Shou Sugi Ban - Black Is So Hot

Shou Sugi Ban – Black Is So Hot

Ancient Japanese technique of charring wood is a natural preservative

  • Aug. 24, 2018 12:10 p.m.

Black is a complex colour. It’s mysterious, seductive, elegant and powerful, but it can also allude to fear, grief, death and aggression — it’s a moody colour in the scheme of home design and it needs to handled with care.

Black is also a member of the neutral colour palette, alongside its less polarized siblings: white, gray and taupe — a selection of colours which have been so prevalent in interior design for the last decade, it’s almost not surprising to see black arriving fashionably late to the party.

Black has been used in interior design for centuries, but what makes its reemergence interesting is the extent of its use in design. Black colour-play has gotten much bolder in the home, and nothing illustrates this better than the emergence of Shou Sugi Ban, the ancient Japanese technique of charring wood black.

A look at history helps understand the emergence of black in design. In the mid 1600s the renowned Dutch artist Rembrandt was experiencing a wave of commercial success, largely based in portrait work for display in private homes. Rembrandt was an expert in using dark backgrounds in order to contrast and accentuate the main subject of his work. The use of dark backgrounds successfully harmonized with light colours, creating a truly striking union.

Today, we are seeing that same outstanding union on a much larger scale. Black walls, ceilings, floors and home exteriors are becoming prevalent and showcasing the colour’s better attributes as a sophisticated shade that we don’t need to fear. While broad use of black offers spaces a unique and revolutionary depth, the current design-era is rooted in texture and natural elements, which is why Shou Sugi Ban has made an epic return to the scene.

“It’s terrific — it raises the grain in a really pleasant way so that there is a very tactile quality to the wood. If you run your fingers along it you can feel all the delicate edges, the years and history of the wood,” says Karen Smith, realtor with Royal LePage Parksville-Qualicum Beach Realty.

Karen and her husband David experimented with Shou Sugi Ban in several focal points in their home, including a beam at the front entrance and as part of a kitchen island.

Shou Sugi Ban uses fire to char wood black. Centuries ago, Japanese carpenters scoured the coastline for driftwood to use in design, liking its distinctive finish and durability. (Driftwood undergoes an aggressive weathering process as it is thrashed about in the erratic oceanic elements.) Desire for driftwood flourished, ultimately depleting its availability in ancient-day Japan.

So the Japanese experimented with the second most powerful natural weathering process: fire. The charring method acted as an effective preservative while enhancing the aesthetic character of the wood.

Shou Sugi Ban is the ancient Japanese technique of charring wood. (Don Denton/Boulevard)

“It preserves the wood without using chemicals — it’s an ecological alternative,” Karen explains. “We wanted to try a hand at that technique to see what sort of finish and colouration we could get on the wood. It feels more organic and alive than stained and sealed wood.”

The practice of Shou Sugi Ban gained popularity in Japan throughout the 1700s and remained common practice until 50 years ago, when it gave way to modern building materials.

However, as is the somewhat predictable evolutionary process of fashion and interior design, everything that was once old becomes new again in the great circle of design life. The Japanese reintroduced Shou Sugi Ban and in our incredibly connected, global world, the technique gained momentum and spread like fire throughout Europe and North America.

In early 2005, Kirk Van Ludwig was on an architectural tour in Big Sur where he was first introduced to Shou Sugi Ban.

A renowned furniture designer, Kirk is owner of Victoria’s own Autonomous Furniture — now one of Vancouver Island’s most notable retailers of one-of-a-kind Shou Sugi Ban pieces.

“We started torching our furniture from day one; it’s always been a staple for us. In 2016, there was a big shift towards black in all elements of the home, and the torched look has very much followed,” Kirk explains.

Autonomous Furniture pieces are billed as the collision of natural elements presented with modern sophistication. Every piece of wood in the shop has a history and a story, and Kirk knows each of them. Kirk designs his furniture to feature the natural beauty and lifecycle of wood.

“The approach in our furniture has always been to make the wood appear very natural — how you would find it in the forest. Forests light on fire and what’s left is torched wood. We don’t incorporate stains, everything is natural,” says Kirk.

