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  • Douglas Fir in California Design: San Francisco Homes

    Posted on March 1, 2012 by Nicole

    Douglas fir in home design dates back before the days of the Gold Rush in 1849. Douglas fir had a big impact on San Francisco Victorian architecture from the 1850s to the early 1900s. The 1906 Earthquake and fire destroyed over half of the burgeoning Bay Area. Thousands of homes burned, including many Doug-fir-framed Victorians that dotted neighborhood streets.

    We’d like to look at the use of Douglas fir from the start of Art Deco in the 1920s on through the Great Depression, WWII, and through the 1970s to today’s New Modernism approach to sustainability.

    Douglas fir goes utilitarian

    We won’t bore with you the details, but there were a wide variety of architectural aesthetics popular in San Francisco beginning in the early 1900s on through the 1940s. Art Deco, Beaux-Arts inspired New Revival Mediterranean and Marina homes, and Art Moderne designs which all featured an eclectic mix of materials. New revival homes were outfitted with wrought-iron balconies and clay-tiled doorways which mirrored Spanish elements and emulated Beaux-Arts design with its brick and stone figural sculptures and classical details. If any wood was used, it was minimal in appearance – balustrades or wood shingles.

    Between the 1920s on through the 1940s, Art Moderne architecture reinforced innovation with design. The International Style became a façade trend in the mid-1920s, emphasizing a less is more aesthetic. The advent of new building materials - stainless steel, aluminum, Formica, and pigmented structural glass – figured prominently in these design movements. Meanwhile, factories churned out abundant supplies of steel in preparation for war and Old Fir went utilitarian, being made into automobile running boards, wall sheathing, and military applications.

    In response to a depressed economy, a Northwest fir trade association set out to promote plywood and the milling industry. Founded in 1933, The Douglas Fir Plywood Association –dubbed American Plywood Association today – sent out on a national mission to bring fir back.

    Douglas fir Boom and Bay Area Modernism

    After the war, the nation needed more housing to keep up with the 1940s baby boom. Thanks to the housing boom, Douglas fir was back in business. In 1955, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association put together 52 Fir Plywood Home Storage Plans. The 50 cent black & white booklet featured 65 do-it-yourself home projects based on a you-can-build-anything-with-fir-plywood motto. Crisp illustrations and clear plans outlined everything from drawer construction to edge treatments.

    In San Francisco, five years before the issue of 52 Fir Plywood Home Storage Plans, local architects were inspired by the old rural wood-clad buildings in the area. The decorated shed and building as billboard aesthetics turned into the next big design aesthetic and Old Fir had a home. Coined Bay Area Modernism – Third Bay Style, these wood-dressed homes featured wood paneling and flooring. Outside, vertical wood board siding, wood shingles, and vertical exposed sticks were dominant features. For wood enthusiasts, this was a welcomed change from the Art Deco and Art Moderne stucco-fashioned designs of the ‘20s, ‘30s, and ‘40s.

    However, it was Joseph Eichler’s innovative use of Douglas fir post and beam construction, that popularized Old Fir into something entirely new. Starting in the 1950s, Eichler homes “invited the outside in” by using structurally graded 4 X 10-inch fir beams and 6 X 4-inch fir posts for the housing frames. Eichler’s signature fir grid held the expansive floor to ceiling windows – a second distinctive feature of his architecture. This allowed natural light in creating an airy living space. Mahogany was also used for interior paneling. Eichler’s aesthetic was seen in San Francisco homes until the ‘70s. Today, Eichler homes are just as important to the progression of San Francisco architecture as the city’s turn of the century Victorians.

    Eichler’s use of exposed post and beam construction influenced many residential designs across the nation during this time. In AltruFir’s own backyard, Portland home-builder Robert Rummer, inspired by Eichler’s post and beam grid, constructed 750 Rummers throughout the city in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And, perhaps in response to the Eichler fir grid trend in the Bay Area, the Douglas Fir Plywood Association put together its 1958 Leisure-Time Homes in Fir Plywood. The book was popular among families looking to build a second vacation home. Was it coincidence that the five models featured in the book featured fir post and beam construction? We think not.

