- 19 April 2017
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We spend hours picking out just the right furniture for our living spaces; we consider comfort, size, shape, and — perhaps most of all — the material. Would the living room feel more cozy with a leather or fabric sofa? Would I prefer working at an oak or mahogany desk? Furniture is the everlasting staple of interior design, with seemingly endless forms and functions, built out of a great many materials.
For furniture makers, considering and assessing the varieties of materials — each with its own unique benefits and attributes — is part and parcel of the challenges and successes of furniture manufacturing.
The increasing demand for new products, combined with broad consumer preferences, in the furniture market has resulted in a vast array of furniture materials. From wood to metal, each one has its own distinct features that make it unique.
Wood is an incredibly versatile and popular furniture material. Not only are there plenty of types to choose from, but wood is also a renewable and sustainable organic resource.
Furniture has been used since ancient times, and the materials used in its creation are traditionally reflected in the type of trees found in the area. As global trade has grown, furniture made from wood of all varieties can now be found just about anywhere in the world. Wood remains in high demand and value, especially as artificial and inorganic materials are introduced into the furniture manufacturing process.
- Cedar – Native to the area of Turkey and Lebanon, cedar is reddish in color and sweet smelling. It’s often used to make chests, blinds, closets, and other similar pieces.
- Cherry – Found through most of Europe, and some parts of Asia and Africa, cherry is a hardwood that’s very resistant to warping and shrinking. Known for its red color, this wood is commonly used to make cabinets and other solid furniture.
- Chestnut – Chestnut is native to the Northern Hemisphere, and comes in many varieties. Chestnut is usually harvested in its earlier years, and goes on to become small durable outdoor furniture, or barrels.
- Elm – Because it’s flexible and resistant to splitting, elm is frequently used for chair seats and coffins.
- Fir – Fir is a soft, uniform wood that’s not only used to make furniture, but also to create doors and interior housing trim.
- Hemlock – Hemlock is lightweight and rarely produces knots. Because it’s uniform in texture, it’s a good choice for creating pieces that require large panels.
- Lime – Lime is pale yellow in color, takes stain well, and darkens as it ages. You’ll often find it used to create delicate and intricately carved pieces.
- Mahogany – Mahogany is durable and very water resistant; a classic choice for cabinets, tables, and dressers.
- Maple – Maple is finely textured, light in color, and very strong. This wood is popular for fine furniture with hard wearing surfaces.
- Oak – Oak is a durable and pliable wood, commonly used to make desks.
- Pine – Pine is a soft, uniform, and widely-used wood. Pine is a common choice when mass producing furniture.
- Redwood – A light and durable wood that is a deep pink color, redwood is usually chosen for outdoor furniture.
- Rosewood – Rosewood is a dark red-brown color, and is difficult to finish. You’ll often see rosewood used to make musical instruments and ornate, high-quality pieces of furniture.
- Spruce – This wood is easy to finish, but not as durable as some others. Strong for its weight, spruce is a common material for benches and boxes.
- Teak – Teak is a moisture-resistant hardwood, often used for furniture, home, and ship-building.
- Walnut – Dark and strong, walnut is a good choice for solid and veneered furniture.
There are multiple types of artificial wood; the most common include chipboard, plywood, and medium-density fibreboard (MDF). Because plywood sheets are very strong, they’re often used in furniture structure and then covered with upholstery, or encased in laminate or a veneer. Chipboard is just what it sounds like — boards made of actual wood chips. Similarly to plywood, this artificial wood is often used to build the furniture structure, and then covered with a laminate or wood veneer for a classy aesthetic. MDF is made from compressed powdered wood. MDF is soft and pliable, making it easy to sand and finish.
Glass that has been heated and rapidly cooled is much more structurally durable than regular glass — it can be bent and curved to create unique pieces of furniture. Glass provides a beautiful and minimalistic way to create furniture that is classy, transparent, and easily cleaned. Similar to the glass look, acrylic materials are also finding their way into popularity — and are up to 17 times as strong, and half as thick as their glass counterparts.
Plastic furniture is becoming more popular over time, as it comes in a vast array of options and makes mass-produced furniture a simple task. It can be molded into any form, and is lightweight and cheap to manufacture. You’ll often see it as the material for simple furniture pieces, outdoor furniture, or for reusable commercial purposes. Plastic is naturally water resistant, but less durable than other materials (such as wood) — its value comes from its affordability and versatility.
Steel is a very common material used in furniture manufacturing. This metal is durable, flexible, resilient, and lightweight — and it can often be found in furniture created for classrooms, office buildings, and hospitals. Because it can be formed into any shape, it’s also a common choice for manufacturing foldable chairs and tables.
Leather is an expensive, but timeless material used in furniture creation. It’s comfortable, pliable, and classic — often used to upholster couches and chairs. Vinyl is sometimes used in place of leather, as a great economical option for furniture, especially in family and dining rooms.
Fabric is one of the most widely used materials in furniture manufacturing. From natural fibers to synthetic ones, fabric can be found in just about any color or texture imaginable. Silk and Linen are generally found in formal uses, because they are delicate and stain easily. Cotton, on the other hand, is very resistant to wear and fading — used for more hearty purposes, or pieces that will see a lot of use. Sturdy and stain-resistant cotton blends are popular for furniture that is family-friendly. Wool is another durable option, frequently blended with synthetic fibers to help reduce the chance of felting. Nylon can be blended with other fibers, to make a strong upholstery fabric, resistant to stains and wrinkling.
As demand increases for new and improved resources, the materials used in furniture manufacturing have become increasingly diverse and innovative. It’s no wonder consumers spend hours picking out furniture — from wood to glass, there’s no shortage of materials to choose from. The variety on the market today has offered the public an endless list of options, to suit every purpose and design taste.