Tips from the Architect: Book-Matching Stone and Wood Veneers

Book-matching has been used to enhance architectural features for thousands of years. Valued for its uniqueness and for the beauty of its mirrored symmetry, book-matching highlights a material’s one-of-a-kind patterning. The name “book-matching” comes from the process of cutting and finishing the material in which you open the material along the cut as you would a book, creating a mirror image on both “pages”. Whether it is a wood veneer or a stone slab, each has a unique grain and burling (wood) or veining and banding (stone) that determines its potential for effective book-matching. Certain species of wood and stone lend themselves more readily to book-matching, with louder or softer colors and symmetries.

Book-Matched Wood:

Wood veneer panels are manufactured by slicing a very thin sheet from a wide timber. Cutting thin sheets ensures that the patterning of each veneer remains similar from panel to panel. When the sheets are cut the saw will create exact opposite light/dark variations on either side of the blade due to friction and corresponding refraction of light off the woods fibers.

Photo by Warren Patterson - Osterville, MA Residence by Catalano Architects
Book-Matched Wood Bar – Photo by Warren Patterson

To ensure each piece can be easily book-matched, the veneers are sent from manufacturer to woodworker in sequential order as cut. The veneers are then cut along the desired mirror axis for patterning and flipped along this cut edge to create a mirrored symmetry. Each book-matched set of cut veneers is then applied with glue to a more rough and sturdy solid board, which creates the structure of the panel. The veneer and solid panel are compressed using a vacuum seal or mechanical press to ensure a strong bond between the two. Once bonded the panel unit can be sanded, stained, and cut to the client’s specifications. Each panel will have a distinct but related patterning, which can create a cohesive and complex finish for wood paneling or cabinetry.

Book-Matched Stone:

Certain stone slabs can also be book-matched with either complex or simple veining. Veining, banding, complexity, and color varies drastically between and within stone types (some stone types that can be book-matched are marble, onyx and granite).

Due to the process of manufacturing, cost of shipping, and rarity of materials, book-matching stone can become very expensive. However, if used correctly, this material can become a stunning natural work of art integrated into architecture. Clients who choose to invest in this type of stone finish may choose to accentuate it at night by backlighting the slabs. If the client chooses this option, it is the responsibility of the designer to ensure that the slabs are cut thinly enough to be transparent and that appropriate lighting is used to create the desired uniformity or gradient. This lighting must also be long lasting and easily replaceable. To ensure that such a large investment will achieve the desired effect requires meticulous detailing and specification.

Book-matched stone and wood veneers highlight beautiful symmetries inherent in natural architectural materials. The process of book-matching showcases the skills of both designer and manufacturer, as it requires a high level of detail-oriented craftsmanship. When done correctly, book-matching can integrate stunning, natural, unique works of art into our daily architectural experiences.




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