From bendy furniture to planes, cars and boxes, there’s no limit to the versatility and beauty of plywood. A new show at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Plywood: Material of the Modern World, celebrates the phenomenal creative potential of ply.

The armchair in this picture was designed by the London designer Gerald Summers and show just how far you can bend a single piece of plywood. Cuts in the veneer formed the arms and legs – so simple, you might think – but how ingenious to take a single flat piece of plywood and come up with such a clever and original concept.

Before visiting this show I hadn’t really thought much about plywood but now I’m seeing it everywhere.  Remember those school chairs – you, sit up straight at the back! Yes, thanks to plywood, designer James Leonard came up with a durable, stackable solid chair which was piled up in the classrooms of thousands of schools between the 1940s and 60s and are still going strong.


It’s amazing to think that plywood is made from slicing thin layers of wood directly from a revolving log in long sheets and then glued together. Unlike solid wood, this flexible material can be bent, cut, sliced and generally employed in a multitude of ways.

Think of all those tea chests we used to move house – light, durable, strong.  And I’ve had a closer look at my grandmother’s old Singer sewing machine and, yes, of course that lovely bendy case was made of plywood.

I loved seeing the uses on large objects such as boats, planes and even cars down to smaller items such as handles, hooks and doorknobs.


The latest use of plywood is to employ computer generated cuts to make mass produced objects such as this neat little stool made from a single chunk of wood. The show is on at the V&A in the Porter Gallery (on the left of the main entrance) until 12 November. #ISpyPly

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