31st Oct 2023 -

As one of the most versatile and enduring building materials, plywood sheets have been favoured by designers and builders for generations. With its characteristic layered construction, plywood delivers exceptional strength, stability, and workability.

Although plywood has been around for centuries, professionals today are discovering inventive new ways to highlight its elegance in contemporary spaces. 

What is plywood made from?

Plywood is a versatile engineered wood product made by glueing together thin sheets of wood veneer. The veneers are placed with the grain running perpendicular to each other, creating plywood's characteristic cross-banded structure. This layered construction prevents splitting and minimises expansion and contraction. 

The most common wood species used for making plywood are softwoods like spruce, pine and fir. Also, temperate types like oak, poplar and birch can be used to create hardwood plywood. Some specialised plywood options feature decorative face veneers of pricier hardwoods like walnut, cherry, maple, or mahogany.

Both rotary peeled and sliced veneers can be used in plywood manufacturing. Rotary peeling produces a bold, swirled grain pattern while sliced veneers have a more uniform, parallel grain appearance. The veneer plywood sheets are bonded using strong adhesives such as phenol-formaldehyde or urea-formaldehyde resin. 

The number of laminated plywood veneers can vary from as few as 3 plies to over 20 plies for specialised plywood. More plies add strength and stiffness but also increase the weight and cost. High-grade plywood features thicker face veneers which allow for sanding or refinishing. Whereas lower grades have thinner faces suitable for painting plywood. Read our comprehensive guide to learn more about the benefits of plywood sheets.

The history of plywood in design

Plywood has a fascinating history deeply intertwined with the evolution of design. Its origins date back to ancient Egypt and China, where early versions of laminate wood were used in furniture and construction. However, plywood took shape in the early 20th century when advancements in adhesive technology allowed for more reliable bonding of thin layers of wood. 

Notable figures like Charles and Ray Eames crafted iconic furniture pieces like the Eames Lounge Chair, showcasing plywood's elegance and structural integrity. This era marked plywood's rise to the mainstream, symbolising the combination of form and function. Its history is a testament to a material that has transcended time, evolving from ancient craftsmanship to a cornerstone of modern design. 

How is plywood used in modern design?

Thanks to its strength and versatility, plywood sheets continue to be a go-to material for many architects and designers. Below, we outline common plywood uses in modern design.


Iconic designs like the Eames Lounge Chair which is still relevant today is a famous example. Strong and flexible plywood allows for unique and ergonomic shapes, while its natural finish complements various styles.


Modern interior and exterior doors often incorporate types such as birch plywood for its durability and ability to be styled to match the overall design of a space. Plywood door options can range from minimalist flush designs to intricate patterns.


Modern kitchens and storage solutions often feature plywood cabinetry. Its durability and ability to take on different finishes make it a practical and visually pleasing option for creating sleek, minimalist cabinets. 

Architectural elements

Plywood is used to create architectural elements such as plywood panels for walls, ceilings, and room dividers. Its clean lines and ability to curve and bend make it ideal for adding character and depth to interior spaces.


Plywood can be used as a floor material in modern homes. In particular, marine plywood or anti-slip plywood can be used as a subflooring material in areas prone to moisture. When finished, plywood flooring can create a warm and stylish look. 

Shelving and storage

Shelving units and storage solutions made using plywood offer both functionality and aesthetics. They can be customised to fit spaces of any size and can be used for an array of reasons. 

8 top tips for using plywood in modern design

Unlocking the full potential of plywood in modern design requires a creative approach that balances aesthetics, functionality, and sustainability. Here, we explore 8 top tips on how to effectively integrate plywood into your modern design projects. 

1. Choose the right plywood grade

Start by selecting the appropriate plywood grade for your project. For modern design, exterior-grade or high-quality interior-grade plywood is usually preferred. You can find out more about different plywood grades with our article.

2. Consider plywood finishes

Decide on the finish you want for your plywood. It can be left natural for a minimalist look, stained for warmth, or clear-coated to enhance its natural grain. Also, think about the environment and whether particular types such as fire-rated plywood or insulated plywood would work best. 

