Insider Guide: Plywood

Pretty in plywood

 

Previously hidden in the fabric of our interiors, this beautiful basic is now a statement surface in its own right. Here’s how to use it at home, from crafted furniture to full interiors

 

What is plywood? It’s thin layers of cross-laminated timber (where the direction of the grain alternates with each layer), which are compression-moulded together with glue to form a single sheet. Plywood can be anything from 0.4mm up to 50mm thick. And any wood can be used to make it, from spruce to eucalyptus. The most common though is birch, which is also the best quality off-the-shelf option.

Ireland-based architectural practice NOJI Architects used plywood to create this fabulous extension, which introduces geometric patterns to a Victorian home setting. Each triangular plane is positioned to let in as much natural light as possible. The original ground floor walls have been removed, opening up the kitchen and linking it with the gardens for an indoor-outdoor feel.

Ireland-based architectural practice NOJI Architects used plywood to create this fabulous extension, which introduces geometric patterns to a Victorian home setting. Each triangular plane is positioned to let in as much natural light as possible. The original ground floor walls have been removed, opening up the kitchen and linking it with the gardens for an indoor-outdoor feel.

 

What’s so great about it? Strength and stability. “It doesn’t have any directional bias; which means it’s hard to snap even a thin strip of plywood because the layers of grain go in opposite directions,” says craftsman Ed Shaw-Stephens. It’s also incredibly versatile – it can be machined, drilled, screwed and finished in anything from paint to lacquer. And even before sealing, plywood is water-resistant. It can also be used inside or out, although you should look for an exterior-grade plywood if you’re planning to use it outdoors, and if you want to use it in a bathroom, ask for Marine Ply, which is made with waterproof adhesive; you’ll still need to seal it using a suitable paint or varnish though.

The Triangular Villa Architect Leo Qvarsebo's beautiful summerhouse in the woodlands of Dalarna in central Sweden had a simple brief: make the most of the picturesque setting. Thus, large windows frame stunning views and birch plywood was chosen for the interior as its light colour looks perfect in the summer sun. It is complemented by touches of green and blue, which bring to mind the surrounding fields and skies. Photography: Åke E:son Lindman

The Triangular Villa: Architect Leo Qvarsebo’s summerhouse in the woodlands of Dalarna in central Sweden had a simple brief; make the most of the picturesque setting. Thus, large windows frame stunning views and birch plywood was chosen for the interior as its light colour looks perfect in the summer sun. Photography: Åke E:son Lindman

 

How can I use it? Traditionally, it’s been relegated to the position of structural material or substrate; low-grade plywood is often used for any area that needs boxing in (such as around pipework), or levelling (like floor underlay). But now better-quality versions are being used for combined structural and aesthetic purposes: to clad walls, ceilings, roofs, floors and to build cabinets and shelving. Like any timber, it creates instant warmth – quite literally, as it also insulates when used as cladding.

Plywodd stools by NLXL Labs.

Plywood stools by NLXL Labs.

30 SQM FLAT IN PARIS BY RICHARD GUILBAULT

Architect Richard Guilbault transformed a four-room Parisian apartment into a dynamic, bright, living space. The main feature is a storage wall which runs from entrance-hallway to living room using white and natural birch plywood front panels with a few of the doors taken out to double up as shelves.

 

Is it durable, even for floors? Yes, as long as it’s properly sealed – apply more coats of clear lacquer than the tin recommends — it can withstand regular footfall, but it’s probably best to ditch the heels. Having a plywood floor can also be pretty economical (in both labour and materials) as you can cover a large area quickly. But for a bespoke look, Shaw-Stephens suggests designing your own panels – perhaps in a classic chevron pattern – and having them cut, then glued or nailed into place.

The Mill by WT Architecture, located in rural Southern Scotland, the interior features walls clad in light spruce plywood, with beautiful pine flooring to match.

The Mill by WT Architecture, located in rural Southern Scotland, the interior features walls clad in light spruce plywood, with beautiful pine flooring to match.

The Mill by WT Architecture, located in rural Southern Scotland, the interior features walls clad in light spruce plywood, with beautiful pine flooring to match.

The Mill by WT Architecture, located in rural Southern Scotland, with an interior featuring walls clad in a light spruce plywood.

 

How much does it cost? From around £18 per 2.4m by 1.2m sheet. Albeit the price varies depending on the thickness and grade of wood. Find a good selection at most building depots. We’d recommend James Latham, Jewson or Timb Met.

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