    In 1965, 77 Ideas For Remodeling Your Home With Fir Plywood was published. The Douglas Fir Plywood Association promoted a variety of “worthwhile leisure-living projects you can make with fir plywood,” including a built-in book rack, demountable music wall, and a potting bench. As an introduction, the association wrote, “For remodeling… inside, outside, all around the house – there’s a fir plywood panel for every job!” A black and white diagram was included to pinpoint the places fir plywood fit perfectly in the mid century home. It’s no doubt that Douglas fir helped define mid-century modernism.

    Postmodernism and New Modernism

    Interestingly, Postmodernism and its contextual aesthetic, starting in 1960, retracted from Eichler’s signature fir post and beam construction. Postmodern homes emphasized a maze of juxtapositions in layout, materials, and motif. This aesthetic relied less on the durability of natural materials such as Douglas fir and more on flamboyance and cut-out construction.

    In 1980, Third Bay Style and Eichler designs gave way to New Modernism, which emphasized the use of modern materials and technology to their greatest advantages. Humane Modernism reintroduced nature into living spaces, similar to Eichler’s architectural achievement. Wood cantilevers and wood trellises shaded windows. A post and beam both supported the entrance awning and added structural expression to a home’s front porch. Stone, wood paneling, and stucco were distinctive elements used purposefully in these façades. And conscious use of naturally energy-generating methods were incorporated into homes and buildings – photovoltaic panels.

    Today, Douglas fir is very much a part of the architectural and design movements in San Francisco. Victorian homeowners rely on Old Fir to renovate and maintain the authenticity of say, an 1890 Queen Anne dining room floor. An Eichler enthusiast knows how to treat the fir post and beam frame when stripping paint to reveal its natural grain. Homeowners of a wood-clad Third Bay Style home trust Douglas fir to bring their home’s vertical board siding back to life. And, savvy first time homebuyers expect to see Old Fir show up in the reclaimed flooring of an industrial loft, a trellis shading the front window of a LEED-certified complex, or on the paneling of a secluded yet sustainable private residence. Douglas fir is as versatile as the homes in San Francisco.

    - Nicole Morales

    This post was posted in Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir design, douglas fir beams

  • Douglas Fir Finishing Touches

    Posted on February 15, 2012 by Jennifer

    One of the things that we like so much about Douglas Fir is its versatility. It’s the wood version of the little black dress--it’s classy and stylish all by itself, if you like to keep things simple.

    If simple’s not your thing, you can add on special effects to make it fancier, or take it down a notch with rustic styling. Light or dark, glossy or distressed, Douglas Fir wears anything well.
    First let’s talk about the surface of the wood itself. You have some options here. Douglas Fir can be planed and sanded to a completely smooth finish--this is especially popular for applications like joinery and trim. Or, Douglas Fir lumber can be left rough-sawn, with the marks from the saw still discernible.

    Douglas Fir Flooring

    Maybe you’ve chosen reclaimed Douglas Fir. This material in particular often comes with its own set of bumps and scrapes, part of the patina that has developed over time. For some people, those aren’t imperfections--they’re a highly desirable way to let the wood tell the story of its former life as a barn, factory, or gymnasium.

    In fact, some people like the weathered look so much that they want to create it on new boards. To achieve this effect, new Douglas fir is scraped with hand tools or brushed with a wire brush in an effort to create the perfectly-imperfect look and feel of an aged board.

    Now let’s move beyond texture and talk about color. What shade do you want your Douglas Fir to be? Its natural tone is a warm, rosy, golden brown. For many people, that natural beauty is what they want to see. Interviewed in “Veranda” magazine, interior designer John Saladino remarked on the “quietness” of natural Douglas fir. “It acquires a rich hue similar to a cigar box,” Saladino told Veranda.

    To achieve that subtle look, you can simply apply a clear or lightly pigmented finish. If you’re not sure what type to select, read our blog for a complete lowdown on stains and finishes for Douglas fir and other woods.

    Thicker stains and paints are also available if you want to transform the color of your Douglas fir and hide the grain for a formal, elegant look.

    Remember that aging process we talked about for adding texture to wood? You can do that for the wood’s color, too. Douglas fir can be stained with a mixture of silver and brown hues for an aged, weathered look; coated with a semi-solid white stain for what’s called a “pickled” look; or even sand-blasted and bleached, as designer Ron Mann did for this Douglas fir plank chair.

