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Solid or Veneer, Oh Dear!

Recently, a customer asked me about a teak credenza in the shop. It went something like this:

CUSTOMER: “Beautiful piece! It’s solid teak, right?”

ME: “Nope, it’s veneer, with solid teak handles and a few solid teak parts.”

CUSTOMER: “Oh! Really?”

ME: “Yes. 90% of Danish teak furniture is veneer.”

CUSTOMER: “Oh”. (sad face)

What I should have said then was “Turn that frown upside down, lovely customer! No need to be sad about veneer!” – but unfortunately, I was low on my daily dose of caffeine and somewhat high on varnish fumes and the ol’ brain just wasn’t working that fast. So now, with ample caffeine and no varnish fumes to be found, I am writing a blog post about everything you wanted to know about teak veneer furniture but was afraid to ask.:)

Let’s start with a basic truth: *MOST* Danish teak furniture is a veneer over other hardwood/plywood/particle board – and by “most” I mean 90% of mid century pieces. And by pieces, I mean those with large surfaces – tables, credenzas, etc. (chairs are always solid wood because the pieces used to make them are small). Indeed, there were a few large solid pieces produced by designers like Peter Hvidt and Finn Juhl, but the vast majority of designers (including those considered “high end”) used teak veneers. Why oh why did they do that?

Well – a number of reasons. In the 1950s, particle board was new and innovative. It presented a versatility to furniture manufacturers not previously available – now they could avoid issues often seen with solid wood, like warping and separation. Particle board stayed flat, and and it wouldn’t crack like solid wood potentially could. From a design perspective, beautiful patterns could now be created with book-matched veneers, a look which has become synonymous with mid century Danish furniture. Was it less expensive? Sure it was. But it was used because manufacturers and designers rightfully believed it was superior, or at least as good as, solid wood.

Having said all that, there are many more solid wood pieces to be found from North American manufacturers of the era. Solid maple, cherry, and oak can be found in Canadian and American designs, and I can tell you from experience that most times, there are cracks and separations to be filled. However, the bonus is that they can be sanded until the cows come home, without the danger of exposing plywood/particle board, as with veneer (although mid century veneers are much thicker than modern ones).

So how do you know which pieces are solid wood, and which ones are veneer? The good news is that it’s usually pretty easy to tell! Solid pieces will have a continuous grain right over the edges; meaning the grain you see on the surface, curves and continues over the edge of the piece. If the piece is a table, look underneath to see if the grain matches the grain on the top – if it is an exact match, it’s solid – but use caution: many Danish manufacturers veneered both the top and underside of a table, so it can be tricky to tell the difference. You can also look at the edges of the table – if they are finished with strips or pieces of solid teak, then the main surface area is almost definitely veneer. Manufacturers used solid teak at the edges of a table to hide the end of the veneer and the substrate on which it was glued – so this is almost always a tell-tale sign. And of course, if there is a mirrored, book-matched pattern of grain across a large surface, it can only be created with veneer; pieces lacking this mirrored look are quite possibly solid wood, which uses separate pieces of wood pressed together side by side, thus creating a non-repeating grain.

Be aware that many, many times I have seen teak furniture described as “solid teak” on Craigslist and other resale sites, and I can tell from one glance that it is veneer. I believe the seller is not intentionally misleading anyone, but has been lead to believe that all pieces from the era are “solid wood” – this is a common and typically innocent misconception, which highlights the importance of knowing what you’re looking at before handing over your cash.

The bottom line is that when it comes to veneer or solid wood, one is not better than the other; both have advantages and disadvantages. In my humble opinion, the most important aspect to consider when purchasing a piece is, does it speak to you? Is it aesthetically pleasing? Will it work with your other furniture? And of course, from a technical perspective, it’s good to confirm that the piece is in excellent working order as well as structurally sound. Solid or veneer, a mid century furniture piece is a great investment, and will bring you enjoyment for many years to come.:)

A pictorial review of what we’ve learned:veneer-vs-solid-2veneer-vs-solid-1

josh lathamJanuary 29, 2015 - 6:14 am

Well said !! Great info !

Boxing Day(s) SALE! 50% off Vintage Lamps, Art, Jewelry, and More!

boxing-days-saleThe Fab Pad is having a huge Boxing Day(s) Sale! All mid century vintage lamps, art, and jewelry will be 50% off for THREE DAYS ONLY – December 26, 27, 28. Open 12pm-7pm on Fri, 12pm-6pm Sat/Sun.

