There’s nothing more beautiful than furniture made with high quality, exotic wood. The very best wood has its own natural luster, with intricate natural patterns and deep, varied colors, and even a little natural shimmer and shine – no stain needed. But rare woods are becoming increasingly, well, rare – difficult to find and expensive to obtain – and many of the most desirable patterned woods aren’t even suitable for solid construction. Using exotic wood veneers is the ideal solution, because they’re just as beautiful, but less expensive, more flexible, and can be laid over a different kind of solid wood to combine beauty and stability
So what are exotic wood veneers exactly? Basically, instead of turning a log of, say, mahogany into boards of mahogany, the wood is heated and soaked with moisture to make it pliant, then sliced extremely thin, about 1/42 of an inch, to create a smooth, flexible board. Slicing rather than cutting eliminates sawdust waste, and making the boards so thin increases the amount of face material by about 4,000%. This dramatically compounds how much use you can get out of a single piece of wood, and dramatically reduces what you have to pay to get the same beautiful wood look, making a gorgeous mahogany vanity like this Barrister vanity from Sagehill Designs something that an average homeowner can afford.
One of the cool consequences of cutting wood so thin is that, while full sized boards or planks tend to have a lot of variation in grain, a series of several sheets of exotic wood veneers are nearly identical. Because they’re removed so closely together, and with so little waste in between, the pattern from one sheet to the next is almost the same. That means that you can use multiple veneer sheets to create gorgeous symmetrical or radial patterns. Take this Carlton Vanity from Xylem – it uses sequential veneer sheets to create a checked pattern of alternating, symmetrical waves. Plus, because the sheets are so thin and flexible, it’s easier to affix them to a vanity with a curved face like this one without wasting wood by having to shape it.
Veneering became incredibly common during World War II in response to material rationing, and if you have a bad initial reaction to the word “veneer” it probably comes from the products that were manufactured in that period. Because adhesives were also being rationed, it was common for veneers to simply peel off the furniture they were stuck to. These days, though, we have better adhesives and better access to them, so exotic wood veneers are truly bonded to whatever you stick them to, and won’t peel off with time. That means that something like this Burled Walnut Vanity from Legion Furniture isn’t some cheap throw-away piece to tide you over until you can afford the “real thing” – it’s a furniture-quality piece made from the best materials and designed to last a lifetime.
The simplest exotic wood veneers you’ll find take a standard log of an exotic wood like mahogany or cherry, cut it into thin sheets, and then adhere the pliant veneer to a sturdier but less expensive base material, often MDF. This effectively disguises the underlying material as whatever expensive kind of wood you want, giving you the stability of a more solid material, the cost of a cheaper material, and the appearance of a very expensive material. This Oxford Vanity from Avanity combines a solid wood frame with MDF paneling and rich cherry wood veneers, giving the best of all three worlds. It’s also a more eco friendly vanity, because you’re using a waste-free exotic wood veneer, paneling that’s made from salvaged wood scraps (MDF), and only as much sustainably harvested wood as you need to keep it standing.
But exotic wood veneers can also be used not so much to disguise a less expensive material as to highlight the beauty of the material you’re using. This Normandy Vanity from Hardware Resources is made of 100% solid birch through and through, a totally solid wood vanity, but instead of opting for a standard wood grain, it layers the front and side faces with birch burl veneer to give the vanity a more elegant pattern.
There are a couple different kinds of “patterns” that are considered valuable for exotic wood veneers. First and most desirable is the burl. This type of wood is only found in places that a tree has been damaged and grown outward to repair itself – usually in a big, warty-looking bulb near the base of the tree. This material is extremely hard and has an amazing chaotic pattern, plus its own natural shine that you won’t find in most any other kind of wood. But burl wood is not only extremely expensive, it’s also terrible for construction – hard to work with, and not good for supporting weight. Instead, its primary use is in exotic wood veneers. Just seeing it in action on this Legacy Vanity will show you why – the gorgeous pattern and golden shine is all the accent this vanity needs.
Another common pattern in exotic wood veneers is “crotch” wood, which is a v-patterned wood created where a tree has branched into two forks. Again, harder to get your hands on than just a regular piece of wood, and again with an amazing natural ripple pattern that turns your bathroom vanity into a beautiful, antique-quality piece all by itself. This Mount Vernon vanity from Kaco uses the veneers only on the door faces, but the natural simmer and movement of the wood grain bring the whole piece to life.
Finally, veneers can be used for smaller wood accents as well as larger panels or for all-over coverage. This Dorchester Vanity is a great example, with two layers of different patterned veneers cut into different shapes for a sophisticated, furniture-quality finish in a reasonably priced bathroom vanity package. Whether you’re looking to enhance a lesser quality wood, or accent a well-finished, higher quality wood, exotic wood veneers add amazing natural beauty to your bathroom vanities that you can’t fake or replicate, and that won’t cost you an arm and a leg. Are you considering a vanity with exotic wood veneers? Have any more questions I haven’t answered here? Let me know in the comments!