Object Lesson: What is cerused (also known as limed) oak?


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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 cabinetmakers, who used the paste to fill the porous open grain of oak planks.

Known in Britain as ‘limed oak,’ the finish was popular throughout the Art Deco era and employed by notable midcentury modern pioneers including Jean-Michel Franck and Paul T. Frankl. A version of the technique, with a whitened grain contrasting against a black stain, was widely imitated in the 1950s.


These days, nontoxic colored waxes are used to create the effect, which evokes a bygone era of glamour and craftsmanship. These contemporary dressers from Shelter update the look with minimalist industrial accents: 1/4-inch blackened steel tops and drawer pulls. Currently, they are reduced from $2,100 to $1,790 each. View a detail of the wood and Shelter’s take on the finish in gray and black after the jump.

Below: A close-up of the grain and two steel drawer handles on the Kobe dresser at Shelter.

The Jones table duo, below, reduced from $1,695 to $1,395, has a gray and black cerused oak finish.

-- David A. Keeps