Replacing hotel bedroom case goods and joinery is a significant part of the cost of a room refurbishment. Once the design is completed, decisions need to be made on what these pieces of furniture are actually made from, especially their surfaces and finishes. Whilst intuitively “solid wood” would seem to be the ideal and premium option, in fact it is prone to warping and cracking, whilst also requiring comparatively high care and maintenance costs.
Typically in hotels, there are three alternative surface finishes to solid wood, which are favoured because of upfront cost and maintenance. Their individual durability can vary; as can their finished look and up-front cost. But all options (if done correctly) should be engineered to last longer than solid wood aesthetically and structurally.
Most commercial furniture nowadays is finished in veneer, melamine or laminate. So what are the differences? Does it matter to you as a hotel operator?
Whilst the initial finished product between the three finishes may be hard to initially discern, the differences are enough to make impacts on budget and longevity and therefore return on investment. So as an operator, making the wrong decision may lead to a shorter than budgeted life-cycle on the bedroom furniture, which either leads to guest dissatisfaction because of poor presentation, or a shorter replacement cycle for these assets. Either way it can affect both revenue and capital expenditure planning to the detriment of the whole hotel operation.
Cut straight to the to the summary here
Solid wood veneer is the finest expression of solid wood for commercial applications and is in itself a natural product with unique grain and texture characteristics. It is a very thin layer of real hard wood, which is then bonded to a different substrate below (technically for the nit-pickers this makes it a laminate too, but we will ignore such ‘helpful’ perspectives in the interest of everyone’s sanity). This substrate is often engineered wood, such as MDF or Plywood, and is less expensive than the solid wood it is being mounted to. Furthermore it is more structurally consistent than solid wood and therefore provides the thin layer of wood with a firm foundation, which is less prone to warping or cracking. It can also often be lighter.
Using just a very thin layer of hard wood means that otherwise prohibitively expensive wood species are more economically (and ecologically) viable as the yield from a single log is significantly higher when cut in to thin sheets rather than cut into solid planks. Another advantage of the thin sheet configuration is that it can be presented in arrangements that would not be achievable with solid wood or laminate.
Like solid wood, the veneer can be stained to match any given colour palette, whilst retaining some of the grain and texture character, making it aesthetically consistent as well as tactile. Depending on the thickness of the sheet, it can also be sanded back and refinished in the future. As thickness increases, so does durability but also initial cost.
Whilst most people refer to this option as Melamine, it is also known as Low-pressure laminate, direct-pressure laminate or simply LPL. Technically the melamine bit is actually the resin that soaks through a single sheet of paper, forming a plastic-like sheet, so it’s a actually a component rather than the finished product.
Melamine (LPL) has the lowest initial cost of all three options, but can also potentially have the shortest lifespan. However it does typically have a harder finish than veneer, making it more appropriate in some applications.
The LPL is manufactured by placing a coloured or patterned sheet of paper in a press with the melamine resin solution and a substrate board, such as MDF or plywood. It is then placed under pressure and heat until the three elements form into a finished piece. It can come in textured finishes to try and recreate character such as grain texture, but the finished product doesn’t have the same tactile nature as solid wood or veneer.
Any damage to LPL surfaces is typically not repairable due the nature of the manufacturing process. Therefore high contact areas, such as horizontal surfaces of tables, desks, night stands and entertainment units in the guest room may not be ideally suited to many LPL finishes. Heat, impact, scratching and moisture are all moderate threats to LPL, either directly to the LPL or to the substrate is bonded to.
Whilst all three finishes here are technically laminates, the most used interpretation of the word is applied to what is correctly known as high-pressure laminate (HPL) and often referred to as Formica, Laminex and other brand names that have dominated in their geographic markets.
Whilst the finished product looks practically identical to LPL, the HPL is made in a very different, more cost intensive way, which results in a much more durable product. HPL is typically around 3 times more heat-, 4 times more impact-, and 5 times more scratch- resistant than LPL.
HPL has more component layers and manufacturing stages than the LPL. These include curing the impregnated paper layers and combining them with its own backer, a decorative layer and a plastic laminate surface layer, making the HPL thicker and generally more resilient. The layers are bonded together using as much as 6 times the amount of pressure as LPL.
Because of the manufacturing technique it can be used in many ways and to different qualities to suit the application – from postforming, to vertical surfaces, to high traffic horizontal surfaces (including floors). For hotel furniture, the two most applicable are vertical and horizontal types. The vertical type is cheaper than the horizontal type as it will scratch easier and therefore is less suited to table tops etc., but may be ideal for doors that are not prone to scratching.
Like LPL, once HPL is severely damaged, typically it cannot be refinished or retouched. Many HPL manufacturers do offer touch-up kits, which help to mask light damage that occurs over time.
So, how do we decide which finish to use in a hotel room? Well we could use all three, but often it is down to the type of property and its market position, budget and lifecycle plans as to which direction we should go.
The warm, welcoming feel of wood, delivered through veneer, is the obvious choice for operators with larger budgets. By stretching to a thick commercial veneer, you stand the chance of repairing damage as it occurs and thus keep the hotel room in prime condition for as long as possible in the lifecycle of the furniture.
However, all three finishes have their place, especially when budgets dictate the options available. The massively broad range of LPL and HPL finishes around the world means that creativity in colours and furniture design can be maximised. It is often not an issue to use a mixture of both LPL and HPL in a room – indeed several HPL manufacturers even create lines to compliment LPL manufacturer finishes specifically for that reason.