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Why Burlwood is on Every Designers’ Radar

Discover what the buzz for this wood is all about.

Some causes for these growths include fungal or viral infections as well as trauma. Trees are interconnected organisms that come to one another’s rescue in times of stress, whether natural or man-made. But even a sophisticated system of communication can’t prevent these growths. 

Burls are especially prominent on certain types of trees, including cherry, oak, walnut, ash, elm, and maple. These swirling formations are most common and most coveted on the gigantic redwoods and sequoias of the California coast. The exceptional occurrence of burls on these majestic trees is a gift from nature. But, one that puts them in danger of being poached.

This wood is considered exotic and one of the priciest on the market because of its markings. The bigger the slab, the more regular and consistent the burls appear. This increases the value. Poachers use chainsaws which are dangerously invasive to the trees. The acts of vandalism were so prevalent in the Redwood National and State Parks that rangers closed roads in order to thwart efforts to steal.

That said, plenty of burlwood is responsibly harvested when trees on private land are cleared for new development. Some lumber companies have salvage permits. Obtaining information about the wood’s provenance in pieces made from burlwood is vital to make sound, environmentally friendly purchases.

Woodworkers generally use burlwood veneers, which are much more fragile—the result of being a mere slice. It’s endless what can be done with the thin layers when applied to a modern desk or table or used to create musical instruments or automobile or boat interiors. As its beauty lies in its natural imperfections, a live-edge table is also a popular choice for burlwood.

Today’s styles may evoke 1970s designs, when this wood first peaked in popularity. Designer George Nakashima was renowned for his work with burlwood and his vintage pieces fetch hefty sums on sites like Other designers and brands that excelled in creating burlwood include Jonathan Charles, Grilli, and Century Furniture. Century Furniture’s Chin Hua collection features stained burlwood, which resembles malachite with its rich, green hue.

Retro styles from Bungalow 5 and duVisst exude smooth, Seventies cool while an intricate drinks table from Bunny Williams Home combines brass with burlwood for a Deco-inspired look. Alexandra Llewellyn and AERIN have both applied this precious wood to high-end board  games like backgammon and chess.

Burlwood is also found more affordably in accessories from retailers like CB2, Williams-Sonoma, and Anthropologie—which offers a delightful round coffee table from Lemieux et Cie.

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