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Bois About Town

February 12, 2011

On Mission

The bois in this case is faux … from the French, faux bois means ‘false wood’ … in Mexico, it’s referred to as el trabajo rustico or ‘rustic work’. Currently enjoying an extended design moment, examples of faux bois can be found as printed wallpapers and fabrics made to look like wood grain, porcelain fireplace logs and even cuddly lookalike-log bolsters (from a DIY kit). All great, but I think my favorite faux bois pieces can be found in the garden in the form of planters (DIY again, from a Martha Stewart kit), rustic seating and accessories. Because these items must be weather-resistant, garden bois is usually made of concrete or some other stalwart material. I love the idea, and look, of concrete made to look like wood … and depending on the artisan producing the bois, it can be either amazingly realistic or charmingly naive. During a morning walk I come across one of my favorite examples of public faux bois in Riverside: Alongside what is now the Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant (originally a citrus packinghouse during the early part of the 20th century), this “wood” arbor serves as a sturdy perch for wisteria on two sides of Mission Avenue …

Faux real

With its vines trimmed back for the winter, it’s easy to see the arbor’s structure: a reinforced system of uprights and reinforced braces, it’s made to look like small trees with branches joined along the top. When the vines grow in lushly and are heavy with purple flower clusters, the branches all but disappear but the effect is beautiful. Above, you can see the original artisan’s efforts at bois realism as knots, peeled-back bark and even carved initials add truth to the striated trunks.

Faux + ficus

Across from the Mission Inn proper, sitting right on the sidewalk on 6th Street, is this massive planter. Home to a ficus benjamina at the moment, it’s a great example of faux bois concrete work. This stump has just the right lumps, bumps and cracks to realistically simulate the look of thick bark covering a much-smoother inner trunk … by the same token, the color and contrasting texture of the concrete seal the bois-look deal. I’m not prone to larceny but it’s a good thing this planter’s way too heavy to move …

Branched railing

Moving closer to home, a very old example of public faux bois can be found along Mission Blvd.; from the stone bridge at Mt. Rubidoux Dr., to the dog park at the Santa Ana River, this fence-like rail guides walkers to the west-side, of Mt. Rubidoux. Created to be a guide on the raised walkway along the Mt. Rubidoux side of the Blvd., the railing has been there since the 1930s (click here for a revealing historic photograph).

Signs of age

Being almost a century old, the railing is showing it’s age … and its structural underpinnings. Cracks and breaks in the concrete’s thin layer clearly show the metal pipes that make up the fence-like branchwork. Having suffered sufficient damage and rust through the years, a large section has broken off completely; steel cables now support the remains. As in the other instances, knots and knobs appear here and there, to lend a rustic woodsy touch. When heading toward the river on the raised walkway, the rail’s always cool, rough surface just begs to be touched … I can’t help but accept the invitation, wondering how many other hands have trailed along it. Many of Riverside’s best features come out of its past and these examples of faux bois hearken back to a time when it was desirable, even fashionable, to be rustic in public.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. AlgaRythums permalink
    October 5, 2011 7:55 pm

    Love, love, love this one. I’ve not been exposed to this type of cement work. Or, maybe I’ve just never noticed it. I will keep a keen eye out for it in the future though, thanks to your post. Really love the pics of the old railing and how you discovered the ancient pipe peeking through. 😉

    • reubix1 permalink*
      October 5, 2011 8:15 pm

      I’ve always loved faux bois; whether refined or naive, it’s just really appealing to me.

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