Dating back to the 16th century, ceruse was a white lead derivative used as a cosmetic by luminaries such as Queen Elizabeth I. Highly toxic on human skin, it found favor with woodworkers, who used the lead-white and wax to fill the porous open grain of oak planks to deter insects and rot. After a while it became a fashionable way to lighten up and enhance the look of wood.
Also known as “limed oak,” the finish was popular throughout the Art Deco era and employed by notable midcentury modern pioneers including Parisian Jean-Michel Franck and Viennese-born Paul T. Frankl. A version of the technique, with a whitened grain contrasting against a black stain, was widely imitated in the 1950s.
A cerused finish on cabinetry is created by using a wire brush across the surface to expose the natural grain of the wood. The base color and a glaze coat are applied to accentuate the unique patterns within the grain. Cerused cabinets have a weathered appearance.
This finish is most popular on Oak and Ash because of their open grain structure but I have seen it done on Alder and Walnut.
Today, cabinet makers are raising the grain on extra thick slab veneered doors. Paired with streamline hardware , a more modern look is obtained. This look is also popular with industrial accents to invoke an urban chic interior.
Colored pigments are also popular and as the demand for “driftwood” finishes starts to wain, expect to see more colors options available.
A word of caution, overuse of this finish can be distracting and knowing how to make it flow with the rest of your home’s decor is very important. Also be aware that I had seen slab doors where half the door takes the color one way and as the grain changes, the other half soaks it up another way. When working with a lighter cerused finish, always order a sample door, don’t work from a small color chip.
From inspiration and to see samples come see me in the showroom. 3415 Radio Rd., Suite 102, Naples, FL 34104