Home Touch: Wood adds knockout details to homes

Mary G. Pepitone
Universal Uclick
San Francisco designer Katy Milton finds there's no pretention when entertaining using her custom-made 4-foot-long plank of natural poplar. "Wood is approachable, and people just innately gather around it," she says.

Don't knock wood as a kitchen accoutrement that mixes form and function. When it comes to entertaining both indoors and out, wood boards are no longer on the chopping block.

        While a wood surface initially might fall flat in terms of water and stain resistance, it's a product that stands the test of time, says Steve Pless, national sales manager for John Boos and Co., a fabricator of wood countertops and boards since 1887, based in Effingham, Illinois.

        "Due to a minimalist trend that highlights stainless steel and dark polished surfaces, wood brings instant warmth to an overall kitchen design," he says. "While wood has never completely fallen out of favor, our company has been experiencing solid and steady growth that's doubled in the last six years."

        While hard-rock maple is the most-used wood to fabricate countertops and cutting boards made by John Boos and Co., other woods, including oak, poplar, walnut and cherry, each have their own unique grains and characteristics that are one of a kind. Nicks and scratches are part of a wood surface's patina, says Pless, and natural countertops and cutting boards require ongoing maintenance. Application of food-safe mineral oil provides a nontoxic coating to protect a natural finish.

These John Boos and Co. American black walnut countertops are fabricated in an edge-grain fashion. This style is a fabrication made by using cut lumber planks, which are laid on edge and joined together.

        "A wood countertop can also be factory-treated with a smooth semigloss finish, and can be easily cleaned with mild soap and warm water, which doesn't require regular re-oiling," Pless says. "I don't advise cutting directly on a countertop, no matter what surface it is -- that's what a natural wood cutting board is for -- but you need to embrace the fact that a wood surface is going to take on a character of its own."

        Part of a countertop's character comes from one of three ways the wood is fabricated:

        -- Edge-grain-style: Cut lumber planks are laid on edge and joined together. They can be cut to make countertops up to 4 inches thick.

        -- Plank-style: Wood planks are joined together to form the width of the countertop. Each board can run the entire length of the countertop and shows off the heart of the grain.

        -- End-grain-style: Many short (usually 4-inch thick) pieces of wood are stacked side-by-side and joined with cut ends facing up. This produces an extremely tough surface that resembles a checkerboard, and gives a traditional "butcher block" appearance.

        John Boos and Co. hard-rock maple countertops start at $75 per linear foot, according to Pless, and are popular on kitchen islands that don't house a sink.

        "The experienced weekend do-it-yourselfer can install these countertops over existing cabinetry and easily change the look of the kitchen," he says. "The important thing is to allow for expansion and contraction of wood, since it is a dynamic material and responsive to weather."

        Water-repellant finishes and barriers can make wet kitchen applications possible, and while wooden countertops are durable, they are not moisture-resistant and may warp over time if exposed to water on an ongoing basis. No matter the type of wood or finish, allowing liquid to pool on the surface can cause watermarks and expansion that can lead to glue joint failure and warping.

        "Wooden countertops are easily cleaned by simply wiping the surface with a slightly damp cloth using anti-bacterial dish soap or a small amount of bleach or vinegar in the water," Pless says. "Follow that up by thoroughly drying the wooden countertop after washing it."

        Pless says it is a good habit to use separate cutting boards for different types of food preparation. "For example, use one cutting board for raw meats and fish, and another for cooked or raw foods, such as vegetables and bread," he says. "Of course, clean the cutting board thoroughly after each usage, according to manufacturer's guidelines, and that will help protect against cross-contamination."

        For Katy Milton, a designer located in the San Francisco Bay area, wood is good when it comes to entertaining on the go. A custom-made 4-foot-long plank of natural poplar wood is the basis for a cheese board that feeds her guests who are anything but bored.

        "Wood is organic and has its own story, and just invites people in," Milton says. "This is the way I love to entertain: There's just something about the informality and beauty of a beautiful wooden board laden with food."

        Milton "boards outside the box" of her home, and it is anything but cheesy. She packs her wooden board with an assortment of meats, cheeses, crackers, olives, fruit and nuts, then artfully displays the food for an impromptu picnic or gathering.

        "When everyone is done eating, I just wash the natural board and treat it with a food-grade mineral oil," she says. "There's no pretention when you're entertaining using a wooden cutting board. Wood is approachable, and people just innately gather around it."

For Katy Milton, a designer located in the San Francisco Bay area, wood is good when it comes to entertaining on the go. A custom-made 4-foot-long plank of natural poplar wood is the basis for a cheese board that feeds her guests both indoors and out.

        Wood is Good

        Follow Katy Milton and her wooden cheese board adventures on Instagram at katy.milton.

        Select RESIDENTIAL options at to find an authorized dealer for cutting boards and countertops near you.