For the most part, houses are largely made of wood and have been since life in caves fell out of style. It’s a versatile, reliable and plentiful construction material. But even though it’s been a very long time since Americans felled their own timbers to construct their homes, we still like the look of wood beams. They give a room a warm and natural ambiance that harkens back to a dimly-remembered, even mythologized past reflected in countless frontier stories. Somewhere between “Bonanza” and Paul Bunyan, exposed wood timbers stir memories of a rugged and pioneering history.

Like all mythologies, big exposed beams have quite a few less-than-ideal characteristics when viewed in the stark light of reality. They’re clunky, vulnerable to infestation by any number of insects and are even heavier than they look. What people often find out is that the idea of those rough timbers is much more attractive than the timbers themselves.

What about having the look of wood without all of the inconvenient realities that come with them?

Superior Building Supplies of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., is a producer and distributor of decorative polyurethane building accents. They make faux beams, architectural accents and other items out of rubber and polystyrene as well. General Manager Jeff Bloom said the company is making a name for itself providing a product almost no one else does.

“There aren’t many people producing this kind of product,” he says. “We’re the largest or second-largest producer of this kind of product in North America.”

Benefits of the Products

There are a few benefits to using the faux beams and other accents available. The big selling point for contractors and homeowners is that the beams aren’t hard to work with. Because they’re virtually weightless-roughly a pound of weight per linear foot-the Superior faux wood beam installs for a fraction of the cost of real wood of the same dimensions. The light weight of the product is a huge selling point.

“General contractors to do-it-yourselfers can install these fairly easily,” Bloom says. “The beams give you the chance to get the look without the headaches that go with it. A guy and a friend can install them by themselves. You need two decent ladders, a screw or nail gun and you’re in good shape.”

The beams are also designer-friendly. Unlike a real wood crossbeam, the faux beams can be added as an absolute afterthought like drapes and furniture. They look like real wood (they also come in a variety of colors and grains) but the fact that they don’t have any structural “responsibilities” allow them to be added to a room without any architectural considerations.

It’s probably important to mention that the beams aren’t wood-beam sturdy. Just as they don’t have to be part of an architect’s plans in terms of load-bearing structures and the like, they cannot be used to support anything of any real heft. Being made of polyurethane and light enough for a single person to carry unaided, they won’t support any real weight. That’s not to say, though, that they’re entirely ornamental.

“They’re main purpose is aesthetic, they’re not for anything heavy,” Bloom says. “But you can run lighting along them; you can hide wiring or ducts within them.

“The rustic design looks like it’s been out in the barn for years and years,” he continues. “Jay Leno has them in his classic car garage, which was featured in the DIY Network show ‘Garage Mahal.’”

Rustic Beauty

The product the talk show host bought, the rustic, weathered-looking design, is the company’s most popular seller. For those who aren’t looking for a log cabin effect, the company also makes a contemporary design with none of the dents and other “beauty marks” in the rustic. There are a number of textures, from the barn boards of the T-Series to the STB-Series, which has sharp edges and a grain that rises slightly from the beam. The latter comes in dark walnut, finished or completely unfinished hues.

The unfinished, raw beams are yellow. Bloom’s people put a gel stain on the raw beams to create a grain which brings out “natural” color differences from low and high points. After that, the sky-or Glidden-is the limit.

“If you want to you can cover them in an off-the-shelf primer and then paint them whatever color you want,” Bloom says.

The company also makes half-round logs for the log cabin effect. The accents the company offers, the Superior Architectural line, come in moldings, medallions, corbels and rosettes. The medallions can be ordered either unfinished, painted or in gold paint or foil finish.