REMODELERS ARE FACED with a bewildering choice of materials, most of them fairly bland. Why not opt for a natural substance with deep, rare colors and patterns? Why not try wood?
Wood, always a basic element of house building and furniture making, is all too often relegated to a supporting role. Yet hardwoods of all types are easily found in Southern California--hardwoods that can be the crowning touch to a new fireplace mantle, a strip of molding to highlight an entryway, a special table you've always wanted to try your hand at building.
Choosing the right hardwood can make or break a project, not to mention a pocketbook. A lumberyard carrying hardwood might have a mix of as many as 60 different domestics (ash, walnut, the many varieties of oak) and exotics, including such intriguing types as ziricote, Pernambuco, bubinga and koa. Prices range from less than $5 a board foot (12 inch square by 1 inch thick) for birch, maple and red oak--most popular with remodelers--to $28 for true exotics such as macassar ebony. Some are even sold by weight: Pink ivory from Zimbabwe sells for about $25 a pound.
"Buy the best quality you can buy," says Richard Mandroian, owner of Arroyo Hardwoods in Pasadena. "On a remodeling project that is going to take significant time and effort--as well as cost several thousand dollars--it doesn't pay to save $50 or $75. You're only cheating yourself."
Keep an eye on the end result: Variables include grain, texture and darkness as well as color. Another tip: Find a lumberman whom you trust, one who will tell you, for example, the difference between Honduras mahogany--a true mahogany--and African mahogany, a less expensive substitute. The latter won't have the easy workability of Honduras mahogany, nor show as interesting a grain after finishing.
There are woodworkers who feel a special relationship to a choice piece of wood, who believe that every tree has a soul. There is a piece of hardwood out there that deserves to live again--in your living room.
Find hardwoods at House of Hardwood in West Los Angeles; Arroyo Hardwoods in Pasadena ; MacBeath Hardwood in Montebello; Austin Hardwoods in Santa Ana; Davis Moulding (limited selection) in Oxnard, and Frost Hardwood Lumber Co. in San Diego.