Walnut is a rich, dark brown hardwood. It can be ordered as either straight heartwood (left), or with the light-colored sapwood included for extra contrast and character (right). Its fine figuring and deep chocolate color make it highly sought after for use in gunstocks, stringed instruments, and high end furniture. As a hardwood floor it's simply gorgeous.
In the right setting, the dark color tones of walnut and cherry can be enhanced with lighter colored wood features. For instance, a thin perimeter strip of maple might look spectacular around a walnut field. Wheat-colored beech or the strawberry-blond hues of ash are a great way to set off cherry.
The parlor floor at Monticello features a pattern of cherry and beech. Photo credit: Monticello Explorer: http://explorer.monticello.org
These two species are rightfully regarded as the best the American forest has to offer. In the colonial days extremely large specimens were available, and there are antique tables still extant in which a single board of walnut or cherry was used for the top. In later decades they were employed as decorative elements in the floors of upscale homes.
Today with the prosperous state of eastern hardwood forests, walnut and cherry have become available as a primary hardwood flooring material, and remain both a timeless choice and an excellent way to stand above the crowd.
The standout feature of both walnut and cherry is luster: a quality that can be difficult to define, but that you'll know when you see. Luster refers to the way that some woods reflect light from within their cell walls to create a deep, glowing appearance, as if they had some internal source of illumination. High-luster woods respond particularly well to oil finishes (see our finishes page), which bring out their natural depth and sheen.
Another key term is figuring: in addition to the typical arched or flowing grain patterns, walnut in particular will have a tight, swirled pattern around knots.
In their different configurations, walnut and cherry work equally well as rustic or highly refined elements of design. On the rustic end of the scale they can feature any of the following characteristics
In a more elegant application you are likely to see
Cherry is second only to walnut in value and is equally desired by fine woodworkers. Where walnut is brown, cherry yields a spectrum of reds and a cream-colored sapwood. Its color will intensify with age, eventually developing a lustrous, red-brown patina.