The Timeless Beauty of Molded Plywood

eames.jpg

Let’s take a second and talk about plywood. Simple, old, humble, plywood. 

Plywood is a workhorse material common on job sites. It’s made of a numerous thin sheets of veneer held together by resin. Plywood panels are used in construction because they’re cheap and because plywood has some benefits too, like it doesn’t split when nailed and it doesn’t shrink as much as other woods. Also it’s available in big sizes. 

Plywood grain is typically not exciting and lacks character. But, plywood is capable of amazing things. With a little steam, a strong form and some patience, one can make it do almost anything. 

 Griswald Raetze and Office Staff Working on a Molded-Plywood Airplane Part, 1943. Library of Congress. 

Griswald Raetze and Office Staff Working on a Molded-Plywood Airplane Part, 1943. Library of Congress. 

Molded plywood was commonly used in airplane construction, and of course, furniture design.  

Probably the most well known pieces of molded plywood furniture (aside from the lounge chair pictured at top) is the classic 1940s Eames molded plywood chair. Some 70 years after its birth, and it’s still one of the ultimate symbols of modernism. And it’s damn comfortable too. 

 Eames molded plywood chair, circa 1946. Library of Congress.

Eames molded plywood chair, circa 1946. Library of Congress.

Another great early adopter of the molded plywood method was Carl-Axel Acking, the Swedish architect and furniture designer. Look at this chair. 

 Carl-Axel Acking. 

Carl-Axel Acking. 

Still modern. Still stunning. 

For these early designers, plywood represented the modern marriage of technology and nature. It allowed designers to create shapes that were previously unobtainable with wood. 

Port Magazine recently featured the work of Made in Ratio’s Brodie Nell, who is responsible for this jaw-dropping and extreme example of what can be achieved by molding wood. 

 Made in Ratio Cowrie Chair. 

Made in Ratio Cowrie Chair. 

Lange Production’s GJ Chair, which looks more like it's made of ribbon than wood, is another example of just pushing process and materials to the absolute extreme with mind-blowing results. 
 

  GJ Chair

GJ Chair

Then there’s also Reed Hansuld. He’s currently bending a lot of wood, according to his Instagram account at least. He uses bent laminated wood for this side table to create a cantilevered design.

 Reed Hansuld End Table No. 1. 

Reed Hansuld End Table No. 1. 

Also see his cantilevered Rocking Chair which seems to defy gravity.

There’s something incredibly satisfying about the alchemy of molded plywood furniture. It’s the process of turning the mundane into the exotic. And that’s a feat that will always impress no matter the decade.