Self-taught in the art of designing and creating masterful furniture, Kirk is also self-taught in the art of Shou Sugi Ban.

“I made my mistakes and now we have our proprietary method,” Kirk smiles, relinquishing neither his great methodology or the tales of things gone terribly wrong.

What he does divulge, is that the wood is torched and washed repeatedly until it reaches the depth of black desired, and then natural oil is applied.

Wood is introduced into the home in an effort to flush a space with that desirable, holistic, natural warmth. Shou Sugi Ban uses the familiar warmth of wood to effectively control the moody nature of the colour black in design, while dramatically showcasing its more attractive qualities.

Shou Sugi Ban has returned, and is arguably the design element that will trail-blaze a path for black on its way to becoming this era’s monarch of interior design.

– Story by Chelsea Forman/Photographs by Don Denton/Boulevard Magazine

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

Like Boulevard Magazine on Facebook and follow them on Instagram

Autonomous FurnitureBlackCharred woodChelsea FormanColourDecorDesignFurnishingsFurnitureInterior designJapaneseKirk van LudwigShou Sugi Ban

Just Posted

A proposed 29-storey highrise development in North Delta’s Townline neighbourhood is headed to a public hearing on June 8, 2021. (Penmat Mana JV (Delta) Ltd./City of Delta report image)
North Delta highrise proposal headed to public hearing

Council voted 4-3 Monday (May 10) to move the 29-storey project forward

Bucketheads – A Star Wars Story is being filmed near the 19000-block of 16 Avenue in South Surrey. (Mychaylo Prystupa photos)
Star Wars fan film ‘Bucketheads,’ shot in South Surrey, makes its debut

Volunteer initiative features new LED screen technology

Surrey RCMP detachment. (Contributed file photo)
RCMP investigating report of shots fired in South Surrey

Police say they have not yet found evidence to confirm incident

Darlene Bennett, right, speaking about her murdered husband Paul at a press conference in 2018. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Widow of Surrey murder victim seeking referendum vote on policing transition

Darlene Bennett files application with Elections BC seeking binding referendum vote

B.C. Labour Minister Harry Bains in the B.C. legislature, May 13, 2019. (Hansard TV)
VIDEO: B.C. to provide 3 days of sick pay for COVID-19 absences

Province will support employers on cost, labour minister says

BC Housing minister David Eby. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito)
Eby jabs back against Penticton mayor’s ad urging BC Premier to intervene in shelter dispute

Eby writes that Penticton’s ‘serious’ social issues won’t improve under leadership of the mayor

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, April 29, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 rate creeps up again, 600 new cases Wednesday

One more death, 423 people in hospital with virus

B.C. Agriculture Minister Lana Popham takes questions in the B.C. legislature in 2017. (Hansard TV)
UPDATE: B.C. will fund another year of fresh fruit, vegetables, milk in schools

John Horgan government working on school meal program

Vancouver mayor-elect Kennedy Stewart addresses supporters in Vancouver on Sunday, Oct. 21, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Vancouver mayor says there’s no time to redo details of drug decriminalization plan

Kennedy Stewart says a federal election could see the small window of opportunity close on the city’s bid for an exemption from criminal provisions on simple possession of small amounts of drugs

Premier Mike Horgan received his first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. (Facebook/John Horgan)
More than 50% of people eligible in B.C. have received 1st vaccine dose

‘We’ve made extraordinary progress together over the past few weeks,’ says Premier Horgan

The Northern Spotted Owl Breeding Program welcomed a new chick in April 2021 after it was artificially incubated for 32 days while still in its egg, hand raised for a week and then returned to owl foster parents Sedin and Amore. Chick B is now settling in at the family nest, which the public can view live online. (Jasmine McCulligh/Special to Langley Advance Times)
VIDEO: Baby owl welcomed at Langley’s Northern Spotted Owl breeding site

Facility has launched an Adopt-a-Chick fundraiser to help with expenses

Heavily armed police officers responded to a call on 203rd Street near Fraser Highway. (Dan Ferguson/Langley Advance Times)
Update: Police swarm Langley dollar store after man with a gun reported

Weapon turned out to be an Airsoft pistol, RCMP said

Most Read