A practical guide to buying wood furniture
What is hardwood furniture?As the name suggests, it’s furniture made from a hardwood. The most common hardwoods used are oak, walnut and mahogany, although there are many others, including ash, birch and cherry.
Hardwoods are ideal for furniture – hardwood trees generally grow more slowly than softwoods and this extra growth time creates a wood that is denser (i.e. thicker and therefore more robust). Consequently, furniture is generally more durable and will last longer.
Softwoods are also used to make furniture - with the most notable wood being pine – although the quality isn’t as good as hardwood equivalents. That said, softwood furniture is cheaper and so is very much a viable and sensible choice if budget for new furniture is limited.
What manufactured woods are used to make furniture?Plywood, chipboard, fibreboard and MDF are often used. Much like softwoods, the quality doesn’t match hardwood equivalents, but this is offset by being significantly cheaper.
What is solid wood furniture?Solid wood furniture is fashioned from only solid pieces of wood, without any veneers being applied. Alternatively, furniture can be made with a combination of a ‘base’ composite material and a veneer on top. This veneer could be natural wood or man-made.
Are veneers necessarily a bad thing?
Certainly not, and actually some high-end designer furniture is veneered.
The benefits of veneered furniture are:
- On very rare occasions, solid wood furniture can be prone to warping and splitting, especially when exposed to heat or sunlight. Veneered furniture won’t suffer these same issues.
- Equally, veneered furniture is less susceptible to water damage, or indeed heat damage from such things as hot mugs being placed on a coffee table, or oven dishes being placed on a dining table.
- Solid wood furniture can require some occasional maintenance over the years – for example, it may need oil to be reapplied if it becomes dry, to ensure it stays protected. Veneered items don’t require this.
- Veneered furniture can be shaped and designed in ways that solid wood can’t be.
- It’s also usually cheaper.
- Finally, it’s often better for the environment, as fewer trees are felled.
So which is best – solid wood or veneered furniture?The simple answer is neither. Both have their merits and potential drawbacks and so it’s purely a matter of personal preference and budget.
What are the most popular types of wooden furniture?
1) Oak furniture
Oak is perhaps the nation’s most popular choice, especially at the higher quality end of the furniture market. As with many of the other styles featured here, there are a number of different variants of oak furniture, from light to dark, and traditional to modern.
- Advantages: As a hardwood, the quality of oak furniture is generally good. Most oak ranges will also coordinate well and blend in with a variety of room styles.
- Disadvantages: There are very few drawbacks associated with oak, other than perhaps that it’s so ubiquitous in homes throughout the land that you’ll struggle to make a statement in the room with your new furniture, if indeed that’s what you’re looking to do.
If you’re considering ‘dark wood’ furniture for your home, the chances are that walnut will figure towards the top of your list.
- Advantages: Walnut is an ideal wood to fashion furniture from – it’s a high quality hardwood with a dense grain, which is ideal for producing strong and sturdy pieces. As well as being robust, walnut also looks incredibly sleek and stylish.
- Disadvantages: Dark furniture has the potential to dominate a room, visually. This can be offset by using lighter carpets, wall colours and other furnishings, but the fact remains that it’s not a style of furniture that blends in to the background within a room. Genuine, solid wood walnut furniture is also relatively expensive.
Reclaimed has never been more popular – it usually has an abundance of rustic character, plus reusing wood is great for the environment.
Reclaimed wood has a great many variants – sometimes, to look at it you wouldn’t even know that it’s had a previous life, whereas some timbers look very weathered, which of course just adds to the charm.
- Advantages: Reclaimed wood is very hard-wearing – after all, the timber has already served a purpose such as being a component of an old building or perhaps even part of an old Indian fishing boat. This means that the wood is ideal for creating a sturdy and robust piece of furniture. With most reclaimed wood having a distressed look, it also means that if you do accidently dent or scratch it whilst moving house, or during day-to-day living, it won’t visually affect the piece in the same way that perhaps it would with a more refined wood choice, like walnut or mahogany.
- Disadvantages: Reclaimed often has a distressed look and a coarse feel to the wood, which doesn’t suit all tastes. Also, as it’s a style that’s very much in fashion at the moment, it usually isn’t much cheaper than ‘new wood’ furniture.
The rustic look originates from centuries past and this heritage helps to explain why it’s often a choice for homes in the modern day. That said, nowadays rustic furniture itself has a variety of sub-styles, from the traditional ‘farmhouse’ look, to more contemporary reclaimed and parquet designs.
- Advantages: Much the same as reclaimed, the very nature of rustic usually dictates that it’s hardwearing and robust, and it’s able to more easily conceal a few knocks and scratches. It’s also a style that blends well with a variety of decors.
- Disadvantages: Certainly not the cheapest of options – as it’s very much in vogue, prices can often reflect this.
Scandi furniture came to prominence in the 1960s and 1970s and has remained a favourite within modern homes ever since.
- Advantages: Very much down to personal taste, but converts love the style, advocating that it brings a very fresh and contemporary look to the home. Scandi furniture is also usually designed with ergonomics and practicality in mind.
- Disadvantages: It’s a style that sets the agenda for the décor of the rest of the room – if the furniture’s Scandi then, to ensure there’s coordination, other elements should also have a contemporary look. It’s also a little more slimline and delicate than some other furniture types and so not as suitable for families with young children.
The fusion of wood and metal gives industrial furniture a unique, raw and rugged look. It’s a style that is inspired by a bygone era and yet is also considered very contemporary. In the past couple of years a softer variant has also evolved, leading to more and more households adding elements of industrial to their homes for the first time.
- Advantages: It’s very sturdy, robust and hard-wearing furniture. Industrial is fashionable but unlikely to lose that status anytime soon, meaning that you can buy today with confidence that it will still be a relevant style for years to come.
- Disadvantages: The look certainly isn’t for everyone, plus having industrial furniture will require a commitment to coordinate other elements of the room to match the furniture. It’s also usually more expensive than most.
7) Mango wood
The popularity of mango wood furniture is growing, and rightly so. Many would say that mango has a richer and more diverse wood grain than similar styles, such as oak.
- Advantages: As a hardwood, it’s highly suitable for producing high quality furniture. Sustainability is another huge plus point – mango trees become difficult to harvest after 7 to 15 years and when they’re cut down the wood is reused, often for furniture.
- Disadvantages: Not a type of wood that’s as widely available as some, which can push demand and prices up.
An extremely popular choice, especially if you’re looking for ‘real wood’ furniture without a hefty price tag.
- Advantages: It’s cheaper than most other types of wooden furniture and there’s plenty of choice when it comes to ranges available.
- Disadvantages: Unlike most of the other types featured here, Pine is a softwood, and so the quality and longevity won’t match hardwood pieces.
Painted furniture is an ever-popular choice for households throughout the UK.
- Advantages: A great way to coordinate furniture with other elements of a room’s décor.
- Disadvantages: Good quality furniture will often outlast a décor. If you have, for example, grey furniture, you’re either committed to a similar décor again, or you’ll need to prematurely change the furniture. That said, the quality of painted furniture can vary, and is sometimes quite poor at the cheaper end of the market.
A very traditional dark wood choice that’s never gone out of fashion, mahogany furniture has an elegance that few can match.
- Advantages: As another member of the hardwood furniture family, it’s strong furniture that will last for many years. It also has a very stylish and majestic look.
- Disadvantages: The dark wood will impose itself upon a room and therefore the décor will need to be in keeping with this. It’s also one of the most expensive choices of wood, which may not suit some budgets.