Designing with Chatoyance

I have explained the challenge of chatoyance to clients and employees for years. Chatoyance (French) refers to how light reflects in a cat’s eye or other materials that can reflect light differently depending on their fiber orientation. Figured wood’s grain changes direction in interesting patterns like the waves of curly maple, the hills and valleys of Pomelle Sapele, or the feather-like patterns of the Walnut crotch figure. All of these woods tend to have a lovely 3-D effect because of how the light seems to move under the finish as we walk around the piece. This movement happens as the position of your eyes creates a different angle to the light and grain reflection, thus changing the position from which the highlights reflect.

The artistry of arranging this material in our surface designs challenges decision-making that some apply rules to. I prefer to feel my way along as I watch the play of light and how the boards balance as a group.

Jack with Veneers - Brian Boggs Chairmakers

Our first effort with this sunburst veneer work (pictured above) gave us challenges we could not solve. While the mahogany cant we chose looked beautiful before splitting it open, the patterns did not create a worthy arrangement no matter how we arranged them. Time to cut our losses and open up another one.

Adkins veneers - Brian Boggs Chairmakers
Playing with precisely cut veneers laid out on a shop bench.

Slip-matching veneers keeps the light reflection in sync from one veneer or solid board to another. In slip-matching, each veneer remains facing up in the same orientation as it did in the original board. This keeps all the grain directions the same. But if the figure leans right or left, all the board figures lean that way. This can work on a sunburst pattern but often makes a rectangular piece look crooked.

Book matching gives the grain patterns priority over light reflection. In this arrangement, the stack of veneers opens like an accordion, hinging at their edge. This method creates symmetry in pattern of lines the figure creates, but risks a tone flip from veneer to veneer. I chose a bookmatch arrangement for the table shown here. While this did create a light/dark pattern from segment to segment, I felt this looked better than the pattern this grain pattern created slip-matched.

Brian explaining chatoyance with the integrated lazy susan.

We saturate the wood fibers with an non-tinted stain base to get the most out of this play of light. The saturated fibers allow light deeper into the wood. You’ve seen how wet paper is more translucent than dry paper. Saturated wood fibers reflect light from a slightly deeper place. This shows more of the wood color and defines the light play more crisply. Also, the clearer the finish, the better the light can dance with the variations in how fibers reflect it.

Great wood matching in furniture requires understanding these challenges and how to read grain direction in the lumber you select for a project. With a solid sense of chatoyance, one can let go of rules and let the heart lead the creative play.

IMG 9964 - Brian Boggs Chairmakers

Extended wooden chairs are placed alongside each other.


Our gallery in Asheville has several items that have been kept in safekeeping while visitors tour the shop or come to choose their favorite chair and walnut slab. Some of those items have been added to a new page that you can view here.

You will find a few table options, sets of chairs and barstools, Sonus guitar chairs, and more. These items will all get extra special TLC (and corresponding customization) before being shipped to you. If you have any questions, email us at

There is an exceptional opportunity to own four Vintage Berea Hickory Barstools circa 1990s that we picked up from dear friends and clients while we were in California. They no longer have a bar to accommodate them, so they are looking for a new home.

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