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In praise of oak

Oak is at the heart of everything we do at Neptune. Of all the wood we use, oak is our absolute favourite. Whenever you see exposed wood on a Neptune kitchen or piece of furniture, we are proud to say it will be oak. The only exception is garden furniture, where teak fares better outdoors. Our painted wood is tulipwood which performs just as well and is plainer in appearance so is much more suited to a lick of paint. Somehow, it feels wrong to paint over the charming knots and the characterful swirls of natural oak. They're to be embraced. They're part of its story. 

Our love of oak works on both a practical and an emotional level. It speaks to our heads and our hearts, if you like.

The heritage of this timber will forever feel quintessentially British. But, in fact, it grows all over the world and, interestingly, other nations hold it in equally high regard. From German folk tales to Native American Indian stories, the oak tree represents sagacity, steadfastness and loyalty.

It also speaks of majesty: Roman emperors wore crowns woven from oak leaves and Charles II found shelter in the hollowed trunk of an oak – from which the popular pub name, The Royal Oak, stems.

Oak has also been prized through the ages for its strength as a building material. The Tudors used it for their solid oak beams which still hold fast today. The Georgians adored wrapping their rooms in warm and rich oak panelling. And the first Windsor chairs were hewn from solid, dependable oak. Denser than pine, but more easily obtainable than hardwoods such as mahogany, oak has always been a lovely timber to work with, hone and cut. Ask any carpenter – ours included.

Henley console in Classic Oak.

British maritime history, too, would have been very different without the strength of oak. The Mary Rose was constructed in finest oak – using some 600 trees – and her hull then coated with pitch and sealed with caulk. As keen sailors, our founders John and Giles, have a particular respect for how oak has served the naval world through the centuries. And it's what helped steer our furniture in the direction of oak, as our founders agreed on a mission to build furniture that was 'as safe as boats, not houses.'

In our homes, oak carries with it a sense of its reassuring history. But, above all, it brings beauty. From bare timber to a waxed surface, this is a wood that holds a depth of texture, with those distinctive little flecks that tell you that this is true oak. This is what makes oak so dense and durable, but also what makes it a joy to behold.

Perhaps we also love to see, stroke and live with the grain of oak because there’s something about it that reminds us of the tree itself. Since childhood, the oak stands tall in our memories and imaginations. They grow – impossibly – from a tiny acorn and symbolise endurance, strength and a deep connection with nature. Many of the qualities to which we also aspire.

Edinburgh oak washstand with Carrara marble vanity top.

We would love to use British oak for all that we make at Neptune, but that’s neither possible nor ecologically wise. Instead, we source our oak from the Appalachian Mountains in America. It looks beautiful and we know that it performs consistently well. It all comes from a forest that is carefully managed and regenerated. That’s important to us – we love to see the oak tree in its natural habitat as well as in our designs.

So, when people ask us, why do you favour oak, the answer is very simple. It looks beautiful. And there is strength beneath that beauty.

Long live the oak, the king of trees.

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