    Or, you could just keep it classic. Like that little black dress, people have been appreciating high-quality Douglas fir for a long time--longer even. Take a look at what lumber magazines were saying about Douglas fir a century ago:

    “At this time fir is used for all purposes of inside finish in buildings of high class and when properly kiln dried is susceptible to stain of various tones, giving the home-builder opportunity to harmonize tone of finish with the furnishings of the room...The special selected clear stock possesses characteristics of grain in the flat sawed stock that cannot be found in any other wood in such variety, the grain possessing curly, mottled, wavy and variegated effects that are very pleasing.”
    --January 1910 issue of the “The Timberman” (emphasis added)

    We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Keep it classy, Douglas fir lovers.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest, Douglas Fir Paneling and was tagged with douglas fir finish, douglas fir stain

  • Versatility of Douglas Fir: Use in homes, boats, and planes

    Posted on February 8, 2012 by Jennifer

    Clear vertical grain Douglas Fir.

    The Douglas-fir tree: it makes beautiful flooring, paneling, and other finish lumber. If you’re from the Northwest, you’ve probably stepped into a Craftsman Bungalow or two and admired the decades-old Douglas Fir floors under your feet. You may also know that it’s widely used for construction lumber, plus, it’s also great for...boats?

    That’s right. With its strength, durability, and attractiveness, Douglas fir is not only the choice for flooring and building, it’s also commonly used for furniture, boats and aircraft.

    What makes Douglas-fir such a versatile species? It’s all about the science. The way Douglas fir grows naturally means that this Northwest native also has some characteristics that make it fit for a variety of uses.

    The Douglas-fir tree sheds lower branches as it grows.

    Douglas-fir trees, when you see them growing on the lush mountainsides of the Pacific Northwest, may strike you for their towering expanses of limb-free trunks. Douglas-fir is a shade-intolerant species, which self-prunes its lower limbs. This means fewer knots, and long stretches of straight, consistent fibers. Those fibers also give Douglas-fir a superior strength-to-weight ratio and the highest modulus of elasticity of any North American softwood species.

    In simpler terms, that means it’s tough and durable. It can handle a heavy load without bending or buckling. These are important considerations when you’re building a boat or a home-built aircraft. When you’re taking to the sky or the sea in something made of wood, you better be sure it’s a wood that’s not going to fail on you.

    Let’s also talk about stability. Douglas Fir is known for being very dimensionally stable--that means that when it expands and contracts due to moisture in the environment (as all woods do), it holds its shape better than most species, another important characteristic if you’re building something like a boat or an aircraft, when holding a certain shape is crucial.

    Douglas-fir also has good rot-resistance--important for a craft that will be exposed to the elements.

    Sitka Spruce was traditionally used for both boats and aircraft, but over the years the Sitka Spruce has become increasingly rare and expensive, putting it out of reach for amateur enthusiasts. Douglas Fir, on the other hand, is plentiful and affordable. This custom sailboat, built by Nexus Marine in Everett, Washington, uses clear vertical grain Douglas fir combined with Brazilian marine plywood, all coated with layers of epoxy to make it completely watertight.

    For furniture building, hardwoods like oak, maple and walnut seem to get most of the glory. But Douglas Fir is also available in clear vertical grain lengths that meet the specifications of fine woodworking.

    Remember those long, straight fibers we talked about? Turns out they’re not only strong, they’re also quite attractive. Douglas Fir is hard enough that it can be difficult to work with hand tools, but it responds well to sharp power tools. Vertical grain Douglas Fir, once finished, has an extremely smooth, glossy appearance, with long, clean subtle lines running down its surface.

    Douglas fir also has a light, rosy color that’s unique and different from the more yellowish oak species or dark walnuts. You can simply seal it with a clean finish and leave its natural color exposed. If a different tone is required, Douglas fir is also known for holding all types of stains, finishes, and paints very well.

    This custom bedroom furniture set, by Portland-based Big Branch Woodworking, for example, showcases Douglas fir’s natural color and clean, straight lines.

    So whether you’re going for a sail, taking to the air, or trying to dress up your home, think of Douglas fir. It’s good for more than just finishing your home.

    - Jennifer Rouse

    This post was posted in All Entries, Douglas Fir Flooring, Douglas Fir Trim, History and Interest, Douglas Fir Paneling and was tagged with Douglas fir flooring, douglas fir trim, douglas fir boats, douglas fir planes

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