The Basics You Need to Know about Furniture Finishes


A bright orange chair can breathe new life into a workspace, and a sleek wooden workstation can bring sophistication to an office. You can use furniture finishes to tell your story. 

There’s no one size fits all option when selecting a furniture finish. This is your chance to customize the piece so that it feels like the right fit for your space. Choosing the right finish will not only be aesthetically pleasing but also ensure your product stays looking new for as long as possible. 

The right finish will last for years and not break down after only a few months of use. 

Furniture finishes range in colour, material and durability.

This article will kick off your furniture materials journey and teach you the basics of what you need to know before selecting your flawless finish.

What exactly is a finish? 

Each piece of furniture has a finish, but not every finish is created equal. The definition of furniture finishing may vary depending on who you ask.  

We aren’t talking about the DIY finishes you may already be familiar with, like wood wax or shellac. When we refer to the furniture finishes, we refer to the materials that your office furniture is covered or created with. This encompasses everything from the fabric’s colour on your task chairs or the laminate on your workstation. 

If you want to learn some of the ins and outs of the surface material language, we recommend checking out Haworth’s glossary!

What are commercial-grade materials? 

There is a significant difference between residential grade and commercial grade furniture and, therefore, a difference in the quality of finishes. You can read more about residential versus commercial grade furniture in our article on the topic. 

Besides the obvious aesthetic reasons, finishes can make or break a product. While it is an integral part of the design, it also can have long-term impacts on the lifespan of your product. 

We are going to be talking about commercial-grade finishes. There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to the big world of furniture finishes. All finishes are workplace dependant and totally customized for each client. This is where you can get creative with colour or stick to the classics. 

What are common types of finishes?

Finishes typically fall under four different categories:

  • Fabric
  • PVC Free Vinyl
  • Leather
  • Laminate 

Not every type of furniture will be applicable for all kinds of finishes. For example, fabric works with task seating but not desks or surfaces. 

Fabric styles have a wide range of options and patterns, and your furniture does not need to have just one sort of fabric. Different furniture components can have different kinds of finishes, so a task chair’s seat may have another material than the chair’s back. Fabric can be found on seating, workstation panels and even moveable walls.

PVC-Free Vinyl is a man-made material that can have a leather-like or gloss-like appearance. Since this vinyl is man-made, this finish is prepared to stand the test of time and comes in a large variety of colours and styles. This finish can be found on seating, surfaces and more. 

Genuine Leather is another option you can opt for. Leather can be found on guest seating and other lower-use areas. Since Leather is natural, it comes in fewer varieties and will not last as long as man-made materials. 

Laminate is a finish that is often used on surfaces like workstations, tables, and surfaces. Usually made of wood or can resemble wood, this finish is adaptable and popular for all office furniture. We have written lots about laminate in the past, and you can learn more here.  If you are looking for a real wood finish, you will want to use a wood veneer. However, a veneer is becoming less popular due to it is the expensive price tag and hard-to-clean surfaces.

Online Resources:

If you want to wrap your head around the sheer number of finishes available on the market, we recommend checking out some of our supplier’s online resources. Here you can look at what is currently available on the market and get some design inspiration for your next big project.

Haworth’s entire surface materials library is available for you to browse online. Not only that, but they also provide warranty information and cleaning information just a few clicks away. In their resource library, you will also find all their latest styles so you can stay up to date on the trends. We recommend checking out their what’s new section to see what is new to the market! 

Humanscale has a dedicated portal that outlines textile design that is unique to their products. You can also learn about their in-house designers and what inspires their design. 

SitOnIt Seating has its entire library of over 15,000 finishes available for you to browse. You can see what textiles, mesh and plastics are available and what products they work for!  

Group Lacasse has both their upholstery and their finishing libraries available online! You can browse by colour, grade, manufacturer and more!

If you want a hands-on experience while browsing for your next furniture finish and you are in Atlantic Canada… you are in luck! You can come to one of the Office Interiors showrooms and speak with a furniture representative. We have examples of finishing materials for our products on-site that you can review. 

Emily Adams
Digital Content Specialist
Office Interiors

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