These designers are reviving a retro furniture trend – here's what you need to know about its big comeback

This vintage-inspired material is about to become the new darling of the interiors world, according to some of the world's most creative designers

an open plan kitchen with burled wood kitchen cabinets
(Image credit: Prue Ruscoe. Design: YSG Studio)

While it's true that trends are cyclical, there are some that are, quite frankly, best left in the past. That's what I first thought when I noticed a particular style of furniture reappearing while scouting out the world's best interiors for Livingetc

However, by the time I'd come across it the 4th (or maybe even the 5th) time, I'd become a convert to a material that I'd never imagined I would. 

And that interior design trend we're seeing reemerge in everything from furniture to kitchens? Burled wood. 

Burled wood is perhaps most associated with antiques, especially from the Art Deco period. Generally a darker wood, with a highly-patterned surface, the reappearance of burled wood in interiors isn't completely unexpected – it's been a favorite for both maximalists and those with a penchant for mixing old and new for some time now, favored by world-renowned designers including Kelly Wearstler, Jonathan Adler and Sophie Ashby. 

Now, however, this trend has also trickled down to designers who have a more restrained approach to interiors, showcasing the range that burled wood has. But what's the trick to using it in a modern way?

How to use burled wood in a modern way

a burled wood kitchen

(Image credit: Prue Ruscoe. Design: YSG Studio)

Burled wood is harvested from trees with rare growths. While it might be most commonly associated with a wood such as walnut or maple, you can also find burled wood from lighter varieties. 

One of the favorites of interior designer Yasmine Ghoniem, founder of YSG Studio (opens in new tab), is poplar, which has a far paler with fewer orange tones than some types of burled wood. 

'I love species of timber that have really interesting woodgrains like the dark watercolour-like blobs on Poplar Burl,' Yasmine tells us. 

There's something hypnotic about the patterning of burled wood, a texture you can get lost in, and find images in. 'Its light tone doesn’t dominate a space, but its kinetic pattern work is certainly mesmerising,' Yasmine says. 'Plus their swirling hollows invite touch.'

Yasmine's fondness for the material transcended just a piece of furniture, specifying it for a statement modern kitchen idea for this project. 'The kitchen’s feature joinery wall is covered in a mottled poplar burl veneer which appealed for its darker brown ‘ink blot’ pattern,' she says.  

'Oversized vertical handles act as framing devices to the natural grain motifs. The conjoined cupboard doors and fridge conceal presents like a giant timber ‘watercolour’ that can be appreciated from the living room given that the kitchen rises up from its sunken level.'

And Yasmine isn't the only one who has been bold enough to use burled wood for built-ins. 'Since I completed the house 18 months ago, I’ve definitely noticed burled wood appear in the form of custom joinery in residential spaces,' she says. 

Mixing old and new 

a burled wood headboard in a new york bedroom

(Image credit: Husband Wife)

Yet, lightness is not the only way to give burled wood a modern incarnation. Brooklyn-based design studio Husband Wife (opens in new tab) play on burled furniture's antiquated aesthetic as part of the balance of old and new in their designs. 

'Texture is very important to us as a way to add detail without compromising simplicity in form,' Justin Capuco and Brittany Hart, founders of Husband Wife, tell us. 'We use burl selectively as a way to add subtle texture and highlight key furniture pieces.' 

In the design of this Brooklyn bedroom, the richness of the burled headboard offers a foil for the starker lines and pale color palette found elsewhere in the space, ensuring the room stays grounded in luxury. 'It has richness that adds timeless depth, simultaneously speaking to both contemporaneity and nostalgia,' Justin and Brittany explain. 

A playful element

a living room cabinet made from burl wood

(Image credit: Stephan Juillard. Design: Laura Gonzales)

Burled wood furniture has always, in my mind, seemed very serious. It's a style that's more antique shop than thrift store, and because of the luxuriousness of this kind of timber, it's never the sort of piece you'd buy to repaint or upcycle. 

However, there's a growing trend for modern, playful marquetry which lays thin veneers of precious woods in contemporary shapes. The contrast between these fresh designs, with their organic, flowing lines, and the traditional, formal nature of marquetry creates an interesting friction in the design. 

This design by Parisian designer Laura Gonzalez (opens in new tab) is the perfect showcase of how burled wood can be taken in a more joyful direction. 'Six month ago, my son drew a crab standing on his legs, Laura explains of the design of the Il Granchio cocktail cabinet, 'and we decided to transform his creation into a mini bar.'

Il Granchio is finished with precious wood veneers including burled timber from Tamo, Madrone and Poplar trees, in an intriguing, evocative pattern. 

Hugh Metcalf
Hugh Metcalf

Hugh is the Deputy Editor of Livingetc.com. From working on a number of home, design and property publications and websites, including Grand Designs, ICON and specialist kitchen and bathroom magazines, Hugh has developed a passion for modern architecture, impactful interiors and green homes. Whether moonlighting as an interior decorator for private clients or renovating the Victorian terrace in Essex where he lives (DIYing as much of the work as possible), you’ll find that Hugh has an overarching fondness for luxurious minimalism, abstract shapes and all things beige. He’s just finished a kitchen and garden renovation, and has eyes set on a bathroom makeover for 2022.