Let's Be Clear About Knotty Wood

“Tree House” in Austin, Tx., by Matt Fajkus Architecture features an upper story clad in stucco and clear-sealed knotty western red cedar, creating a veritable “tree house” for the children’s bedroom zone. 

Brian Mihealsick

There was a time when knotty grades of wood were synonymous with simple rustic cabins, and that was about it. Not anymore. More and more architects are using tight knot cedar in contemporary design and there’s no sign of this trend slowing down any time soon. These innovators of wood design appreciate the numerous advantages of specifying beautiful Select Knotty siding and Architect Knotty decking for their projects. 

Initially, architects were mainly drawn to the countrified charm and budgetary benefits of choosing knotty. But now, many see the design possibilities that tight knot grades present in all types of settings including urban architecture. The evolution of knotty is especially evident in the Cedar Book series, an annual publication produced by the Western Red Cedar Lumber Association. Each year, the coffee table-quality book highlights outstanding examples of cedar architecture and each year, the amount of knotty cedar used for aesthetic value has increased.

“Architects are attracted to the undeniable warmth and texture of tight knot cedar,” says Sarah Rowland, Cedar Book editor. “It’s their first choice and the fact that it’s more cost effective is just a bonus.”

Take architect John Sage, for example. For his remarkable, energy generating fully accessible Slattery Residence, which was featured in Cedar Book 9, he chose nature’s most versatile building material because of its rich and varied tonal range.     

“The knotty grade of cedar brought additional texture to the palette,” he says in Cedar Book 9. “It grows with character as its grain, color variation and subtle irregularity express an earthy authenticity unachievable with composite or synthetic materials.”

Architects are also realizing how beautifully knotty works with other materials. Matt Fajkus, who recently completed a funky spec home in Austin, Texas, stated in Cedar Book 9 that “the knots in this case added a desired texture and contrast to the clean and minimal massing of the white stucco on the house.”

Another trend we’re seeing is mixing different grades of cedar to create texture. The owner of Ha² Architectural Design, Houry Avedissian, for example, incorporated both clear and knotty cedar to create a natural and refined connection between the indoors and the outdoors on her Treehouse project, which graced the cover of Cedar Book 9. 

“A tree house was the inspiration for this project,” says Avedissian. “Therefore, the most elegant wood had to be part of the core concept.”
Cedar Book 10, which is due out this spring, promises to be the “knottiest” book ever, featuring a stunning array of projects that range from award-wining renovation jobs to re-envisioned community centers to ultra modern homes.

“If this milestone edition is any indication, knotty cedar’s appeal is only growing stronger,” says Rowland. “People want their wood to look like wood, and it’s not just the green building community. As many architects explain in Cedar Book 10, the decision to use knotty wasn’t theirs alone. Their clients—whether it be homeowners, commercial developers or the voice of the community—were totally on board with the idea of using a material as natural looking as knotty cedar.”  

The other advantage to choosing cedar that really deserves highlighting is the sustainability factor. Knotty grades are harvested from abundant, sustainably managed forests. This is huge for architects and consumers concerned about how their choice in materials impacts the environment.

Also important is how readily available knotty grades of real cedar are. Distributors specializing in real cedar are stocking more and more different profiles of knotty products. For building professionals that means specifying specialty patterns has never been so easy. 

“Our network of distribution partners is highly efficient,” explains Paul Mackie, WRCLA’s cedar specialist. “They can get highly customized orders to the site delivered on time. Builders appreciate that. And for DIYers, we have a retailer locator on RealCedar.com so they can find a certified dealer near them. Our mission is to make sure every one gets the right wood for their project.”



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