Which Wood You Choose

Part of the joy of designing your aircraft’s interior is choosing the wood. Here’s how Gulfstream’s experts can help make that process easier
cabin, aviation, design, ownership, refurbishment
Written By Philip Hanyok
Photography By Terry Duthu

Selecting just the right wood for your Gulfstream cabin is an enjoyable learning experience. In the process you may even learn something about yourself.

Do you prefer Waterfall Bubinga with its wide-flitch line and lots of movement, or Gray Oak, a composite wood, with consistent color and grain? Or maybe flat-cut Bosse is more to your liking. In the right layup (the way the veneer pieces are aligned) it gives a distinctive cathedral pattern.

Waterfall Bubinga, Gray Oak and Bosse are just some of the more than 100 woods Gulfstream owners can choose from when designing their cabin interior. But no matter which wood you choose, Gulfstream’s craftspeople and designers will use it to create the perfect look—the one you want.

The process involves a bit of self-evaluation. The wood you choose can be an expression of your personality, a reflection of a company brand or a nod to an inspirational or classical ideal, so considerable thought and planning goes in to making the decision.

Designers Guide You Through the Process

To keep aircraft weight to a minimum, the wood used is typically a high-quality veneer. A finely crafted and highly polished veneer provides the desired richness, depth and durability while adding only a fraction of the total weight of solid wood furniture. The veneer is laminated to strong but lightweight aerospace materials with special adhesives that create an incredibly tight bond designed to stand up to the uniquely challenging cabin environment that includes exposure to harsh direct sunlight and pressurization cycles.

The designers in Gulfstream’s Sales and Design Center in Savannah, Ga., have more than 40 years of combined experience designing cabins that delight the senses by blending the warmth of an exotic wood tone with the comfort of leather, and shaping the texture of fabric enveloped with the aura of cabin lighting to create an interior that sets and captures a mood as individual as the owner. From locations in Savannah; Appleton, Wis.; Long Beach, Calif.; and Dallas, they guide you through the veneer selection process and ensure that all the elements you choose combine to create the beautiful cabin you desire.

“We are intimately familiar and comfortable with the process of selecting wood and how the wood choice must integrate and complement the balance of the cabin design,” says William Gay, Gulfstream’s director of Completion Sales. “While some customers may be initially overwhelmed by the myriad of choices and what they perceive to be a complicated process, our design team works closely with the owner to help convert the blank canvas into their vision of style, grace and comfort.”

Instead of being complicated, the process is rather quite exhilarating. There is, however, considerable work to accomplish in the roughly 13 weeks allotted to choosing the cabin interior. Fortunately, the Gulfstream team knows how to help facilitate the process and keep everyone on schedule. A visit to Savannah makes the process go smoothly.

“It’s much more beneficial to the customer and for the overall selection process if the customer comes to Savannah where he or she can experience a full variety of choices firsthand,” recommends Tray Crow, director of Interior Design at Gulfstream. “For instance, when we travel to the customer location, we may be able to take only six or seven wood options to support design schemes. But when the customer comes to Savannah, there are almost limitless combinations to choose from—including 50-plus distinct wood choices.”

The design team’s first meeting with a customer is devoted largely to information gathering. “We’re seeking information that will help to define the space,” Gay says.

The team asks questions such as: How many people will fly on the aircraft?

Will the aircraft be used for international travel? Will children be frequent passengers? What other interior options are desired? Do you prefer light, dark or medium-tone woods? Would a veneer with a lot of movement in the wood be pleasing to look at during a long flight?”

The team may ask customers to do a little self-examination and consider what they like and don’t like about furniture, textures and other options. Do they prefer certain colors? Do they want something unique? Would they prefer a more conservative or contemporary look?

Upholstery and other design elements are also explored to ensure that the entire design works and is pleasing for anyone who may travel on board the aircraft.

“Our job as designers is to help the customer determine an overall look for the aircraft. We make veneer and material recommendations based on our clients’ overall needs and desires,” Crow states.

Wood is the Focal Point

At the Sales and Design Center in Savannah, customers view wood samples in the proper perspective. The samples are the relative size of the amount of veneer a passenger sitting in the cabin will see in a field of vision. Even the room lighting in the design center can be altered to mimic different types of cabin and natural lighting that may affect the splendor of the wood.

“If you consider where the customer sits in the cabin, the wood surfaces are the focal points. So the first step in the selection process is to determine the customer’s preferences in wood veneer,” Gay advises.

“Veneer for aviation applications is of the highest quality and grade,” he says. “The logs that our buyers seek are truly the best of the best in terms of grain consistency and the scarcity of flaws—similar to how a precious gemstone is selected based on color and flaws.”

One such wood supplier is Carl F. Booth, founder of Carl F. Booth Veneers, a division of DeCrane Aerospace of Wichita, Kan. For the past 36 years, Booth has traversed the globe seeking the finest trees available for the wood veneer his craftspeople lovingly coax from each log. His standards are so high that he may select a single tree in an entire forest.

Gulfstream’s unique partnership with Booth Veneers enables owners to select one-of-a-kind wood for an aircraft, in large part because Booth maintains a multimillion-dollar inventory of 750 logs representing more than 150 tree species gathered from six continents.

At Booth’s facility in Jeffersonville, Ind., highly skilled workers mill wood veneer that’s no more than 1.8 millimeters thick—about the thickness of an American dime. The species and the unique patterns of the tree grain determine how the veneer will be cut to achieve the desired look.

