Ladies and gentlemen, stepping into the ring tonight we have two of the long-time heavyweights in the furniture industry, competing for dominance in quality and durability! It's time to try and settle, once and for all, one of the most compelling feuds in furniture - solid wood versus veneer.
First let's meet our competitors!
Usually seen as the reigning champion, solid wood seems pretty self-explanatory, doesn't it? This just means that the piece of furniture - or part of one - that is being described doesn't contain fiber or particle board. It's basically another way of saying 'straight off the tree.'
Our challenger, veneer, has actually been around since the days of ancient Egypt (yes, they had trees). Veneer refers to placing a thin layer of better quality wood on top of a thicker layer of other material. That thick layer might be MDF (medium density fiberboard), particle board, or it might be solid wood that's just a different type from the wood used in the veneer.
Before we throw down, let's talk about how you can recognize whether you're dealing with solid wood or veneer in a particular piece.
Now let's get down to the match!
Round 1: Visual Appeal
The visual appeal of solid wood furniture often has to do with the perception of this type of furniture as 'classic.' Solid wood furniture typically features beautiful lines and shapes that are synonymous with a timeless appearance. Some also prefer the authenticity of this look.
Veneered furniture has a visual appeal of its own due to the increased range of style and color options available. Some wood types are beautiful but are unsuitable for solid wood furniture because they are too expensive, too rare or damaging to the environment, not durable enough, and so forth. Veneers allow furniture to be made with the look if these wood types. Grain patterns can also be different and potentially more interesting than those occurring in nature.
Round 2: Durability
If you automatically think of solid wood furniture as being more durable than furniture made with veneers, you are certainly not alone. In reality, both types of furniture can be highly durable, but are susceptible to different issues as time goes on.
Solid wood can crack or warp over time due to changes in humidity in the room. Veneer is not vulnerable to this type of wear.
Veneer furniture, on the other hand, does not have solid wood's ability to recover from scratches. A deep scratch on a solid wood piece can often simply be refinished out, while a deep scratch on veneer may well expose the layer of material beneath the veneer. This can be very difficult if not impossible to cover back up.
Round 3: Price Point
We often like to pretend price isn't a primary concern when we buy furniture - we don't like to think of ourselves as 'cheap' - but the value of a furniture piece is a very important consideration.
Solid wood furniture tends to be substantially more expensive up front; those who purchase it are typically inclined to regard it as an investment that will pay for itself over many years of use. And often they are correct.
Veneer furniture is typically much more economical in terms of the cost of any individual piece. If you foresee changing your furniture regularly, or you simply wish to give priority to other expenses, by all means go the veneer route.
As you can see, the victory does not automatically go to either side. There are benefits to both, and the preconception that solid wood is always better doesn't hold up across the board (or, more accurately, across all types of boards).
Which do you prefer, solid wood or veneer, and why? Let us know in the comments!