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Real Wenge Wood: the New Age Ivory

Every once in a while construction materials from certain, relatively exotic locations become aesthetically and artistically desirable, particularly in the west. In the last few years this seems to have become the case with the African tropical timber known as Wenge.

Wenge is popular probably due to its physical aesthetic, it is an extremely dark, oddly porous wood and it has a distinctive figure with what is known as a partridge pattern. It is often compared to mahogany and ebony and is known by several names including: African Rosewood, Bokonge and Faux Ebony.

Wenge in its raw form is a taken from the tree trunk of an endangered African tree, which not only makes it extremely expensive but also leaves it in a pretty ethically dark area for usage in design. It can also be genuinely hazardous to humans particularly during the manufacturing process; this is due to the dust created when Wenge is cut being a direct cause of respiratory problems. Not only is the saw dust dangerous but the splinters from real Wenge can cause sepsis or “blood poisoning” in humans.

It might then be logical to think that Wenge would lose popularity amongst designers and contractors when the potential issues which occur with its usage and manufacturing become apparent, not to mention the endangered nature of its source. Thankfully due to it’s still seemingly desirable nature and popularity, new ways of making Wenge go further and even more commonly and better still, methods of recreating and synthesising its beautiful and unique finish have been developed.

This process involves laminating together and then dying different more common and sustainable woods such as Poplar and Obeche. These types of wood can be treated in this way to recreate the finish of Wenge, in order to use it as a veneer.

Regardless of its authenticity Wenge or imitation Wenge is always expensive due to the popularity of its finish and colour, and the extended time required to create it. But despite this it has recently become hugely popular in the design world and is currently being used for a host of different design purposes. Imitation is significantly cheaper despite being expensive, mostly due to the risky and ethically dark nature of its genuine version.

From the veneer on stylish contemporary ranges of exciting wenge bathroom furniture, to the new must have finish on kitchen tops, Wenge finishes are a hugely popular choice for modern decor and its designers. It’s normally used as a central piece which draws focus from more understated colours and finishes such as beige and cream. It’s also commonly used in combination with simple, steel or chrome finished ovens and fridges to create contrast between the dark stripes of the Wenge and light smooth finish of the metals.

Whatever the purpose it’s recommended that real Wenge wood is no longer used in the design world, not least because of the potential health problems it can cause but also due to the tree from which it is taken being on the list of endangered plants and animals.

This eco design article was created by blogger and writer John Pauline. For more handy hints on the world of travel and eco friendly news you can find him on twitter at @johnvitality.