Veneer vs Solid Wood

There is a tendency to look down on veneer furniture, which is strange because, when it’s done right, it really is very good.

There is also a tendency to think that mid-century modern furniture has to be solid wood to be considered of any quality.

Also not the case.

In fact, many of the best Danish Modern designers, including the great Hans Wegner, were more than just a tad partial to a bit of veneer.

So where is all this negativity coming from? Not us anyway.

While it may always be true that we are suckers for a piece of solid wood furniture, (an Ercol elm and beech armchair, for example, will never fall out of favour in our shop) we are not snobby enough to rule out the merits of veneer.

To that end, here is a quick look at what it is, three instances when it is preferable to solid wood and some tricks on how to spot it.

Really, it can be done so well that you might struggle to distinguish it from solid wood.

What is Veneer Furniture?

Veneer furniture is generally made with a lightweight, durable material such as MDF and then coated with a thin layer of real wood.

This layer tends to be around 1/8" thick. Manufacturers who are less concerned with quality will take this down to next-to-nothing. In this instance, veneer is less desirable.

Veneer should not, however, be confused with laminate furniture.

Laminate furniture is made in much the same fashion as veneer except for the fact that it is finished with a thin layer of synthetic material instead of real wood.

It still has its place in the order of things (it can be extremely hard wearing) but it’s not necessarily something we would recommend sourcing.

3 Instances When Veneer is Preferable to Solid Wood Furniture

1 - When You Want Something that’s Totally Reliable.

That is not to suggest that you can’t hang your hat on solid wood furniture. You absolutely can (we do).

What is does mean, however, is that veneer won’t warp and crack in the same way as solid wood furniture can if it is mishandled.

Because veneer is also built with materials that are much easier to work with, you can normally count on it being structurally sound for the entirety of its lifespan.

All of this means that veneer is generally lower maintenance than its solid wood counterpart (we still recommend that you care for veneer and should never sand it too much if you are trying to fix a blemish).

And since it tends to be more affordable than solid wood (this is not always the case), the stakes are also lower which will appeal to a wide number of buyers.

2 - When You Need Something that Can be Moved with Ease.

Veneer tends to be lighter than solid wood furniture.

This might not sound like a feature worth caring about but you’d be overlooking how many people live, particularly in bigger cities like London.

People who live in homes with smaller kitchen/diners, for example, might need to move a table out of the way when it’s not in use.

Try lugging a solid rosewood table to the far side of a room and you will know about it. A rosewood veneer table, however, can probably be moved by a single pair of hands.

Always best to work as a team, though. Don’t want anyone putting their back out on our account.

3 - When You Need to Colour Match

One of the main advantages of veneer furniture is that it almost always features a uniform finish, which can be really handy if you are trying to pair it with a piece of furniture you already own.

What is more, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that veneer is more widely produced than solid wood furniture so you will have a greater selection to choose from.

And for the bonus point, you should bear in mind that opting for veneer will probably be easier on your wallet.

Only the most discerning of guests will be able to tell the difference. But so what if they do? If they are that clued up, they will know that veneer, when done right, is still an indication of quality.

3 Ways to Spot Veneer Furniture

1 - Try and Lift it.

The first and most obvious way is to pick it up. If it looks like solid wood but is quite easy to lift, then you may be looking at veneer.

2 - Look Underneath.

This test is easier to perform with certain types of furniture than others. Tables, for example, will be easier to check than sideboards.

However, if you can do it, it should give you a clear indication of what you are looking at. If the bottom of the panel looks radically different from the top, then you’re looking at veneer.

3 - Check the Sides.

The grain of solid wood furniture will carry on through the edges. If the grain of the wood on the side doesn’t match the one on the top, then you’re probably looking at veneer.

Edge banding is another clear indicator. You couldn’t — or least wouldn’t — create this effect on solid wood. If you see it, think veneer.

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