3. Experiment with plywood thicknesses

You will find plywood comes in various thicknesses. Thicker panels provide more stability and can be used for structural elements or to create bold visual statements. Thinner panels are suitable for furniture and decorative elements.

4. Use plywood as a structural element

Luckily, you can use plywood structurally in modern design. Consider using plywood for beams, columns, and even as an exposed subfloor or ceiling to create a modern industrial look.

5. Incorporate plywood into wall treatments

Plywood can be used as an accent wall material. Create visually striking feature walls or think about using plywood as a backdrop for artwork and media installations.

6. Combine plywood with other materials

Overall, plywood pairs well with various materials, such as metal, glass, concrete, and stone. You can screw and attach plywood with other materials to create a level and visually appealing modern design.

7. Explore plywood patterns

Experiment with plywood patterns by using different cuts, such as veneer patterns like bookmatching or herringbone. Plywood can be used to create unique textures and visual interest.

8. Be cautious with tiling

Plywood provides a stable surface for tiles when it is adequately prepared. You must make sure the plywood subfloor is structurally sound and free from any weak areas. Plus, be sure to apply a cement backer board to create a suitable surface for tile adhesion. 

Can you use plywood for modern exterior design?

Yes, plywood can be used in modern exterior design. But it is important to choose the right type of plywood and ensure it withstands the elements and complements the modern aesthetic. Here are some considerations when using exterior plywood for modern design. 

Quality and durability

Use exterior-grade options such as marine plywood or CDX plywood that are designed to withstand moisture, sunlight, and temperature variations. Exterior plywood is made with adhesive that can handle outdoor conditions.

Finish and appearance

Plywood sheets have a modern and minimalist look that works well in contemporary designs. Consider using sanded or smooth-faced plywood for a clean finish. You can leave it natural for a raw, minimalist look or apply a finish like paint, stain, or clear sealant to enhance its appearance. 


To ensure the plywood remains durable, be sure to protect it from direct exposure to water. You can do this by providing adequate overhangs and using flashing and sealing edges properly. Regular maintenance, including repainting or resealing, is essential to prolong its lifespan. 

Texture and pattern

Plywood can be used to create interesting textures and patterns on the exterior of a building. The plywood sheet arrangement, grooves, or cutouts can add a unique, modern plywood texture to the design.

Weather resistance

When you install plywood, you should ensure proper installation with a weather-resistant barrier and flashing. This will create waterproof plywood and prevent moisture infiltration behind the plywood, particularly useful for roof and floor areas. 

Is plywood a sustainable material?

Plywood is considered a sustainable building material when sourced and used responsibly. Sustainability in plywood panel production revolves around several key factors. Firstly, plywood can be sustainable when made from responsibly managed forests and certified by organisations like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). This certification ensures that the wood used in plywood comes from forests that are replanted and managed in an environmentally responsible manner. 

Secondly, plywood production often involves using wood residues and by-products from other wood processing operations, reducing waste and maximising resource utilisation. The sustainability of plywood is particularly important in modern design for several reasons.

In contemporary architecture and interior design, there is a growing emphasis on eco-friendly and sustainable practices. Using sustainably sourced plywood demonstrates a commitment to environmental responsibility. It can contribute to green building certifications such as Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology (BREEAM). 

Also, plywood’s sustainable attributes align with the broader design trend of using eco-conscious materials to create stylish and environmentally friendly spaces. Sustainable plywood not only enhances a project's environmental credentials but also adds to its overall appeal. This makes it a valuable choice for builders, architects and designers who prioritise both aesthetics and sustainability.

Top-notch plywood available for modern design projects

We supply a wide selection of high-quality plywood materials to cater to various construction and design needs. Our extensive range includes various exterior-grade and interior-grade plywood sizes suited to all project types. Whether you are working on a residential renovation or a large-scale commercial project, you can trust us to provide the best plywood materials with quick UK delivery. 

Specifically for trade customers, our trade accounts streamline your procurement process, aiming to remove any stress of finding the right tools and materials. We offer benefits such as competitive trade pricing and one-on-one support from your trade account manager. With a trade account at Building Materials Nationwide, you will have the resources and flexibility to efficiently manage your jobs. Contact us today to learn more about our trade account options. For instant access, sign up online.

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