History of Faux Bois

Faux bois, or ‘false wood,’ is an art form that replicates the look and feel of natural wood but is actually made of something else. While resin, iron, terracotta and other materials can be used, concrete with an inner structure built of iron rods and mesh is what started the 19th century French faux bois trend.

Joseph Monier patented the technique of reinforcing concrete vessels with an iron inner structure in 1867 during the showcase of iron-reinforced “troughs for horticulture” at the Paris Exposition. The technique became known as ferrocement. In 1875, Monier designed the first iron-reinforced concrete bridge ever built at the Château de Chazelet, in Chazelet, France.

Photo courtesy of Château de Chazelet Instagram (@chateaudechazelet)

The wood textures were freehand sculpted in the final wet layer of concrete over the shape formed by the iron rods. This bridge is still standing today and is a lovely example of form and function combined to the enhancement of both.

As early as 1840, American landscape designer, horticulturalist and tastemaker Andrew Jackson Downing recommended building outdoor furniture and garden structures out of tree trunks and branches. The designers of New York’s Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux used similar branch and truck elements throughout Central Park’s design in the 1850s. The timing coincided nicely with Monier’s work, as he allowed the aesthetic made popular by these designers to be more accessible and much longer lasting. Many faux bois pieces made in the 1800s are still around today.

Home gardening became a popular middle-class pastime in 19th century Paris as once-private formal gardens opened to the public, and city planning efforts created thousands of acres of new green spaces and homed hundreds of thousands of newly planted trees. The resilience of faux bois furniture and planters made them long-lasting choices for both private and public spaces.

Both antique and contemporary faux bois pieces have their place in today’s garden and home. They add warmth and texture to a space and recall a history that invites us to stop and enjoy nature.