Plywood power

In the 1950s plywood was the preferred choice for designer icons like Arne Jacobsen and Charles and Ray Eames. Now, after a few decades on the sidelines, it’s back in business. So, what’s all the fuss about? We asked Julián Velázquez-Vidal, Category Area Manager Wood & Fibres at IKEA – and a passionate plywood advocate.
Two low, wide chairs, placed perpendicular from each other, wholly made from fitted, flat sheets of plywood.
Black-and-white, face-focused sketch of IKEA Category Area Manager Wood & Fibre, Julián Velázquez-Vidal: smile, short hair.
Let’s start from the beginning – what is plywood?
“There are a few different definitions, but basically it’s layers of veneer – thin slices of wood – glued together. The wood types vary, it can be pine, birch, poplar... The result is a very strong board that can be used as a flat sheet or be bent into shape.”
So, what’s so great about it?
“Where to start! Wood overall is one of the most sustainable materials there is, and by using it for plywood we minimize waste. It takes twice the number of trees to create a chair in solid wood compared to one in plywood, and still the plywood one is twice as strong if it’s made the right way.”
What about the glue you use?
“Whenever it comes to chemicals, IKEA always adheres to the rules of the market with the strictest regulations. We’re also in the process of testing out formaldehyde free glues, one made of cellulose and one made of soya beans.”
What more is there to say about the upsides of plywood?
“Lots! It’s a very durable material that ages with grace. You can find plywood chairs from the 1950s that still look fantastic and are great to use. Another advantage is the endless design possibilities. Plywood bends and shapes whatever way you want.”
Is plywood a Scandinavian thing – or is that a misconception?
“To a degree you’re definitely right – plywood is very Scandinavian, or at least it was in the 1950s when guys like Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and Danish designer Arne Jacobsen were on top of their game. But there were also designer icons in other parts of the world who were masters of plywood, like Charles and Ray Eames in the US. In the seventies, the use of the material decreased considerably and now it’s having a huge revival – you see it everywhere. Needless to say, that’s something I’m very happy about.”
A plywood armrest and adjacent frame and seat details of an armchair, placed in a sunlit room; plant in the background.
Small, rectangular wall shelf made of plywood, mounted on a rough brick wall (presumably outdoors).

“Plywood is a very durable material that ages with grace. Another advantage is the endless design possibilities. Plywood bends and shapes whatever way you want.”     

Julián Velázquez-Vidal
Two cube-shaped storage boxes made out of plywood, stacked on top of each other. The lower box has castors.
We love to see our customers get creative with our products. Go for it! But please note that altering or modifying IKEA products so they can no longer be re-sold or used for their original purpose, means the IKEA commercial guarantees and your right to return the products will be lost.