High quality executive furniture
Occasionally we’re asked for solid wood instead of veneer for high quality executive furniture. It is possible and most woods are available as solid plank as well as in veneer form. What surprises many is that furniture has been made commercially using veneer since the early Victorian period, for a number of reasons.
Most people realise that using solid timber would see demand exceed supply, but this isn’t the primary advantage of veneer. There are two features of veneered furniture which are considered as being superior to solid.
Veneered tops rarely suffer warping, expansion and twisting, whereas solid tops are more prone to movement. Imagine working on an exec desk that isn’t flat, or meeting at a boardroom table which makes your tea cups wobble. Modern fast-dried solid timers are aged in a day or two in a drying oven, and the moisture content can vary. This leads to movement within solid timber once placed in an office environment. Or course good manufacturing techniques and experience can overcome this, but caveat emptor as they say.
Grain patterns can be matched, contrasted, and created as features in a way that solid planks could never achieve. Burr would be extremely difficult to use as a solid but is workable in veneer form.
The golden age of English furniture making, the era of Hepplewhite and Chippendale, used solid timber exclusively but it was invariably dark mahogany which minimised variations in colour and grain. Naturally light timber such as oak and cherry highlight the grain and colour making solid timber much more erratic. The polishing process generally highlights the grain making colour variation more pronounced, unless using a dark stain. A certain furniture company advertising solid oak furniture shows just what a mismatch solid furniture, made without attention to matching, can be.
Just as engineered floor planks are now much more stable than solid floor boards or parquet, so veneer on mdf is far better for use with precision drawer runners, filing and locking systems, and with fitments such as Crestron cable cubbies and other cable management fittings. Indeed looking at older, solid, parquet floors and the gaps that arise over time shows the pitfalls.
Cost is or course a significant deterrent to using solid timber. Typically executive furniture in solid wood costs 35% more than in veneered finishes for sustainably available timbers. More unusual timber adds considerably more, and some species such as Wenge just aren’t commercially available as solid planks or logs.
Marquetry is the name given for inlays. Inlaid boardroom tables would be prohibitively expensive if solid timber was used. Patterns such as radial veneering and quartered veneers would be extremely unusual in solid, and the waste of timber saddening.
Having written in support of veneered office furniture, there may be a few footnotes to mention. Solid wood can be made more stable by reversing each plank so that the medullary rays are alternated. Each plank would move in opposing directions making the overall top more balanced. Solid tops suffer dents and scratches to the same extent as veneer but can be refinished endlessly, a reason why true Georgian furniture survives the centuries.
It should be mentioned that top quality executive furniture will use a notable amount of solid. Edges are typically in solid timber, and cable outlets will have a solid frame that is veneered over to preserve the grain pattern. Structural elements often have a solid piece under the veneer to ensure that a hinge or castor is securely anchored.
Veneered executive furniture is lower cost, but shouldn’t be thought of as cheap. Solid timber has a number of disadvantages, but does have an innate majesty and presence. The very best furniture makers will be happy using either, and will use skill and experience to minimise the downsides.