Artful Faux Bois
By Karen Parr-Moody
Springtime brings out a desire for all things natural, including those with which we feather our human nests. On that note, GasLamp currently has a sprinkling of fun faux bois – in French, "false wood" – that wonderful, and historic, type of "wood" that is really not wood, but a likeness of wood. And this seems the perfect time of year to incorporate faux bois into one's décor.
It seems that hipsters everywhere – from professional interior designers to armchair decorators – have been clamoring for faux bois lately. One can find faux bois as wall paper or flooring, along with a smattering of furniture and decorative items.
This vintage faux bois stool in the photo, left, is a whimsical little piece ($56; Booth B-2102). The metal hairpin legs are a sign of its Mid-Century Modern roots and the faux bois pattern is stark in the way the black wood grain plays against the white, making it look terribly modern.
While faux bois looks modern to us now, its history actually dates to 19th century France and England. During that time, designers were enamored of rare woods and wanted to include them in their projects. These included rosewood, burl and mahogany. But such wood was cost prohibitive for most. So artisans figured out a method by which they could imitate the woodgrain products of that era; at the time, it was called "graining." The idea was not so different from that other French notion, “trompe l’oeil” or “deceive the eye,” by which an optical illusion is created.
During the 19th century, the trick of faux bois was to make it look exactly like the real thing. With today’s faux bois, it seems the goal is the exact opposite: There is a tongue-in-cheek manner in which designers create something that looks perfectly fake. Nonetheless, it is a stylish effect. Take, for example, this faux bois lamp, seen in the photo, left (light with silk shade, $95; Booth B-309). It certainly belongs to the recent faux bois trend, and its shape and silk feel will modernize any room and add a splash of hipness. Who wouldn't want to ride that wave?
The three faux bois planters in the photo, right, are more realistic looking than the stool and the lamp previously shown ($24 each; Booth B-309). They have been carefully created in molds to make them look like a part of the forest. And by adding in some dainty moss, the nature theme is continued. Something like this would bring a hint of life to a cozy bedroom.
During the 19th century, painters with extensive training went to great lengths to make it impossible to see the difference between real woods, such as mahogany and satinwood, and woodgraining, or faux bois. Today, this technique has changed, becoming almost pop art for designers who eschew the more difficult word patterns for the simplest, starkest patterns. And whether your tastes veer toward realism or toward modern art, there is a version of faux bois for you.