A room filled with mid century modern furniture at Atomic Junkies Mid Century Modern Gallery in Orlando, Florida.

Veneer and Mid Century Modern Furniture: Myth and Reality

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I’ve been reading a lot lately about vintage mid century modern furniture, and I came across the question of whether veneer was used on most mid century modern furniture. There wasn’t much in-depth information readily available online about it, so I decided it would be a good article to write.

Veneer was used on most wooden mid century modern furniture. Tabletops, cabinet tops and sides, and other larger smooth surfaces were areas veneer was used the most often, while thinner pieces like chair and table legs were areas veneer was used less.

Let’s dive in deeper and look at why veneer was used on most mid century modern furniture. We’ll also address some common misconceptions about veneer.

What Veneer Really Is

First, let's define what veneer is because there’s some confusion about that. Veneer is a thin layer of real wood applied on top of a thicker piece of substrate. Veneer is often a rarer and more expensive wood, and the substrate could be real wood, plywood, particle board, or MDF. The idea that veneer is fake wood, Formica, or paper with a printed wood design is a common misconception.

Photo credit: ©2022 Atomic Junkies Mid Century Modern Gallery. Used by permission.

This collectible mid century modern Broyhill Brasilia credenza used walnut veneer. The arches were created with bent plywood overlaid with veneer.


This closeup shows the fake wood grain of a furniture piece made of laminate. I took this picture, and in person, it's very easy to see that it's not real wood.

Why Was Veneer Used on Mid Century Modern Furniture?

One of the reasons veneer was used on MCM (mid century modern) furniture is a lot of the designs of that era are only possibly with veneer. I wanted to answer this question more in-depth, so I called up two experts on the topic and asked them. The first was Dave from Mad Man Restorations. Dave restores authentic mid century modern furniture and was super helpful with answering this question. He says,

“I think people don’t realize if you want to have this look it has to be veneered because of the angles and stuff that we all love about mid century modern furniture that you couldn’t create with solid wood. The reality is, the MCM designs we know and love would not be possible if made out of solid wood.

“Take for example the arches of both the Kent-Coffey Perspecta line and more famously, Broyhill Brasilia. Those arches are made possible with the use of bent plywood. Using veneer gives the designer and manufacturer flexibility to create more complex and beautiful furniture.”

Dave also brought up an economical reason veneer was used.

“Imagine having solid rosewood instead of veneer on Perspecta. Or even a solid rosewood Eames lounge chair. It would cost a fortune!”

If you ever find a mid century modern piece you want restored professionally, ask Dave! He’s very skilled at restoring pieces like this. You can see his work showcased on his YouTube channel and Instagram.

Jorgen Clausen mid century modern dresser mad man restorations

Dave restored the beautiful $10,000-dollar Jorgen Clausen dresser pictured above.

The other person I called was Steve Settle, the owner of Atomic Junkies Mid Century Modern Gallery, a large mid century modern and Danish modern furniture store in Orlando, Florida (they sell beautiful MCM furniture by the way, and, ahem, they ship all across the US). Steve was equally as helpful. He says,

“What they would do is cut veneer so that way you get these beautiful grains on a wider piece, like the side of a piece of furniture or the top of a piece of furniture like a dresser. You just get the prettier look when you do a veneer because you have these variances in darks and light graining going through the wood. But you can only approach that look from doing veneers.


A Kent Coffey Perspecta gentleman's chest.
Photo credits: ©2022 Atomic Junkies Mid Century Modern Gallery. Used by permission.

“The other factor was down to affordability. Example, a lot of stuff from Denmark that was on the higher tier was made out of Brazilian rosewood, and Brazilian rosewood is discontinued using because it’s endangered, so anything that you find that is Brazilian Rosewood was made during that time frame, but it was so expensive. And, again, there was no piece of Brazilian rosewood that was wide enough to do a whole dining table or a whole top of dresser, so they had to do veneers. And that’s where you got, again, the beautiful grains. But it was also down to affordability.”

If you’re interested in MCM furniture, give Steve a call. You can take a look at his Instagram page or find him on Facebook.

Veneer Is Not a Sign of Low-Quality Mid Century Modern Furniture

The idea that veneer inherently means cheap furniture is a fairly common idea, but it’s not true. In fact, historically, the opposite is the case back when veneer had to be cut by hand. In the mid century modern era, veneer was machine cut, and during that time, veneer was not, in itself, a sign of high- or low-end furniture. There are reasons why people have the idea that veneer means low-quality though, and we’ll get into that.

I asked Dave from Mad Man Restorations and Steve from Atomic Junkies Mid Century Modern Gallery, and both said that veneer is not an inherent sign of low-quality mid century modern furniture.

Steve added,

“I think the problem you’re going to have is with the public definition of veneer. And sometimes their definition of veneer in their mind is the Formica. A lot of people think that’s veneer.

“There’s a lot of famous Danish designers that made beautiful furniture, and it was very high end, and it’s very collectable, and it goes for really good money at auctions, but it’s not solid. It’s still a veneer. You’re familiar with the Eames chair, correct? That’s 5, 7 plies of wood. The outside is a veneer. That’s a prime example.”

An authentic Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Herman Miller constructed of plywood frame covered with rosewood veneer.

Photo credit: ©2022 Atomic Junkies Mid Century Modern Gallery. Used by permission.

Authentic Eames Lounge Chair and Ottoman by Herman Miller. Notice the book-matched rosewood veneer on underside of the ottoman.

One comment I came across from someone who thought veneer meant cheap furniture was basically that the best furniture makers in history like Thomas Chippendale didn’t use veneer, so that proves it’s cheap. Something sounded off with that claim, so I called the Chippendale International School of Furniture in Scotland, United Kingdom, to ask them about this.

Antonia Fraser, the co-founder of the school, which is now run by her son Tom Fraser, answered the phone and was very friendly and helpful. She said Thomas Chippendale used a veneering technique called marquetry in his high-end pieces.

“He did very much use veneer in his really high-quality furniture. In those days, in the 1700s, when Chippendale was making furniture, veneer was hand cut, so it was a very laborious process. And it’s really only since Victorian times, so in the 1800s, that they developed machinery that could make veneer, and that is probably where the conception that veneer is a cheaper way of making furniture [came from] because veneer was cut by machine, so it was a way of being able to make the wood go further.

“But there are lots and lots of absolutely beautiful veneered pieces of furniture. There are some very, very valuable veneered pieces. It's true that with modern machinery, once machinery was doing the work, then there certainly was a lot of cheap veneered furniture around. But some really high-quality furniture, even once they were machining it, was from veneered pieces.”

If you’re ever interested in becoming a furniture craftsman, you should check out the Chippendale International School of Furniture. They have students from all over the world, and I was really impressed with the quality their course graduates produced.

I hope this article was helpful and as interesting to you as it was to me doing the research! What do you think about mid century modern furniture? Do you or did you at one time view veneer as low quality? I’d love to hear your feedback!

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