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Material Mastery - Focus on Burl Wood

Updated: Apr 18

Burl wood is having a major design moment right now, and if you are already familiar with it you know why. This highly sought after material is full of visual texture, character and depth. It has the ability to elevate the simplest furnishings to heirloom status. But why? What is so special about it?

First things first. If you're not familiar with burl wood here are some examples for you.

Pretty stunning, right?

So what exactly IS burl wood? It's not actually one species of wood. Burl wood can come from any tree that develops a burl. A burl is a growth that emerges on a tree when its typical growth pattern has been disrupted. This can be due to insect damage, fungi, viruses, or injury. Tree burls are true diamonds in the rough. Looking at the outside of them there is no way to know the treasure that lies inside. Here's what they look like growing on a tree:

Kinda gross, right? Like tree warts, which coincidentally they are.

The thing about tree burls is that they can take decades to develop to a size that is useful in the production of furnishings, and no one has figured out how to force a tree to form a burl. So they have to be scavenged from forests or private lands and harvested at significant cost. Similar to truffle hunters there are men and women who forge their trails into the forest looking for these unicorns.

As a result burl wood furnishings are, by nature, investment pieces. Every piece is unique. Every piece is one-of-a-kind. Every piece tells the story of a living thing that has endured hardship and come out more beautiful, and more valuable, on the other side. (This, incidentally, is why I love Kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing broken things with silver or gold. I recently talked about that here on my Instagram account.)

To me this wood is more than just a fashionable choice or a "pretty" finish. I am glad this gorgeous material is having a moment because it gives more people the opportunity to experience how thrilling it truly is. When you own a burl wood piece, you own something special.

When we purchased our new home three years ago I knew I wanted a piece of furniture covered in burl wood. I chose this dining table.

A simple Parsons Table by Cynthia Rowley for Hooker Furniture...I had my eye on it for quite some time before pulling the plug. I love the simple lines of it, elevated only by the gorgeous wood veneer it is wrapped in. Unfortunately this item is discontinued and I have been unable to find anything even remotely similar for you.

To make up for this I have rounded up a good number of beautiful furnishings and decor that highlight this storied material.

Here are some of my favorite pieces done in burl wood:

I hope you can find a piece that you truly love amongst these, and that it brings you the kind of joy my dining table does to me. If not, I hope you were able to develop an appreciation of this amazing material and will look at it with an increased level of respect and understanding the next time you see it.

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