The elegance of wood paneling Design: Though it can be expensive, the look is appropriate for dens and similar retreats, and for a traditional English feel.

January 11, 1998|By Rita St. Clair | Rita St. Clair,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

We all have preconceptions of what constitutes a design that's elegant, rustic, functional or frivolous. Wood paneling, for example, has some definite associations in most people's minds.

The standard image is of a wall material that's stately and expensive. It is also generally pictured as part of a traditionally appointed library, den or some other type of "inner sanctum."

Wood paneling isn't cheap, it's true, and it is used most often in precisely those settings. But there's no good reason why it can't be applied elsewhere in the home. It can even be affordable when flat panels or sheets of wood veneer are combined with applied molding to simulate the look of hardwood paneling. This isn't the real thing, of course, but it is a stately look-alike.

We're building a home that will have a large bathroom with fixtures such as a deep soaking tub and a separate shower. We prefer the look of a traditional English-style bathroom, which has lots of wood and very little ceramic tile.

How can we ensure that such a bathroom has all the necessary functional properties? Will we have to install a painted faux surface resembling wood in order to guard against water damage?

I know the look you want to create. And you're right that it does rely on an abundant use of wood to achieve its elegant effect.

In the bathroom of your dreams, the choice would probably be hardwood paneling in planks or raised panels, along with hand-carved moldings. Your budget may not stretch as far as your dreams, however, and it is indeed essential, as you imply, to take full account of the room's functional requirements.

But rather than resorting to faux surfaces, why not consider the approach seen in the photo?

The wall surfacing in this bathroom has been executed with sheets of wood veneer and applied raised molding. It closely resembles the hardwood paneling found in a traditional English bathroom, and it achieves this effect at a fraction of what such material would actually cost.

Choosing this alternative also eliminates the problem of water damage. Catalyzed sealers and factory baked-on finishes can prevent warping, buckling and staining, thus removing all functional obstacles to the use of wood paneling -- or wood flooring, for that matter -- in bathrooms.

vTC Certain parts of the bathroom must still be outfitted with marble or ceramic tile, of course. The tub deck and the interior of the shower enclosure are two examples of areas where wood would not be an appropriate material.

As you continue to plan the room, don't neglect the overall styling and the decorative accessories. Again, the photo may provide some inspiration.

The white bathroom fixtures seen here were designed by Kohler with the aim of adapting traditional decor to a modern sensibility.

In keeping with the spirit of this space, a decorative Oriental-style rug is used in place of the standard bathmat. Similarly, a distinctive-looking armchair is clearly a better choice in this context than a plain stool or bench. The print on the wall and the softly stylized lighting fixtures likewise contribute to the 19th-century aura.

Thank heavens, though, for the 20th-century plumbing!

Pub Date: 1/11/98

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