Textures And Veneers

■HERE are two characteristics of modern construction and enrichment referred to in Chapter Seven which need further development: textures and veneers, including inlays. First, we need to know more of the little-understood subject of textures. While we may follow faithfully all characteristics heretofore considered, the product may be disliked—its beauty lacking perfection through failure to understand how to manipulate textural treatment.


There are two inlets through which we receive impressions of beauty in the creative structure: (1) the sense of sight by which the image of the piece of furniture, its proportions, balance, plasticity, rhythm, tonal and color qualities are judged; and (2) the sense of touch, transmitting the "feel" or texture of the surfaces to the brain. Thus the optical and tactile senses operating together give the impression through which we evaluate the art qualities of the design.

Sight perception is recognized in its relation to seeing beauty, but we are just beginning to appreciate the impressions delivered by those sensitive media, the fingers. Everyone has noticed the tendency of people to touch surfaces, to run the fingers lightly over planes and edges. Museums are filled with "Do not touch" signs to curb this prevalent tendency.

The modern designer must create his designs in the language of his material. He believes that gilding, painting, heavily carving and twisting wood is not its design language. He believes in the innate beauty of wood—it has the eye ap-

peal; if correctly handled, it appeals to the touch; while certain woods appeal to the sense of smell.

We are now beginning to know that a great deal of pleasure is derived from contact with pleasing surfaces and curves, and to appreciate them through the tactile sensation, through the touch. An experienced wood craftsman often gauges perfection of craftsmanship as final by rubbing his fingers along lines or over the surface of a board.

Due to their textural grains, woods have different feels; and, as there is a tendency to use bare surfaces minus filler or stains, similarly textured woods must be combined and correctly used. The finish of surfaces is equally important. Cheaply shellacked, sticky surfaces, or sticky wax, always destroys pleasing impressions, even in well-designed furniture. Glossy varnished and shiny, unvarnished finishes are disliked. Old furniture, with its finish secured by ages of use. gives one of the most attractive of tactile sensations.

Thus the modern designer avoids fillers in favor of finishes which retain, unchanged, the textures of the natural wood and the beauty of the material. Oiled and rubbed finishes are recommended, and even spraying with lacquer. On rare occasions, staining is permissible, provided it does not alter the texture or pattern of the wood grain.

For illustrative purposes, plane and finish some samples of nonporous or soft wood, such as pine, spruce, fir or cedar, and some porous or hard woods, like oak, walnut, mahogany, gum, maple, birch, or beech. Rub the fingers lightly over these surfaces and make a scale of the rough and smooth, arranging them from rough to smooth.

Compare the textural feel of the following veneers or solid woods: knotty pine and macawood, harewood and croton mahogany, flat-cut walnut and rosewood, oak and bird's-eye maple. Which harmonize in texture? Oil and rub the surfaces and check results with the naturally surfaced woods.

Cabinet woods should be left as near the natural finish as possible, avoiding finishes which tend to obliterate or to unduly exaggerate the grain. The object of the finish is to protect the wood from checking, shrinking, warping, insects, and decay—in other words, (1) to prevent moisture absorption, (2) to keep the color of any possible stain permanent, and (3) to bring out the best possible texture.

Thus, poor craftsmanship, as chisel and plane marks, rough sandpaper marks, lumps of glue, nail holes, and gummy, sticky varnish, are deadly menaces to fine texture.

Texture Harmony

Texture harmony is a key point of good enrichment; there must be a consistent textural feeling between the articles of furniture in the room and the setting.

Rough-textured walls and a brick fireplace call for the "feel" of coarse-textured wood, such as oak; while the fabrics should be similarly of rough texture with base-metal accessories, as iron, pewter and copper, and the color schemes harmonize with the textural pattern of the room.

Our comparative study of textures has contacted smooth-textured woods, such as mahogany, walnut, and others, with a satiny touch response. Furniture with this texture naturally goes with smooth walls, enamelled or painted trim, china, damasks, and silk; while light, clear tones, such as yellow or white, are desirable.

Other textures, neither satin smooth nor rough, may be used to soften the roughness of oak and the slickness of the clear-grained woods. Never combine in one piece of furniture woods of distinctly different texture. Depend upon your sense of touch, which is a reliable guide to harmony in textural surface enrichment.

