Experts reveal the upcoming veneer trends for woodworking markets.

What's hot and what's not in veneers? Wood & Wood Products queried the experts to get their take on the latest veneer trends. Their findings might surprise you.

According to many, the veneer rising fastest in popularity does not come from a "traditional" wood species, but rather bamboo. The popularity of this veneer, they say, has been surprisingly strong.

"I think bamboo is on the radar in veneers because people are interested in using it on the walls to match what's on the floor," says Peter Rogers, president and owner of Michigan-based Oakwood Veneer Co.

"We weren't carrying bamboo veneer three years ago and didn't really think of it, but we brought it in because of customer inquiries and now it's a big seller," says Jim Carroll, salesman at New York-based Certainly Wood. "[Today] you see bamboo veneer everywhere, in floors, walls and furniture.

"It's become popular as a renewable resource but also because people like the look of it," Carroll adds. "It comes in light or carmel tones and has color variations. Some people laying up sheets are putting together patterns using the darker and lighter tones."

Rick Banas, vice president at Interwood Forest Products Inc. in Kentucky, also notes the increasing popularity of bamboo, particularly in the last few years. "It has taken off well and the usage is getting more widespread, from furniture to paneling and architectural millwork in addition to flooring," Banas says. "People like the fact that it grows fast, replenishes itself and is sustainable. Bamboo has a character all its own and you can't compare it to any other species."

Perennial and Fad Favorites

While some veneers seem to be eternally popular, others continue to cycle in and out of style. Tops among the continued favorites, as well as the cyclical ones, are the darker colored veneers.

"Anigre, mahogany and cherry have been popular for the past 30 years," said Banas, "and they continue to be strong. They're used in a variety of ways, including furniture and architectural installations.

"Among the woods we see making a strong ‘comeback' recently are ebonies and rosewoods, like Santos rosewood," Banas adds. "We also see African mahogany and other sub-species like sipo and makore becoming increasingly popular."

Myles Gilmore, owner of Oregon-based Gilmore Wood Co., also notes the trend cycling to the darker woods. His company deals mainly with the hard-to-find veneers, including amboyna burl and thuya burl. "We cater to a small segment of the veneer market, but another popular look with clients is Brazilian rosewood."

Two woods on almost everyone's hot list are walnut — an old favorite — and wenge. "Walnut is definitely coming back," says Jeff Vaida, owner of JFV Designs Inc. in Orlando, FL. "Walnut is available, it's cost effective and we never have quality issues the way we sometimes do when people want cherry and maple."

Rogers says walnut is also one of his big sellers, in addition to maple, cherry and red oak. "Walnut is definitely back in style. It's one of those woods that has been in and out and in and out and this is probably the third time I've seen it cycle back in style."

Carroll agrees that walnut is a resurging species. "Our thought is that with so much trouble getting reliable supplies of Central and South American mahogany, a lot of folks have turned to walnut as an alternative. We are seeing the same thing with teak," Carroll says.

"Our customers are using walnut for interiors, kitchens, residential and furniture in addition to strictly architectural uses," Carroll continues. "We have seen a swing from the light tones to more middle and dark tones. We still sell things like anigre and fiddleback sycamore, for example, but nowhere near the amount as we sold a few years ago. Really dark woods like wenge and middle-tones like eucalyptus and tropical olive or Mozambique are popular."

According to Carroll and others, another up and coming mid-toned wood is figured red gum. "We are seeing it used for furniture and also residential installation work," Carroll says. "Some are pushing the domestic figured red gum as a kind of pinch hitter for European walnut, which is in shorter supply relative to figured red gum. They are not saying it is French walnut, but both woods have interesting colors, often two and three colors in a sheet."

Cam Gantz, also of Interwood Forest Products, says the growing use of wenge, ebony and mahogany underscores the popularity of the darker colored species.

"If you go to a furniture store, you don't see white furniture. You see dark brown and honey-toned finishes. From a fashion standpoint, darker seems to be in," Gantz says.

Vaida too, notes the popularity of wenge in today's market. "I think people like that mocha color and the real coarse, open grain. We have also put the wenge color on walnut and oak. The dark look is a desirable color. I put wenge flooring into my home," said Vaida, "because I wanted a dark floor. I thought of staining a lighter wood, but went with wenge."

"We also sell a lot of wenge, quartered sapele and makore," adds Rogers. "In addition to sapele and makore, we are seeing demand for bird's eye and curly maple, so it's not all about dark woods."

A Dramatic Touch

Also popular for adding a touch of drama to a room or piece are burls and crotches, used alone or as a contrast.

Vaida says walnut burl is perhaps the most popular with his clients, although he has had requests recently for redwood burl.

"It has what we call a muscle fiber to it, a very distinct contrast which makes for a unique look when it's finished. We have developed some finishing methods when we color it, where we get a look unique to redwood. If you understand the finish techniques and get a handle on them, you can get some truly beautiful effects out of redwood and redwood burl."

However, he adds, the walnut burl "is cost effective and offers a nice contrast in colors. We often like to work with veneer from the same species, such as using a walnut burl as a highlight and quartered walnut as the ‘backdrop.'

"It is kind of like the relationship between a suit and tie. With veneer we are staying in the same species so we have the same color palette, but we are playing with patterns, like putting a paisley tie with a pinstripe suit. The suit is the backdrop and the tie is the burl. It is bold and dynamic," Vaida adds.

He cites a recent project in which quarter cut walnut was used on the paneled wall, with the desk or credenza in walnut burl. "Walnut burl is so beautiful and it has many colors. With burl you have the real dark, the middle and the light that's often the blonde around the edges. When you use all three you can get some really cool patterns," Vaida says.

Another trend noted by Vaida, Banas and others is for horizontal grain applications, particularly in the kitchen arena. Typical species used in this application are wenge, walnut and ipe.

"Rather than grains going vertically, the horizontal grain application is becoming popular," Vaida says. "It is a look that began in Europe with high-end kitchen manufacturers like Poggenpohl. It's amazing what just a subtle change in grain direction does."

Domestics Gaining Ground

Also worthy of note, Gilmer says, is a move toward domestic species. "We have seen some of our exotic veneer customers going to domestic woods. Part of it is they are looking for more sustainable woods."

In addition to cost, familiarity is also helping to spur the popularity of domestics. Vaida says that many of his clients come in knowing three words: maple, cherry and oak. "We try to educate them on the variety of choices available in woods and veneer. Sometimes a client says cherry when they really are looking for a color rather than a species. I show them what's available in that color family if they are looking for reds."

Vaida's work is not all dark and medium tones. He's recently done work with quartered oak, a wood he describes as very soothing from a distance, "almost like bamboo that way."

This reception area is a perfect example of the dramatic touches veneers can bring to a setting. The desk features a madrone burl face, accented by a border of quarter cut fiddle anigre. Photo courtesy of JFV Designs Inc.
An example of the popularity of darker colored veneers, this conference desk features block mottle makore, highlighted by sapele between two ebony string inlays.

Photo courtesy of JFV Designs Inc.
Rosewood Walnut

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