They say blonds have more fun, but there are non-frivolous reasons for choosing pale or light-finish hardwoods for floors, cabinetry, paneling, and millwork in your home. “Many species of Real American Hardwood®—white oak, maple, birch, ash, poplar, beech, and sycamore among them—are naturally blond,” notes Linda Jovanovich of the American Hardwood Information Center. “These pale-tone woods can help create bright and airy residential spaces that readily adapt to the homeowner’s preferred style of décor, from the comfortably traditional to the boldly contemporary.” More than just a collection of pretty faces, they all share hardwood’s well-known durability, flexibility, and sustainability—qualities that make it an ideal material for use in today’s most Instagram-ready interiors. Here are six examples how it’s done.
In remodeling this Chicago kitchen, designers Rebekah Zaveloff and Kat Andrejevic of KitchenLab Interiors (@kitchenlabinteriors) achieved an invitingly informal feel by choosing white oak for the massive island and chunky open shelves, the gorgeous honey-tone wood adding warmth but no visual bulk to the sizeable elements. Refinished light-stained hardwood floors, the island’s single-slab marble top, dark-green custom cabinets, and white subway-tile walls complete the crisp but welcoming look.
Subtlety is the name of the game in this Sleepy Hollow, New York, bathroom by Studio Dearborn (@studiodearborn), where designer Sarah Robertson has used rift-sawn white-oak millwork finished with a custom pale-mushroom stain to enliven what might otherwise be a bland color and materials palette: Calacatta Gold marble for the counter and floor, smoke-gray subway tile for the backsplash, and pure white tub. Nickel-finish faucets, hardware, and sconces add sparkle.
The traditional kitchen in an Arts & Crafts–inspired farmhouse in Charlottesville, Virginia, by BRW Architects (@brwarchitectscville) is a masterclass in how to give a fresh modern look to a beloved classic style. Blonde maple cabinetry in a clean Shaker-like design is joined by red-oak flooring, green-granite topped island, stainless-steel appliances, and an abundance of natural daylight, all of which help amplify the contemporary vibe without violating the room’s period spirit.
Renovated by Ectypos Architecture (ectypos.com), this 1950’s ranch house in Seattle, Washington, now includes a library, thanks to a handsome wall of built-in light-oak shelving that turns a former corridor into an attractive reading nook. The golden-hued wood glows under strategically placed ceiling lights, ensuring that the narrow space, which connects the living and dining areas, is warm and inviting—a place of linger in rather than a mere passageway.
The owners of this contemporary town house in Austin, Texas, asked Breathe Design Studio (@breathedesign) to give them minimalist, midcentury-modern interiors—a request that the sleek, sophisticated kitchen with its polished-concrete flooring, waterfall island, wireframe stools, stainless-steel appliances, and pure white walls more than delivers on. Custom solid-birch cabinetry with a natural finish renders the space cool, calm, and collected rather than cold and clinical as it could have become.
A wall of vertical poplar slats sets off a white-painted brick fireplace in the family room of a Danville, California, house renovated by Kimberley Kay Interiors (@kimberleykayinteriors). The individual wood battens are stained slightly different shades of light khaki, creating a sense of organic color variation across the wall that contrasts pleasingly with the regular rhythm of the neatly tailored millwork. More texture and visual interest are added via textiles and woven-straw baskets.
Real American Hardwood is a registered trademark of the Real American Hardwood Coalition.