The pros and cons of a ply-lined interior

Stuff – Anyone who reads home and architecture magazines will have noticed the explosion of plywood-lined interiors.

No longer just reserved for lining the garage or the garden shed, ply has become the modern material of choice for those looking for an alternative to traditional plasterboard. 

But why exactly is it so popular?

Ply has a low-key, back-to-nature feel. This Bethells Beach beach was designed by Herbst Architects.
JACKIE MEIRINGPly has a low-key, back-to-nature feel. This Bethells Beach beach was designed by Herbst Architects.

Words like ‘warm’, ‘natural’ and ‘simple’ crop up when talking to its fans, as do its associations with the (also very fashionable) Modernist movement.

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“It’s a really good way to add visual warmth to rooms without going all the way to traditional timber sarking,” says Hamish Stirrat, director at Fabricate Architecture, who used ply to line his own home. 

“It’s machine finished, so it can be used for cabinetry with very small tolerances. There is also huge variety of pre-finished timber species, colours and surface finishes to select from, so you can go from super-poppy all the way through to subtle and refined.”

Because plywood is made from thin layers of wood veneer glued together at right angles – a technique called “cross-graining” – it is also very strong and durable for its weight. 

Plywood can be stained, varnished, shaped or left raw. This budget-friendly kitchen features black Plyplay ply.
BRYCE CARLETON / PLYPLAYPlywood can be stained, varnished, shaped or left raw. This budget-friendly kitchen features black Plyplay ply.

Its robustness and moisture resistance makes it suitable for use in many different climates. 

“Birch ply is still used in the construction of airplanes due to its strength and stability in different conditions,” Stirrat adds. 

Andrew Nixon, General Manager at PlyPlay, says products like his are also eco-friendly as they are made from sustainable and renewable radiata pine and bonded with low emission glues.

This house, featured on the television show Grand Designs, used pine plywood for the walls, ceiling and cabinetry.
MEDIAWORKSThis house, featured on the television show Grand Designs, used pine plywood for the walls, ceiling and cabinetry.

Most suppliers will provide proof of timber source on ply specifications sheets, but Stirrat warns: “As always there are a lot of substandard products so it pays to ask.”

When asked about the downsides of using ply, he says that it can complicate some aspects of construction.

“Thorough planning, confirming set out and craftsmanship is critical. It can be tricky ensuring all three come together harmoniously on a busy building site.”https://www.stuff.co.nz/life-style/homed/widget/indexed-product-collection.html?p=KAR000&t=Shop%20on%20indexed.co.nz

Nixon also notes that, despite what some manufacturers claim, they are yet to find a ply that actually meets the Grade 1s fire standards.

“Often the building code doesn’t require a 1s rating yet specifiers require it in an effort to avoid any further potential compliance issues.”

And what about the risk that it’s a look that will date?

Ply is prized for its durability and associations with the modernist movement.
JACKIE MEIRINGPly is prized for its durability and associations with the modernist movement.

“I think most materials go through peaks and troughs of popularity – try using brass and marble 10 years ago,” Stirrat says. “Finishes and colours may date, but I think plywood has a unique timelessness to it.” 

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