Wood Veneers: Rediscover the Elegant Art of Marquetry

marquetry wood veenersBelieve it or not, wood inlay as a craft dates back to the Pharaohs! In its earlier form, buildings or ruins of buildings were elaborately depicted in wood, tortoise shell and mother-of-pearl. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the art thrived in Holland and other parts of Europe and a distinction was made between inlay and marquetry, which together were known as intarsia.

Marquetry Artists Assemble Patterns Out of Wood Veneers

The technique of intarsia inlays sections of wood (sometimes with contrasting ivory, bone or mother-of-pearl) within the solid stone matrix of floors and walls or of table tops and other furniture. By contrast, marquetry assembles a pattern out of wood veneers glued upon the skeleton or framework of a structure. You’ve probably enjoyed examples of marquetry as part of luxurious clubhouse decoration, for example, or in libraries, museums, old Victorian houses, or even palaces. It is different from parquetry, or the art of creating geometric patterns using wood parquet for flooring.

Marquetry techniques can be used to affix a chosen design to chairs, tables, and almost any furniture with a smooth surface.marquetry art Wood veneers come in an endless array of fine and often exotic woods, including mahogany, sycamore, ash, alder, beech… even bamboo. Imagine striking decorative panels or cabinetry for nautical or aircraft interiors, coaches and RVs, or even railings and bannisters. And in any public or private residential setting, a feature wall adorned with marquetry makes a stunning showpiece.

Wood Veneers: the Inspiration for an Intricate Art

In true inlay work the design is routed out in a matrix of one material and a piece of contrasting material is fitted into the depression. Marquetry, on the other hand, is the artistic matching of numerous small pieces of wood veneer to form a design or picture. These pieces are then assembled much like a jigsaw puzzle and glued to a heavier matrix or supporting piece.

The real art of marquetry lies in the careful creation of its intricate patterns. Each individual design is cut meticulously before being arranged on the surface of the article to be decorated, after which the pattern is inlaid using PVA glue (polyvinyl acetate, the “carpenter’s glue”). The pieces are then sanded into place using fine abrasive paper, and sealed permanently with varnish. There is also a special kind of marquetry that involves the process of sand shading, where the wood veneers are first submerged into hot sand before being inlaid, thereby charring the wood, and creating a three-dimensional effect on the finished product.

Marquetry Makes a Comeback with Modern Wood Veneers

marquetry artistThe fine art of marquetry is a centuries-old skill, and examples of intricate traditional marquetry are truly impressive. Fortunately, there is renewed interest in reviving and maintaining this art and marquetry is being infused with new life by artists who combine the ancient skill with modern sensibilities. Many modern and post-modern designer pieces are incorporating marquetry in fresh new ways. Contemporary hotels and restaurants are featuring innovative inlay work as part of their interior design to lend a luxurious and executive feel to their décor.

Traditional doesn’t have to mean old fashioned. Exquisitely rendered wood inlay work is back in vogue, so keep an eye out for the creative ways in which gorgeous and diverse wood veneers find their way into avant-garde marquetry design. Inlay work in general was long considered difficult and wasn’t done by amateurs. With today’s updated shop equipment, however, and the incredible array of gorgeous wood veneer available, marquetry is again becoming popular as a highly creative and rewarding hobby. You may want to try it yourself!


Sabrina Parisette-HerzogSabrina Parisette-Herzog is a 5th generation wood veneer specialist. Owner and President of Herzog Veneers, Inc., and a graduate of Middlebury College in Vermont, she and her husband Sam started the company in High Point, NC in 1982.
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