Long-wood veneer, for example, is flat cut, quarter cut or rotary cut. Each cut gives a different look.

Flat-cut veneer is sliced across the log perpendicular to the radius. Cutting the veneer in this manner produces wood with a pattern of arches or ovals or an hourglass shape.

Quarter-cut veneer is sliced parallel to the radius. This produces a fairly straight grain pattern or one with slight curves. The figure—the pattern on the veneer’s surface that runs across the grain—can be quite strong in a quarter-cut veneer.

Rotary-cut veneer is produced by cutting the log on its circumference. This process is akin to the blade in a pencil sharpener, extracting a thin slice of wood all the way around the trunk. Birdseye, pommele and burls are commonly produced using the rotary-cut method.

“We explain the various elements of veneer: contrast, movement in the veneer, grain and other elements,” Crow explains. “We provide a thorough explanation of the different looks that can be achieved with veneer cuts. If a customer prefers movement in the grain, then we select a flat cut. For something more serene, we recommend a quarter-cut veneer.”

Each log is unique and the quality must be consistent throughout the log. A single log is used to supply all the veneer required to complete the interior of a large-cabin Gulfstream business jet like the G450, G550 or G650. That requires the selected specimen to be large enough—and flawless throughout—to finish bulkheads, furniture, custom cabinetry, doors and more.

Each log is unique and the quality must be consistent throughout the log.

Gulfstream’s Live Log Program

Mindful of the value of time, Gulfstream has simplified the process of choosing the right wood veneer by selecting about 100 logs of superior appearance and consistency and holding them in reserve in its Live Log Program. These logs are exclusively available for the interiors of Gulfstream aircraft, which further adds to the mystique of the Gulfstream brand.

There are, for example, light woods like Aspen, Avodire, English Oak and Karelian Birch. The selection of medium woods includes Gaboon, Walnut, Blistered Sapele and Quilted Maple. Dark woods include Composite Zebrawood, Brown Ebony and Ceylon Rosewood.

Composite woods are also a good choice. They are made from natural wood that is combined with various layups to create a distinctive veneer, often with a more contemporary look. Composite wood patterns can be more calming than other woods because they typically have less movement in the pattern. “So much of the art in this is in the layup of the veneer,” states Crow.

While all the veneers are beautiful in their own right, some are more popular. Gulfstream’s designers keep abreast of what’s available and how trends might be changing in aviation and other industries.

“We do trend analyses on all the veneer we specify for customers,” says Crow. “We have more than four years of data archived and that allows us to see what’s been popular at any given time and how trends repeat, shift, converge and so on.” Monitoring the long-term trends of veneer selection enables Gulfstream to ensure that only the most popular, most-desirable veneers are available in the Live Log Program.

Gulfstream’s designers keep abreast of what’s available and how trends might be changing in aviation and other industries.

Guiding the Selection Process

After signing the sales agreement to purchase a new Gulfstream business jet, a customer generally begins the completions process by visiting Gulfstream’s Sales and Design Center in Savannah, Ga.

The entire selection process takes 13 weeks, a period that’s carefully coordinated with the completion schedule for the aircraft. At the introductory meeting, the operator will be welcomed by a completion sales executive and an interior designer who will work closely with him or her as the selection process evolves. The completion salesperson handles all technical aspects of the configuration. The designer ensures that the customer’s personal or corporate sense of style is reflected in the interior of the aircraft.

Using the information gleaned from the initial meeting, the Completion Design team develops color schemes and color boards of coordinated samples for the customer to review. At subsequent meetings, the customer refines his or her materials choices until the final selections are recorded and incorporated into the aircraft specifications.

Customers can aid the selection process through the simple act of reflection. “It helps if customers can spend some time thinking about their personal preferences,” says Tray Crow, Gulfstream’s director of Interior Design. “Do I like light woods or dark tones? What will I be comfortable looking at on a 10-hour flight? What do I have at home or in my office? And then they share that information with us. By narrowing down the selection process to colors and veneers he or she prefers, the customer won’t be overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices.”

Trust Plays a Role

Gulfstream customers have the luxury of being able to rely on the instincts and expertise of designers as subject matter experts working with them to choose the wood and other cabin elements. Gulfstream designers have the knowledge to guide customers and have the experience of seeing countless other cabin designs and the interplay of various wood colors and cuts.

“We complete the world’s finest aircraft every day,” Crow says. “We know what works and what doesn’t work. We ask the customer to give us as much information as he or she can about their preferences and then we will work together with our designers to bring the customer’s vision to reality.”

“Over the decades, taste in aircraft furnishings has evolved markedly,” according to Gay. “If you go back to the 1980s and early ’90s, you’ll see a marked difference in taste in aircraft completed for operators in Eastern, Middle Eastern and Western cultures. For example, Middle Eastern operators prefer geometric patterns, usually as an accent piece. There are certain cultural markers that we also consider.”

But that all homogenized in recent years, Crow says. “You don’t see those disparities like you did years ago. Eastern and Western tastes have migrated toward one another in interior furnishings and colors. Consequently, when you get on an aircraft today, in most cases it’s difficult to discern whether the operator is an Eastern or Western customer. Instead, what you’ll notice is that the interior is beautifully and impeccably appointed.”

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