Watch the experienced craftsman in wood; you will see his sensitive fingers rather than his eyes estimating both textural and form perfection.

Textures in Plastics and Metal

Many individuals like the feel of wood. It seems warm, mellow, and pleasant. The tactile reaction to a freshly planed, soft pine board is almost always pleasing, while to some the harder texture of new oak work is less satisfactory. Possibly this explains why old, hand-polished oak is much more mellow to the touch.

Strongly contrasting to this is the highly functional metal furniture. To some people, its feel is chilling and far from homelike; but, in offices, it no longer presents these objections. There is less antagonism to scratch-brushed surfaces than there is to the highly polished chromium plate, while the introduction of textiles for seats seems to make the textures more pleasing. Possibly the textural contrast between the metal and textiles gives a pleasing reaction.

Regarding plastics, people seem to like hard, polished surfaces as in bakelite, while other plastics which appear soapy in texture or slightly sticky are less liked.

Thus, it is readily seen how important the subtle but nonetheless imperative question of the tactile approach to beauty is becoming, particularly in modern design, with its increasingly large array of new materials.

As a final suggestion with regard to textures, we refer to that functionalism which must govern all questions of textural appropriateness. A piece of furniture intended for the kitchen has a different function from a design intended for the living room, while school furniture differs from that intended for the dining room. On occasion, paint must cover wood, metal must replace veneers; but no matter where the article functions, its texture in every part must be pleasing to the touch, appropriate to its use, and as durable as is inherent in the particular material used in its construction.


The second characteristic of modern construction and enrichment referred to in Chapter Seven is the use of veneers.

As a form of enrichment, it falls under Mode 3, the embellishment of plain surfaces. The so-called "stripped architecture" is now appearing with enrichment; the soap-box design has departed; designers are turning to lighter, more attractive forms. Nothing has contributed so much to beauty in design than has the use of veneers, but their use in both construction and design needs justification.

Let us say that wherever it is possible, solid wood construction is the preferred method; but, under the following circumstances, veneering is justified.

Many people have a deeply rooted prejudice against veneering, regarding its use as a sham and a device for covering up inferior and cheap wood. Irresponsible salesmen have sold furniture, claiming it to be solid material, which later on turned out to be veneered, still further increasing the popular prejudice against its use.

These criticisms arise through attempts to misrepresent materials. Good veneered work must always show just what it is, and why it is used.

Moreover, heavy, brittle woods, due to their physical qualities, cannot be used except in the form of veneering. Furthermore, matched patterns of unusual beauty can be formed by veneers—patterns impossible to develop in solid material. As pottery is glazed to cover the raw surface of the biscuit and increase its beauty, so veneer may legitimately be used for the same purposes over cheaper, unattractively textured woods. Often veneered construction is really much better than the solid; less liable to warp and split.

Veneer Patterns

An endless variety of patterns may be developed by veneers, suitable for entire pieces of furniture or for details on table tops, drawer fronts, etc. In commercial practice, plain, less expensive veneer is placed on the side of furniture usually turned away from the spectator. As many pieces of modern furniture are to be seen and used from all sides, this practice cannot always be followed.

Without entering into detailed description of the preparation of veneers, two types may be mentioned: sawed and sliced veneers, with the latter usually preferred. The standard thickness of the sliced veneer is one eighth of an inch. Veneers more commonly used fall into three classes: cross-banding, plain unfigured, and face veneers. Face veneers are selected for their beauty of color, markings, and texture.

The grain markings show pleasing variations, from the straight and broken stripes to the swirl of the burl and crotch patterns. The price ranges are extensive; while different cuts of the same wood often vary surprisingly, depending upon factors described in the previous paragraph. As an illustration, maple has three figures: curly, blister, and bird's-eye, with varying prices. Beginners are urged to confine first attempts to the commoner, more pliable, and less brittle veneers; although modern designers seek the beauty inherent in rare woods.

Cores or backing may be formed of plywood or lumber which does not warp to a marked degree. Cross-banding is a sort of inexpensive base of veneer, placed between the core and the finish.

The main principle in pattern forming is the creation of a symmetrical or asymmetrical design composed of matched veneers, although there is a growing tendency away from matched stock. Typical methods of matching are found in the Figure 77 group, Plate 10. Figure 77A, side to side match-

Surface Enrichment by Veneering

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