What’s the difference between wood veneer and laminate furniture?

Q: What’s the difference between wood veneer and laminate furniture, and what should I really pay for? 

Short Answer:

It’s all on the surface!  All commercial furniture is generally manufactured with the same core material that is then covered with either a thin layer of real wood OR a thin layer of high-pressure laminate, depending on the client’s choice!

Explanation of Veneer versus Laminate

Furniture styles have changed immensely over the years; every office once was furnished with solid wood furniture, but as hardwood supply decreased and the costs increased, wood veneers became more popular. As the quality of laminate has improved, offices have been more inclined to use this lower-cost material instead, especially for their high-traffic, high-use desks.

Difference Between Laminate and Veneers

Laminate consists of layers of paper that harden with resin, while the wood veneer is a thin slice of natural wood that usually gets lacquered, again, both over the same core substrate material! Since laminate manufacturing uses high pressure and temperature, laminate surfaces are more durable and resist scratches, moisture, and wear & tear compared to veneer wood surfaces.

Lam’s Glam!

Because of its better cost and style improvements, laminate now realistically depicts wood or natural materials. In addition, laminate comes in vibrant colors and has a very cleanable surface.

Wood’s Good!

While stunning in appearance, veneers require higher levels of care and maintenance to retain their appeal compared to laminates. The lacquered wood veneer loses its surface luster over time unless maintained. Veneers can also chip or crack if misused, and the lacquer can break down from excessive heat or liquids.

Environmental Impact:

Wood veneer has environmental impacts, considering it comes from harvested hardwood trees.  Also, Hardwood generally has a considerably higher price due to supply and manufacturing processes. Pricing depends on the species of wood chosen, its availability, and how long it takes to regrow.

Although wood veneer can be impractical for workstations and general-use areas, it works well in higher-end spaces. For example, a private office or boardroom has less use and traffic and needs a polished look, so often more money is allocated to furnish these areas and wood veneers are typical. 

Alternative option:

A great alternative to wood veneer or laminate is Nuform. Nuform has similar costs and style benefits as laminate but is a thermofoil. The thermofoil process vacuum-seals vinyl onto a surface, making all edges seamless. While laminates only work on flat surfaces, thermofoils can also cover irregular surfaces, such as curved and waterfall edges or decorative raised panels, inlaid channels, and other biomorphic shapes.  The Nuform thermoforming technique provides increased impact, scratch, marring, chemical, and abrasion resistance compared to standard thermofoils. In addition, the surface will not fade from sunlight. It is also anti-stain and antimicrobial; perfect for the post-covid world where people may be switching desks often.

Read more about Nuform and its benefits at https://www.jefferson-group.com/product-snippets/inscape-nuform/.