We frequently receive questions about how our mid century modern furniture is constructed. Did you know that veneer was used by many furniture manufacturers in the era our furniture was made and is still utilized today?
What is Veneer?
Veneer is defined by Merriam Webster as "a layer of wood of superior value or excellent grain to be glued to an inferior wood". Veneer is a thin piece of hardwood, that often was adhered in the factory to another species of wood. Walnut veneer was frequently used for the beautiful woodgrain patterns and other qualities of the wood.
Does this make a piece inferior to a solid wood piece of furniture? Not necessarily. Many pieces still have solid wood construction underneath the veneer. Think of veneer as a decorative touch that the designers chose to use. Veneer is still real hardwood, unlike laminate, which we will discuss later.
If pressboard or MDF was used, it may have been for a structural benefit, as solid wood can warp.
Veneer was used by brands like Lane, American of Martinsville, Kent Coffey, Broyhill, Founders and more!
This Bassett ad from The Vintage Resource shows tables that use veneer
This Broyhill Brasilia Dining Table utilized Veneer (Sold)
Did Manufacturers Use Only Solid Wood?
There were a few manufacturers that used only solid wood (no veneer) for their furniture. A few examples are Heywood Wakefield and Bissman. You can tell that the pieces are only solid wood and that veneer wasn't used by following the grain along the curve of the wood, from one side of the surface of the furniture to another. The furniture is incredibly solid and heavy!
Heywood Wakefield ad from the Vintage Resource showing solid wood furniture
When designing furniture using only solid wood and no veneer, the designers could not create the same decorative flourishes that they could utilizing veneer. An example is the book-matched woodgrain, as seen below. (Notice the V-shaped woodgrain pattern made by the use of veneer on this United Tiki piece)
Sold United Tiki Armoire
What is Laminate?
In the 50s-70s, laminate was used by manufacturers to create durable tabletops and dresser tops. The laminate could be made to look like wood.
Is laminate a sign of poor quality? Well, laminate was used for it's durability and it has in fact lived up to what it was designed to do. We refinish many dresser and table tops because of water, scratches or other finish issues. Laminate is scratch resistant and water resistant. It is prone to sun fading and may have some signs of wear, but it does fare far better than wood with decades of use.
In our home we use a Chromcraft dining table with a laminate top 3 times a day with our young children and we don't worry if one spills their water or the other decides to bang a truck on the table. It's durable!
These stylish tables appears to have a white laminate tops -
also from the Vintage Resource
So what's the best choice for your home? Veneer, solid wood or laminate? It really comes down to your personal taste and how you will be using the furniture in your home. Do you like to see woodgrain designs that can't be achieved with just solid wood? Veneer is a great choice and much more plentiful than just solid wood pieces. Do you like Heywood Wakefield or Russell Wright or Bissman? Solid wood may be for you! Do you want to have more maintenance free furniture? Then laminate is a great choice.
This Mersman end table (Sold) has a laminate top made to look like woodgrain
This Johnson Carper Ronda dresser set (sold) has veneer along the dresser drawers/sides and laminate on the tops
I hope this post is helpful to you as you shop for your next vintage piece for your home!