Wood can say a lot about a mid century furniture piece. You can tell where it was manufactured, when it was produced, and how it’s been taken care of over the decades. Teak, rosewood, mahogany, and walnut were all major materials used during the 50s and 60s, and America, Britain, and Denmark each had their wood of preference. We’ve put together a little guide to help you not only recognize what your mid century piece is crafted in but to give you a context for its construction.
Teak is the most popular and common wood used in mid century Danish design. Imported primarily from India and Southeast Asia, teak is a hard wood with a smooth grain texture. The tone of teak varies greatly due to the age of the tree and the time of harvest. Old growth teak (top) is much darker with deep red tones throughout. Because many of the teak forests were over-harvested by the mid 1960s, later generations were planted and harvested without time for maturing. For this reason, the tone of the wood can often be used to date the piece. Young teak (bottom) is characterized by warm yellow tones. Many English pieces use young teak since they began to produce “modern” pieces about a decade after the craze began in Denmark. Over time, teak darkens with sun exposure.
Rosewood, named after the rose- like aroma of these old-growth trees, is another hard wood with a dense, tense grain pattern. Rosewood varies from country to country but most Danish designs were crafted from Brazilian (top) and Honduran Rosewood. The deep red tones are contrasted by dark “spider-webbing” patterns. Rosewood is an endangered species as a result of over- harvesting and is no longer used to craft furniture or goods of any kind. The wood’s rarity makes pieces more desirable and thus more expensive. Rosewood lightens with sun exposure (bottom).
Mahogany has been a popular wood in English design since the 1700s. When cabinet makers began manufacturing modern furniture, the wood was still in high demand. Not as popular in Denmark, only a fraction of their furniture was crafted in this wood. Mahogany is characterized by it’s striped or ribbon pattern and comes in a variety of tones ranging from light, yellow tones (top) to deep purple (bottom).
Most American mid century pieces are crafted in Black Walnut grown on the East Coast much of which is harvested in Virginia. In fact, many of the popular manufacturers from the era including Lane, American of Martinsville, and Bassett were based in Virginia. Walnut comes in a variety of tones ranging from dark brown tones (top) to a brilliant red (bottom). This hard wood usually has a softer grain appearance with straight and burled patterns.