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When Eline De Bruyne envisioned her new kitchen, Shaker cabinets didn’t enter the picture. Instead, the Belgium-based teacher wanted each storage moment in her space to look like pieces of designer furniture. As an interiors enthusiast and admirer of the Memphis movement of the 1980s, her search ultimately led her to Alpi Sottsass, a style of wood veneer created by acclaimed designer Ettore Sottsass in 1985 and produced by Italian manufacturer Alpi. It’s grainy, it’s groovy, and as De Bruyne points out on her Instagram, it sort of looks like a zebra. 

The Sottsass collection is one of a number of designer collaborations at Alpi. Patricia Urquiola, Estudio Campana, and Kengo Kuma, among others, have also produced elaborate spins on wood veneer for the company, but it’s Sottsass’s design that we’re starting to see absolutely everywhere, particularly in the gray colorway (there’s also a brown and red version of the pattern). Magda Kwoczka, the Poland-based designer behind Finch Studio, recently used the Sottsass product in four different spots in a single apartment. Need we say more?

Photography by @eline.de.bruyne

It almost reminds us of the rise of plywood, which renovators have applied to staircases, kitchen cabinets, garage walls, and every surface in between over the past few years. Of course, part of plywood’s appeal is its low cost and accessibility (you can score sheets of it at basically any major hardware store), but we’d bet big on homeowners carving out room in their budgets for Sottsass’s hypnotic surface.

Interest piqued? Read on to learn how you can get your hands on this trending veneer, and how designers are putting it to use in their most recent projects. 

How is it made?

As with all of Alpi’s veneers, it starts in a forest in Cameroon. The wood (usually poplar, limewood, or ayous—all FSC certified) is then shipped to the company’s plant in Modigliana, Italy, where it undergoes a series of “stripping, dyeing, compositing, gluing, pressing, squaring, shearing, and testing,” according to Claudia Bianchi, a spokesperson for the manufacturer.  

How can I get it? 

When you go to the U.S. version of the Alpi website, you’ll see a logo that reads Brookside Veneers, aka the main carrier of the Ettore Sottsass Alpi wood in the States. To order the wood, you’ll have to get in touch with the company directly by filling out a request form on the site or calling a sales agent. It’s not as easy as clicking “add to cart,” but interior designer Dawid Konieczny assures us it’s not a huge headache. “The process of ordering material like this is not really complicated,” he says. “Alpi has distributors around the world, and sometimes they have the product in stock. An order could take about four or five weeks.” 

What will it cost? 

Another barrier to entry: The price is upon request, says Bianchi. We asked Konieczny, who used the Sottsass wood in the bedroom of a recent project, how it compares to, say, popular white oak, and his response had us triple-checking our bank accounts. “Sottsass veneer is like five times more expensive than simple white oak,” shares the designer. But for both Konieczny and Kwoczka, the steep price point has everything to do with the veneer’s originality and the designer behind its creation.

Where should I use it? 

Really, the only place you shouldn’t be using any of Alpi’s products is outside, as the veneer isn’t weatherproof. Beyond that, the world—er, wood—is your oyster. Here are a few ways designers are getting creative with the surface.

Build Out a Bed Frame

Konieczny’s inspiration for this home in Warsaw was the desert, so to complement his earth-toned palette, he selected a pattern that helped set the scene. “The print looks like sand waves,” he says. 

Situate It Alongside Stone 

The Sottsass wood shines next to other materials that have a similar swirly design. Peep this combo of Calacatta Viola in Kwoczka’s renovation. “The juxtaposition of the veneer and marble creates a captivating interplay,” says the designer. 

Architect Matt Bowles of Tenbooks plans to use the veneer in a number of projects at the moment, including a kitchen where he wants to “play off of the massiveness and staid nature of stone countertops.” “In the world of wood veneers, your choices are usually limited to the standard litany of linear grained hardwood products. This is a major departure from that,” says Bowles.

Pepper in Small Pieces of Furniture

Dustin Fritsche of Australia-based Softer Studio was first drawn to the veneer when he saw an image of it used on vintage Ettore Sottsass cabinets. He assumed it was an exclusive material that wasn’t available to other makers until he eventually spotted the Bold coffee table designed by Studiopepe for Sancal at Salone that used the same pattern. “When I did some research and found that Alpi wood products were available in Australia via the Elton Group, I knew I had to incorporate it into some of my pieces,” says Fritsche, who has been working with the veneer for the past two months. During his experimentations, he has discovered that the material has the biggest impact when applied in small doses.

In the living room of Kwoczka’s client’s apartment, she devised a low sideboard that serves as a focal point underneath the TV, “seamlessly blending functionality with elegance,” she shares. 

Construct Curved Cabinets

Because veneer is sliced into such thin sheets, it makes it super-malleable and opens the opportunity for curved surfaces. Kwoczka made this home office feel anything but boring by wrapping two rounded cabinets in the Sottsass veneer. 

In De Bruyne’s kitchen, she opted for straight sliding doors that now hide various items, from her cookbooks to her son’s clothing. “Seeing the wood’s pattern in person after the cabinet was installed was both thrilling and slightly nerve-racking, given that each slab of Alpi wood is uniquely patterned and there is a lot of variation in the patterns,” she recalls. 

But the unknown is all part of the thrill for designers. As Bowles puts it: “I love it when the built environment creates wonder and draws out the question: How did they possibly make that?