
Utilizing veneers expands the design possibilities by allowing the use of the most beautifully grained and exotic woods. Especially prized veneers include burl, a highly figured grain coming from an outgrowth on several varieties of trees or crotch mahogany, which is cut just below the area where two major branches meet. Neither of these woods could be used to construct an entire piece of furniture, but each makes spectacular unique veneers.

New Technology
Laser techniques provide outstanding quality control and precision in cutting veneers, allowing craftsmen to make ever more beautiful grain matches. Improved glues have eliminated problems that once made veneers separate from their surfaces, making them even less likely to crack or warp than solid woods. Despite such advances, veneering still requires great craftsmanship. Sophisticated inlays or marquetry involve several painstaking steps including matching and joining, gluing, sanding, polishing and finishing.

Sheets of veneer can be combined on larger surfaces to form interesting patterns by using the a variety of matching techniques:

  • Book matching: sheets of veneer are placed side-by-side, like the pages of a book, creating a symmetrical pattern
  • End matching: sheets are placed end-to-end to produce a continuous pattern
  • Four-way match: a combination of book and end matching
  • Slip matching: sheets are placed into side-by-side patterns to produce herringbone, diamond and checkered patterns.

Still Not Convinced?
If you're still a little wary of veneered furniture check out the 18th century master cabinetmakers like Chippendale and Hepplewhite. Their veneered furniture still graces museums and private collections and sets standards for fine design as we move into the 21st century.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A Guide to Countertop Materials Part 2

As part the our series on Countertop Materials here are another three popular choices, including their pros and cons:

Butcher Block
Maple and Oak woods are the most common used for countertops, although other hardwoods such as cherry, walnut and mahogany have been known to be used as well. Butcher block counters are available in several configurations depending on your needs and all are finished with either mineral oil or polyurethane. Mineral oil prevents the wood from warping and drying out, but will not prevent stains. Polyurethane provides and impenetrable plastic-like coating.

Pros - easy to maintain, can be sanded and re-oiled or re-sealed as needed. Looks warm.
Cons - Prone to water and stain damage, must be oiled or sealed periodically to prevent dry out and reduce porosity, burns easily and absorbs odors.

Ceramic Tile
Made for a variety of materials and methods and offer a wide range of design possibilities. The most common being traditional glazed tile, which are made from clay and fired at extremely high temperatures. Its tough glasslike surface is non-porous, although the grout that holds the tiles together is extremely porous.

Pros - available in many colours, textures, patterns and price points. Glazed tiles won't stain and resist heat and moisture.
Cons - Uneven counter surface, installation requires time and attention to detail. Tiles can easily chip, scratch or crack; grout is easily stained, tough on dishes and glassware.

To create countertops, concrete is mixed with pigment, then poured into molds on-site, or pre-cast in a workshop. After it is troweled smooth, it takes several days to dry and harden. It must then be sealed to guard against stains. Concrete counters can be as thick as desired, although anything more than four inches could strain supporting cabinets and floors.

Pros - heat and scratch resistant; can be tinted in a wide range of colors; can be molded into different shapes to accommodate integral sinks, drain boards, and decorative edging.
Cons - Expensive and very heavy; cracking is common so make sure you hire a professional to pour. Very porous so it stains unless not sealed very well. Tough on dishes and glassware.