There will also be major reductions on select furniture:

Johannes Andersen coffee table, completely refinished, Royal Copenhagen tiles, 1960s – $495 (original price $995)

Peter Hvidt/Orla Molgaard-Nielsen Folding Solid Teak Side Table, refinished, a rare designer piece! – $895 (original price $1595)

Tarm Stole Solid Teak Sofa, new upholstery, foam, and webbing, 1960s – $1095 (original price $1795)

Solid Elm Matching Side Tables, refinished, made in Canada, 1950s – $295 / pair (original price $495)

Set of 4 Danish Teak Chairs by ArtFurn, reupholstered, interesting and unusual design details, 1960s – $495 / set of 4 (original price $695)

There will also be special prices on overstock pieces – retro stool, $10, teak coffee table by Trioh, $40, all Christmas ornaments 50% off, and more!!

Lamp-a-Licious

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There are few decor pieces that can add a huge amount of style in a relatively small size, but lamps are one of those items! Vintage lamps, particularly those from the mid century, range from the gaudy to the bizarre to the artistic and breathtaking. Mid century design can be credited with creating lamps that are now icons, like the infamous “Artichoke” lamp by Danish designer Poul Henningsen, or the topsy-turvy designs of the Majestic Lamp Company of New York. Much as we recognize an Eames lounge chair, a well designed vintage lamp can be just as iconic.Gorgeous sculptural solid walnut lamps, with beautiful detailing and original fiberglass shades! An exceptional pair! $250 / pair SOLD!

Here at the Fab Pad, we’ve had the opportunity to showcase a plethora of different vintage lamps. For myself, I’m particularly fond of sculpted ceramic lamps, the crazier the better! There are never two exactly the same, and the glazes are often colourful and textured, a visual feast for the eyes. I also have a secret affliction for the kitschy TV lamps of the 1950s, especially those featuring panthers and with a space for a planter.;)Fabulous ceramic TV lamp featuring that mid century icon, the mallard duck, complete with planter! Made in Van Nuys, California, early 1950s. $125

On the other end of the spectrum, we’ve had beautiful, simple Scandinavian teak lamps here as well. These pieces depend on the simplicity of their design and the richness of the teak wood to create striking, elegant pieces. Serving up a similar aesthetic, the ever-popular arc lamp also offers clean lines and good design, while still being functional.Fabulous yellow metal art lamp with swivel shade. An awesome statement piece! $175 SOLD!Back to kitsch again – we have the unmistakeably retro ceramic lamp with multi-tiered fiberglass shade. These beauties are getting harder and harder to find, particularly with their original fiberglass shades intact. Influenced by the space race, a new design genre was created which is now referred to as “atomic.” Perhaps no other piece of furniture exemplifies atomic better than the lamps of that time. With these lamps, designers let their imaginations run wild! Ceramic molds allowed shapes of all kinds, as well as colours befitting the atomic look, while the addition of chrome and brass pieces added the industrial edge needed to complete the atomic look. The results was lamps that resembled rockets, planets with orbiting moons, and of course, UFOs.Restored Miller ceramic lamp, made in 1953. Rewired, relaced shade, and fresh paint will ensure this piece lasts another 60 years! $125Finally, a well-chosen lamp can add just the right amount of retro to your decor. The variety is literally endless, so come by The Fab Pad and pick your favourite!

The Evolution of a Mid Century Sofa

099_mid-century-vancouverFor nearly a year, “Grover,” as this sofa is affectionately known, languished in my storage locker – propped against concrete walls, sandwiched between vintage art and teak table tops. Patiently, Grover waited for the day he would be restored to his original 1960s glory. Dear Grover, that day has come.:)

When I originally picked up this poor, beat to hell overly-loved sofa, I have to admit – I had no idea of it’s provenance. I only knew that I instantly loved it’s fabulous mid century styling – the low curved seat, the equally curvy back, the nubby little walnut arms – and I had to have it. It was only months later, upon closer examination and research, I realized it was a design of American furniture genius, Adrian Pearsall. This sofa was his model 2010-S, an incredibly rare piece he made for his Pennsylvania-based manufacturing company, Craft Associates. Possibly one of Pearsall’s most iconic and best-selling designs is the “gondola” sofa, of which there are several variations, all reflecting the innate long and tapered look of the Venetian boat. By contrast, for whatever reason the 2010-S was not a huge seller at it’s inception (according to my correspondence with Jim Pearsall, Adrian Pearsall’s son); and thus today, there are apparently no current examples of this model. Oddly, the matching chair known as the 1717-RC, evidently did quite well as there are plenty to be found online. Despite hours of Googling, I was unable to find any reference to the 2010-S, save for the original catalog page (shown below). Indeed, Grover was as rare as a snowstorm in the Sahara.

