Shou sugi ban—meaning "burnt cedar board" in Japanese—is a type of charred cedar named for the centuries-old technique of preserving wood through fire.
Though its exact origins are unknown, historians believe the method— which involves charring Japanese cedar with fire, brushing it, cooling it, cleaning it, and varnishing it with a natural oil—began in Japan around the 1600s or 1700s. It is a labor-intensive process, as it takes around seven minutes to char just three boards.
Though shou sugi ban wood has a gorgeous, silvery finish and a crocodile-skin texture that makes it stand out from regular wood, reasons for charring it go beyond mere aesthetics.
Burning the top one-eighth inch of each wood board seals and protects the it against rain penetration and rot. Paradoxically, it also makes the wood fire resistant, so retardants won’t be necessary. The process also improves the durability, stability, and lifespan of the wood by preventing termite infestations and decay.
This type of wood has been used in Japan for centuries, but it was only around the early 2000s—thanks, in particular, to a Japanese architect named Terunobu Fujimori—that it caught the attention of architects and designers outside the country.
Today, a growing number of architects are doing great things with charred timber. Though cedar is still the most common variety for charring, other varieties such as Douglas fir, cyprus, pine, or oak are also being used.
We look at 10 homes that make mesmerizing use of the shou sugi ban technique.