Millwork inside a kitchen with wooden stools and marble countertops
William Abranowicz

The 5 Millwork Trends Pros Are Obsessed With Right Now

Why white oak remains the golden child, ceilings are the new design hot spot, and more

Compared to its flashier cousins like paint color, lighting, and furniture, millwork is often an underappreciated stalwart in interior design. And yet it’s often the millwork of a room the one that sets the tone that all other elements will follow. Stalwarts, by definition, are less susceptible to change than others, meaning that millwork trends are a little more slow-moving than others. That said, our pros are observing certain shifts.

Craig Montoro, of design and fabrication workshop First Third, says that with clients having ready access to visual resources online, he’s seeing less of a particular trend and more an amalgamation of several. “The results are more playful and whimsical,” he says. “We are seeing a trend towards the creation of spaces that integrate functionality and furniture into the original design intent, considering form and furnishings in parallel—millwork treated more like furniture, and furniture more like millwork.” 

Read on for Montoro’s and other design experts’ observations of what’s prevailing in millwork trends.

Wild for white oak

Pretty much all of our pros agree that white oak continues to be the golden child when it comes to selecting wood. 

“We haven’t seen much change in tastes in the kinds of woods requested and the styles and patterns in which they are used and applied,” says Montoro, who recently worked with General Assembly on the millwork for an apartment reno in the cherished Apthorp building in New York City. “The majority of our work is either white oak or black walnut. With white oak, the tendency towards a finish with a cooler color has persisted.” 

Meet the Designer: Space Exploration Design Kevin Greenberg is the founding principal of Space Exploration, an architecture and design studio located in Brooklyn. Read more...

Melissa Walbridge

“Its clean lines and blonde white tone make it a really beautiful species to work with in almost any setting,” interior designer Shannon Tate-Giordano says. “It’s a quiet wood so it holds a clean minimal elegance and lets the artistry, lines, and shape of furniture pieces and millwork be the star of the show. White oak can be a bridge between old and new; [it] can be a quietly elegant player in a traditional home peppered with modern furnishings [or] in a modern home adding depth.”

In one of Tate-Giordano’s recent projects, a renovation of a Queen Anne Victorian home in the Boston suburbs, the existing millwork was a marvel of intricacy, from the detailed fireplace surround to the wall trims and arches. “They just don’t make homes like that anymore,” she says. “The level of detail is mind boggling—it’s the pulse of the house.” To adjust it to modern living while still harmonizing with its history, she worked with contractor Craddock Builders to design new elements, such as a large storage cabinet, formal dining table, and kitchen dining chairs in white oak and ash stained to complement the aged, patinated hue of the existing oak trim. 

A paneled double-height ceiling adds texture to this living room designed by Danielle Fennoy.

Art: David Spiller/TAG Fine Arts

Compelling ceilings

When the mind wanders, it often has you looking at the ceiling—and these days they’re likely to be interesting. 

“I’m seeing wood-clad ceilings and aged beams being added to new construction for warmth and depth and soul,” Tate-Giordano says. “I’m also seeing a revival of traditional ornamental ceiling treatments paired with spaces filled with more modern, clean-line furnishings, creating a beautiful juxtaposition.” 

Rob Leechmeere, associate at Jonathan Tuckey Design in the UK, has seen a similar trend in non-residential spaces, but for more practical reasons. “We see quite a few coffered ceilings for acoustic reasons in commercial spaces,” he says. “People are looking for intimate dining or public spaces, and timber makes for a brilliant natural acoustic buffer. 

A dramatic, deep indigo library in the Lake Austin home of jewelry mogul Kendra Scott.

Douglas Friedman

Walls with whimsy

Steering away from the trend of devout minimalism, wall details are now well-and-truly welcome. “I think over the past few years, people have become more open to wall embellishments,” says AD PRO directory designer Kevin Greenberg of Space Exploration, whose projects of late have included Saraghina Caffe in Brooklyn. “I think you can thank—or blame—the widespread mania for Joseph Dirand and his Parisian projects for that.” 

Greenberg and his team share a penchant for slender panel moldings that keep things simple, along with a chair or picture rail—or both. “We usually finish wall embellishments the same way we finish the walls—same color and sheen,” Greenberg says. “In our opinion, it creates a softer, more lived-in look. We make an exception for wainscotting, which we essentially treat as an overgrown base and finish it accordingly, generally a satin finish to match door casings.”

As for Leechmere, he says they’re still using a lot of fluted or scalloped panels in their projects. “They create datums—a sense of grounding—and give a durable wall finish.”

Carpentry with a conscience

Many of our experts are seeing a growing demand for wood with sustainable origins, including the distance the timber must travel.

“We see an insistence now for all timber products to be in some way certified as to their sustainable credentials,” Leechmere says. “Reuse and reclamation of timber products and objects is also becoming more prevalent in the industry. There has been a shift in thinking to see timber as a good way to sequester carbon from the atmosphere and lock it in beautiful objects or buildings—this only works, of course, if more trees are replanted to replace those felled.” 

Cork is also prevalent among his more recent projects, he adds, due to its sustainability and versatility, while tropical woods are out of favor. “The environmental, social, and economic reality of using virgin tropical hardwoods now means it is quite unviable for a lot of projects. Due to these reasons, we would never specify these products. We see some furniture pieces still made from these trees, but are always careful to inform clients about the need to check their provenance.”

In a recent Los Angeles project, AD100 designer Mandy Cheng repainted the primary bath’s white beadboard with Pertola Paint’s Rocky Coast.

Madeline Tolle

More of the green beadboard in the primary bath.

Madeline Tolle

To paint or not to paint

Though Tate-Giordano was tempted to cover all the existing woodwork of the Queen Anne home with a coat of white paint, she resisted it. “I knew it was the wrong choice—I kept joking that I would probably be doomed to hell if I did,” she laughs. “The wood was the life of the home, so in this instance I chose to work with it.”

Still, it might not be appropriate for certain historic homes, but painted millwork has its modern charms. “We love it when clients are open to bold, expressive color in millwork, especially compositions that involve multiple colors,” Greenberg says. “We’re seeing more of that lately—cheerful hues and contrasting interior colors, or interiors finished with wallpaper or beadboard in a complementary tone. Those are the types of details that really make a project feel special.”