Wood Trends In Furniture

The furniture shows in Southeast Asia confirmed that new trends are few and far between, but recently established trends are developing further.By Michael Buckley in Singapore



One of the most trends notable is the use of high value veneer—partly to upgrade products and also maybe to disguise lower value materialsuch as rubber wood. 


Much of the veneer is sliced in China from imported logs, such as American and European oak, as well as more exotic species such as walnut from the US and a variety of African and south American species.


While some veneer is produced in ASEAN countries, China is the dominant supplier for furniture manufacturers throughout the region and is producing its own ash veneer, popular for staining.


Much of the veneer produced in China is extremely thin—as low as 0.2 mm—and has to be wet laid on substrate boards, as it cannot easily be transported as veneer.  


In many cases, furniture manufacturers using Chinese veneer in Southeast Asia have difficulty in verifying original timber source which can give rise to problems under EUTR and Lacey (USA) when exporting final products. When questioned as to source, it is not unknown for such a manufacture to suggest that the Afromosia on a veneered table has been grown in China.


The use of veneer is linked to another key trend—not new but growing stronger—the increasing use of sapwood as a design feature in furniture. This has the dual benefits of reducing material costs and extending the value of forest resources. 


Different Hardwood Used In Furniture

Sapwood, so often rejected for hardwood furniture in the past, offers designers greater scope in exploiting the uniqueness of wood. Heartwood tends to be uniform, whereas the contrast of heartwood and sapwood can create visual interest not possible with just heartwood.  


Of course, this does depend on the use of species where the differentiation between the two is well defined such as walnut, cherry or tulipwood, but less so in oak. 


New colour trends were not very obvious, except to say that in wood, colours were either very dark or light with little offered in between. 


In Malaysia and elsewhere, walnut, and walnut-coloured (stained) furniture was prevalent, almost all of which was American walnut. 


American walnut is a different species from European walnut which is lighter in colour. Oakfrom the US—stained and natural—remains very popular, especially in Vietnam, but also throughout Asia.


Source Of Most Furniture

Most furniture now produced in Southeast Asia is made from local plantation or imported temperate wood, rather than from Asian tropical forests.  


Indonesia is highly focused on plantation teak and other species from Java, whereas Burmese teak is still almost exclusively harvested from natural forests.  


Indonesia has strong established markets in US, Australia and Europe for its sustainably managed Javanese teak furniture which remains popular; recently further strengthened in Europe by the implementation of its SVLK export licensing agreement with the EU under the FLEGT process.   


Other high value tropical hardwoodsfrom natural forests were largely absent at the shows, but rubberwood, acacia and local species such as mindi and mango wood were well in evidence.  


Rustic-style furniture, some with re-cycled softwoodand hardwood, also appears to continue increasingin availability, which suits many rubberwood furniture producerskeen to disguise their raw material with its narrow laminated strips and finger joints;especially for cabinet fronts and bedheads.  


Wood Trends In Future

The fashion for mixing materials, wood combined with metal, glass and even stone, is now standard and could not be called innovative, but the possibilities of such a melange provides designers with new freedoms. 


However, in so designing, they come to understand that wood is the most joinable material for furniture and fit out, being easy to nail, screw, glue, dovetail, butterfly joint, laminate and press veneer, join with dowels and finish in ways that other materials cannot. 


And the 2017 shows provided ample evidence of that wood advantage, perhaps a reason why over 80 percent of furniture made in Vietnam is wood. 


In Singapore, where the show has become completely international, the wood element seems to have dipped below 50 percent; overtaken by many fossil fuel derivative materials, such as PVC and plastic, as its Furniture Design Awards demonstrated. 


Nevertheless, where wood was dominant in countries such as Indonesia along with rattan,there was not much evidence of any environmental promotion or environmental message about sustainable materials on display in the 2017 furniture shows.


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