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Sherri Richards, Published March 26 2012

Out of the woods: Exotic species becoming popular in home design

FARGO - Forget about a zebra-patterned pillow. The latest way to bring an exotic look into home décor is through wood.

Showplace Kitchens in south Fargo recently started carrying cabinetry made from four exotic woods: American red gum, wenge, bamboo and zebrawood. The variation in grain and natural coloration gives each a distinctive look quite different from traditional oak that comes standard in many kitchens.

The red gum is the wildest of the exotics, with bold, organic stripes. A bank of office cabinets made from the red gum stands out from all the other wooden doors in the Showplace Kitchens showroom.

“It’s something people have an initial reaction to, even if they don’t like it. They still react,” says Kathy Meyer, showroom manager.

“Most people are like, ‘I couldn’t do that in my whole kitchen,’ which isn’t the goal,” Meyer says. The wood is best used as a focal point, such as on a bar, entertainment center or desk, she says.

The exotic woods are quite contemporary in design. They’re suited for the HGTV-watching customer – someone who enjoys cooking and spending time at home, Meyer says. She can imagine it being used at a lake property.

Exotic wood is also being used in flooring. Cole Sandholm, store manager of Lumber Liquidators in Fargo, says customers appreciate the natural color variations of Brazilian koa (light orange to black) and Brazilian walnut (dark browns to greens and reds). A tiger strand bamboo and zebra strand bamboo feature natural, bold striped patterns.

These woods naturally are darker, and don’t require stain to achieve a rich color.

“Most of the exotics are going to be quite a bit harder woods, they’re a lot more durable,” Sandholm adds.

They’re also higher priced, he says, ranging from $1 to $3 per square foot more than traditional hardwood.

Exotic wood cabinetry also comes at a higher price point.

Krista Hoeg, an interior designer with Accent Contracting, recently moved to Fargo from Minneapolis, where she says more customers looked at the exotic wood options, but not too many chose them.

“It can be just beautiful, but you’ve got to make sure you love it,” Hoeg says, adding it’s not for the homeowner looking to sell in a few months.

She did see an increase in hickory cabinetry while in the Cities, which is a middle-ground of sorts. “It’s different than what is in most homes, while staying affordable,” she says.

Home décor trends are playing with more texture in general, whether in wood, grasses or textured wallpaper, Hoeg says.

Karen Wells, owner of Sensible Design in Fargo, saw this first-hand last month at market in Las Vegas. “Texture has become a big deal in everything,” she says.

She noticed multi-yarned shaggy rugs, hand-carved teak floors, linen and burlap fabrics, and textured wall coverings.

“It’s rougher looking, more earthy,” she says.

Wells says woods with varied coloration are being used in some shabby chic furniture. She says they require the right setting, and probably wouldn’t fit in a formal space.

“It’s not for everyone. I think it’s for someone who’s a little more adventurous,” she says.