With this new-found knowledge of Grover’s provenance, I was even more inspired to restore this exceptional piece in a way that might make Adrian Pearsall proud. I took the sofa to my upholsterers extraordinaire, Brighouse Upholstery in Richmond – they’ve been in business since the days when this sofa was just a twinkle in Pearsall’s eye, and the fine craft of upholstery has been passed down through the family ever since. Thinking they had seen everything, when I delivered Grover I was amused that his derelict state was still able to elicit a chuckle from the brother/sister duo who run the shop. They certainly had their work cut out for them.

Below you can see a couple of photos showing the various stages of Grover’s resurrection. The curved frame (which I was told would be extremely expensive and difficult to construct today), was built in a sandwich style to hold the webbing in place. After 50+ years of exposure to air and probably pot smoke (hey, it was the ’60s, after all), the original webbing had sagged completely and become about as crispy as a potato chip. The foam had begun to disintegrate, and of course the fuzzy fabric showed that many derrieres had sat upon Grover over the decades. Possibly most heinous of all, the original walnut legs with casters had been replaced with ghastly block legs, reminiscent in shape to a country outhouse – and similarly coloured.

And so, the work began! Grover was stripped of his moldy old skin, dusty innards, and brittle entrails, and bit by bit, was made anew. You can see in the photos below one of the most important stages, replacing the webbing. This isn’t just any old webbing, this is the primo stuff – Pirelli rubber (yes, the tire manufacturer). Next came high quality foam, and what I’m guessing were hundreds, probably thousands of upholstery staples, followed by the brand new freshy-fresh upholstery fabric (which I spent entirely too much time selecting). Grover’s T-Rex-like stubby walnut arms were detached from their wood dowels for refinishing, and vintage wood was sourced to create new legs closer to the originals.

Finally, it all came together: the arms were re-attached, as were the legs. It was at this point we decided to make a slight change to the original design and forgo the caster wheels on the legs. In the 1960s, this was certainly practical – wheels made it easy for Betty Draper-esque housewives to move these beasts around for vacuuming the carpet, which graced nearly every room of the typical 1960s home. However, today many households have opted for hardwood or laminate, so casters are no longer necessary and probably even a bit dangerous. So plain legs it was! The requisite six tufted buttons were also added to the seat, and with that, the transformation was nearly complete.

Lastly – the toss cushions. Yet another fabric decision, but fortunately this one was easy. Brighouse Upholstery, having been around since the ’60s and having an especially thrifty matriarch in charge, have a wonderful stock of *new* vintage material. From this selection I chose a funky flowered print in coordinating tones to the sofa, combined with retro chocolate brown and burnt orange. The pillows now have two sides: one with the groovy retro print, the other with the matching sofa fabric.

This evolution has been an interesting and fun process, as well as a fascinating insight into the construction and craftsmanship of mid century furniture. Sometimes I like to imagine what Pearsall was thinking when he designed this piece: was he inspired by the curves of the Lehigh River in Pennsylvania, where he designed and built his own home? Or maybe, as a trained architect, his inspiration came from the grand gothic arches of old Penn Station in his native New York? Whatever it was, his brilliant creativity lead to some of the best designs of the mid century, and I am honoured to have the opportunity to restore this amazing piece and present it in my store.

If you would like to purchase this sofa and have your very own Pearsall, it is available for $3195. It measures 86″L x 37″D x 29″H.

The original Craft Associates catalog page showing the 2010-S sofa.

The original Craft Associates catalog page showing the 2010-S sofa.

 

Poor Grover in his derelict state. :(

Poor Grover in his derelict state. :(

 

Not pretty.

Not pretty.

 

The stuff of mid century nightmares.

The stuff of mid century nightmares.

 

The top is done!

The top is done!

 

That fabulous Pirelli webbing!

That fabulous Pirelli webbing!

 

Almost there! No arms, no legs, no button tufts, and no pillows - but the worst is over, yay!

Almost there! No arms, no legs, no button tufts, and no pillows – but the worst is over, yay!

 

Finally finished! Grover is all settled in at his new (temporary) home at The Fab Pad!

Finally finished! Grover is all settled in at his new (temporary) home at The Fab Pad!

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RosalindaJuly 30, 2014 - 8:37 pm

This is incredible. Great eye!

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