Rethinking Plywood: Cheap Alternative Or Luxury Material?

Operating MSK Design out of my Toronto studio, the aim of my work is to celebrate, and reinvent household contemporary design through proficiency in craft, and an understanding of materiality. I draw from many traditional craft techniques, and work to utilize them in new, innovative ways, and contexts. My intent is a design brand that is idiosyncratic, and bridges the gap between sculptural artisanry, and the vernacular production of everyday objects.

I mostly use hardwoods and metals for my furniture, and I always start designing by asking myself: how can I play these materials to their natural advantages - or perhaps, even their disadvantages? Understanding and being aware of the subtle qualities of materials is vital to using them effectively. The key is to turn a constraint into being the driving force of my design.





From Eames to Aalto, plywood has been used as the material of choice in some of the greatest masterpieces in design. It occurred to me however, that in the 21st century it's seen as a cheap material of a lesser quality, with not much potential for beauty or high-end aesthetics.

That's precisely the notion I set out to challenge.

As a manmade material, engineered wood has a number of advantages over its natural hardwood parent. For one, it's considerably more resistant to warping, due to the even arrangement of grain pattern. Its creation process as thin individual layers makes for a precise, and uniform thickness throughout the sheet which makes it easy to work with. But most importantly, its form as thin layered sheets gives it versatility to be used in ways that would be impractical with hardwood.





My thesis with the piece was to push the limits of the capability of plywood, and the countless different ways it can be utilized.

For instance, my C-Ply table consists of a single sheet bent over itself, ending with a single drawer with a copper handle.

The bend was made possible using a vacuum-bagging technique normally used for skateboards and longboards, patented by Toronto's very own Ted Hunter of Roarockit. The process involves laminating multiple layers of flexply, and dressing both sides with a locally sourced, Canadian, black walnut veneer. The assembly is then clamped using atmospheric pressure, and left for 24 hours to stiffen in the desired curve.

The copper handle is inset to be flush with the face, while the drawer box is detailed with finger joinery - a technique traditionally reserved for hardwood.





Such an unconventional approach to detailing this material presents it as much more elegant and sophisticated, contrary to its usual perceived value.

The drawer is also made of laminated plywood, but with a twist! Multiple layers were combined, cross-cut, and assembled with miter joints creating a vibrant pattern.





One of the most common criticisms with plywood is the look of its edges - visible layers of glue and veneer that serve as a reminder that it's not 'real wood'. Utilizing that element of plywood as a decorative focus helps to reconsider the nature of the material, and our notions regarding its decorative potential.






So, what does luxurious design mean? To answer the question, I think we have to analyze the ideas and techniques behind the piece, rather than simply what it is or what it's made of. The real answer of course is subjective, so I'll leave that conclusion to you. But if I made you question that conclusion - whatever it may be - then I feel I've done my job already. And if nothing else - the piece is an interesting, enjoyable addition to any Canadian household.


For more work like this, you can check out MSK Design here.


If you enjoyed this piece, you might want to check out these other articles:

Vurv Design’s Camille Floor Desk, Coquitlam, BC

Montreal’s Exocet Chair And Nyctale Table By Designarium

Beautifully Laminated Pieces By Quebec’s Kino Guérin


Researched and Written by Mikhail SK, Undergraduate Environmental Design, OCAD University

Posted In: Ontario

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