Patrick J. Hamilton: Suddenly, Driftwood

June 21, 2011

Driftwood marlin from Lazy Susan USA

When does a style become a trend? Well, perhaps when it starts getting second looks and double coverage. So when Paula M. Bodah wrote about the natural beach-inspired textures that caught her eye in a recent New England Home feature, instead of scrapping the story I was already preparing about driftwood, I took the weathered-wood baton and I’m running with it. Trend, it is!

Driftwood. It’s a texture. It’s tone. It’s a material. It’s inspiration. Call it grey-wash, call it Belgian beachy… it’s the newest natural in home design. And while it seems to be trending faster than Gaga on Twitter, Renee Wightman, Creative Director of LS Collection/Lazy Susan USA, thinks driftwood is here to stay. “It’s timeless, because it comes from nature,†says Renee. It’s a recurring muse in her collections for the prolific home accessories company she heads, where it shows up in trays and frames, and fills out the form of more whimsical items like birdhouses, garlands and fish. (Life-size driftwood marlin, anyone?)

Natural driftwood rectangular tray from LazySusanUSA

These 3-D mosaic pieces get some character from their shape, sure, but Renee thinks the real personality comes from the material itself, and the craftspeople who handle it. “Each piece is built based on the eye of the craftsman,†she says. The end result, a sort of Louise Nevelson-meets-Gilligan Island vibe, brings a one-of-a-kind feel to mass-market retail offerings, with the feel and appeal of a vintage, folk-art find. “No two pieces will ever be the same,†says Renee.

The folks at Currey & Company also like the puzzle-piece, slightly unpredictable nature of the material, even though they turn out designs a bit more formal such as surprisingly elegant chandeliers, table lamps and mirrors. Creative Director Cecil Adams thinks this rustic character can ease into more formal interior stories. “It’s the ultimate ‘antique’ finish… and it plays right into the Belgian look that has swept the field of interior design and retail,†says Cecil.

Currey & Company’s Driftwood Lantern

Currey & Company’s Leeward Mirror

Currey & Company Adam Table Lamp

Cecil thinks driftwood is right, right now. “There is something about being able to appreciate the raw and natural color of wood that is very gratifying these days,†he says. And even though it’s gray, Cecil thinks it’s green: “Something that is harvested or collected and recycled into a new and useful product has a universal appeal to consumers today.â€

Currey & Company Dogma Lamp

Maine artist Michael Fleming also marries the rustic with the refined, in his elegant assemblages that would be as much at home in a sleek city condo as in a humble beachfront saltbox.

Michael Fleming, at Designs Adrift, creates elegant, contemporary and commanding works of art with pieces gathered along Maine’s rocky coast.

But it’s not just where these trendsetters start, it’s how others finish. “Most manufacturers are now offering finishes in tones that are inspired by driftwood and other washed and weathered woods,†notes Cecil. Retailers like Ralph Lauren Home, Crate & Barrel, Restoration Hardware, Z Gallerie, Williams Sonoma Home and West Elm each have gray-wash and limed wood tones in their current collections.

Seahorse and angelfish from Z Gallerie

Crate & Barrel’s Driftwood End Table

Restoration Hardware’s Pedestal Salvaged Wood Round Table

Williams Sonoma Home’s Pyrenees Wine Storage Console in cream driftwood finish

Ralph Lauren Home’s Driftwood Étagère

Boston-based interior designer John Berenson also loves where driftwood is washing up. But even he admits it can take a bit of coaxing when pitching driftwood for installed finishes, like the flooring he suggested to recent clients. “I wanted them to move away from the predictable and safe brown tones,†says John. He thought the earthy grays of driftwood perfect for the Nantucket interior, and once the floors were down, the skeptics were sold. “They say it makes the house one with the beach in the distance.â€

An example of driftwood floors, from Top Floor

That outdoors/in quality is just one part of the appeal for Berenson. Color is the other. “I have always loved and gravitated towards this coloration for interiors,†says John. “I look at is as the ‘new neutral,’ a member of the taupe and mushroom family. It’s gray and brown harmoniously blended together to make one complex, yet simple, color.†He’d pair it with, well, just about anything, warm or cool. “It’s a great backdrop for warm tones–reds, corals, oranges–or with purple, orchid, and lavender… just think of hydrangeas against a backdrop of weathered gray shingles. Quintessential Cape Cod!â€

Mecox Gardens Demi-Lune Wood Console with reclaimed lumber and grey-wash finish

Berenson sees the driftwood inspiration in his frequent trips to the Boston Design Center. In showrooms like Furn & Co, Bausman‘s driftwood dining table and chairs are just one example. The to-the-trade version of the trend also appears in New York’s DESIGNLUSH, where Block Island artist John Pagliaro uses hefty pieces of found wood to stand alone as monumental and bespoke table bases.

John Pagliaro’s Driftwood Coffee Table from DESIGNLUSH

Even though driftwood is natural, it’s inspiring faux treatments, too, like the trompe l’oeil area carpets from NIBA Rug Collections, and the wood-grained hand-painted papers of The Alpha Workshops’s Oh So Faux collection.

NIBA Rug Collections’ Piedmont Area Rug (shown in 8′ x 10′)


Driftwood can go both ways, as illustrated by West Elm‘s vertical take with their Branches Floor Lamp….

…and Currey & Company‘s horizontal stacked Seabury Table Lamp.

Berenson sums it all up nicely, whether color, material, finish or inspiration: “driftwood evokes a sense of calm, envelopment and warmth. It’s like an old friend that’s reassuring, warm, and stable.†In other words, the perfect friend to invite into your home for the summer, or any time at all. Even if that friend just happens to be a little trendy.

–Patrick J. Hamilton
Patrick J. Hamilton is an interior designer, stylist, humorist, activist and interiors writer based in New York City, were he writes his interiors blog AskPatrick. He was the winner of Apartment Therapy’s first annual “Smallest Coolest†Apartment Contest, and has been featured on HGTV,, in major shelter magazines and on various design Web sites. Patrick is currently battling a Facebook addiction.

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