Monday, June 7, 2010

A little history on veneering

I've heard it said often enough. "I only buy furniture that is solid wood, not that veneered cr*p! I want it to be solid wood, like they used to build it in the old days." Then I grimace a bit and decide if I really want to get into that argument or not. So let's cover a bit of history here.

When most people think of veneered furniture, often their impression is not exactly what one would call favorable. It is considered to be of poor quality and it is questionable if the veneer is actually wood or if it is plastic that is supposed to look like wood. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that there aren't plenty of examples of poorly constructed stuff that is veneered over to hide the particle board. You can find that about anywhere. There is plenty of plastic used as veneer that is supposed to look like wood and fails to varying degrees. I'll be addressing that in another post. In fact we will probably go into some detail.

Let's start with how old is veneering? Did it start in the 1970's? How about the late 1940's when all of those GI's were getting back from WW II and you could buy a house from the Sears catalog? If either of those were your guesses, you aren't even close. The art of veneering predates the American Revolution. It predates the Renaissance. It predates the dark ages. It's older than Jesus. Veneer has been found in the tombs of the ancient pharaohs. It was used to decorate their furniture and their sarcophagi. Veneered furniture was given as gifts Cleopatra's wedding. In fact, for a long time veneered furniture was mostly reserved for the rich and for royalty. There were two reasons for this. For one thing, until about the industrial revolution, making veneer was difficult. For the other, I have read where the general consensus was only the wealthy could truly appreciate the beauty of it. Apparently it wasn't to be wasted on we mere commoners. But then a funny thing happened. Manufacturing technology got better. Veneer could be produced relatively cheaply and it was a lot more plentiful. Furniture makers decided to go way out on a limb and discovered that the rest of us like pretty furniture too. Who knew? Somehow I suspect that the whole anti-veneer sentiment may have begun around that time. I get the old Dr. Seuss story about the sneetches going through my head. The gripe about veneered furniture being garbage started to begin in earnest (the sentiment that we continue today) during WW II. Why? Find out in the next exciting episode........

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