Styling a Timber Frame: The Need for Contrast

 Iron, stone, and contrasting paint color

Iron, stone, and contrasting paint color

 Copper, marble, linen

Copper, marble, linen

 Soapstone, ceramic, wool

Soapstone, ceramic, wool

Contrast refers to placing two opposite elements together. This most often refers to a contrast in VALUES (very light areas next to very dark areas...). But contrast can refer to any opposing elements- such as a contrast in different textures, colors, shapes, etc.
— Mrs. Cook’s Art Class

Several years ago OCH built a timber frame in Chagrin Falls, Ohio that I got a chance to walk through only days before the residents moved in. Most of the fixtures and finishes were already in place, including lighting, hardware and paint. I was struck at the thoughtful and stylish choices these customers had made which complemented the frame so well, setting it off without detracting or distracting from it. They had installed iron and bronze lighting from Restoration Hardware. Chunks of variegated stone paved the floor-to-ceiling chimney. Walls between the posts were painted a dusty, saturated shade of medium blue. The paint choice was especially striking, as it reminded me of standing in a just-assembled, not-yet-enclosed frame, looking up through at the sky which appears divided up into blue pieces by the geometry of the timbers.

Each of these choices reflects an important design principle: contrast. At OCH, we obviously love wood. But we have seen some examples of too much of a good thing. (Think timber frame home with wood paneling and flooring, wood mantelpiece, wood cabinets and furnishings, wood counter tops, wood fixtures, and wood decor items. Throw in beige-colored paint for good measure.) It’s like you can’t see the forest for the trees ... or you can’t see the wood for, well, the wood. This is why contrast is so important, particularly in timber frame homes.

This week we traveled to Vermont, a region of lovely green-carpeted mountains, historically known for its stone quarries. We drove past century farmhouse after century farmhouse roofed with slate, topped with solar panels (talk about contrast).  Our destination: RMG Stone Products in Castleton where we picked up several large slabs of soapstone. Non-porous yet soft enough to be cut and worked with wood tools, the soapstone will be incorporated into the homes of several of our timber frame customers, providing that essential contrast of materials that will complement the wood. Deep matte gray to black, with subtle but elegant variegation, the stone will absorb light while the wood reflects it.

It got me thinking about other materials that would pair beautifully with wood by contrasting with it in terms of color, texture, and reflectiveness.

What about copper and marble with linen? The copper mirrors the color of the wood while throwing off far more light. The marble and linen are cooling against their warmth, ensuring that warmth is noticed.

Or soapstone with ceramic and wool? All three materials absorb light, allowing the glow of the wood by comparison to be more pronounced. (Sources: Candleholder; Bookmark; Wool & silk felt scarf handmade by me.)

Any combination of contrasting materials could work. The important thing is that contrast is considered within the interior design choices made for a timber frame home. Play with the color, texture and reflectiveness of lighting, hardware, paint, textiles, and accents. Be aware of their power to complement or detract from the beauty of your timber frame.