I t’s a bit sad, but I think one of my earliest memories is when we took delivery of a new kitchen table. At the time, though, it did seem quite a special table. It must have been around 1963 and the new purchase had laminated wood legs and, as it later transpired, a rather flaky chipboard top covered with a sky-blue and white checked formica skin. It was the height of swinging sixties fashion. And it was probably also at the cutting edge of wood panel technology.

As our panels supplement bears out, things have moved on ever so slightly in in the sheet materials sector in the past 38 years. For two-tone formica now read a colossal range of finishes, colours, patterns and surface effects (specialist distributor IDS alone boasts over 3,000 laminate lines).

And, of course, it’s not just outward appearances, that have changed. The core materials themselves are so much more diverse, technically advanced and versatile. Just take MDF. It not only comes in 101 variants, it can be painted to mimic virtually any material and moulded into almost any shape (Willamette cites its use to make a ‘brick’ wall and ‘cast iron’ bridge in an industrial museum). It’s timber made as malleable as plastic.

Of course, the opinion still persists that panel products take market share from solid timber. But the other view is that they take wood into new areas of manufacture and design and help it retain some sort of share in markets where it might otherwise have been ousted by rival materials. They are also used frequently in conjunction with solid timber and are another weapon for the industry to use in the environmental debate, helping make the most of waste and small dimension material.

I do wish we’d kept that kitsch table in the family though. Judging by the house makeovers master-minded by TV’s Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen (who guested at Kronospan’s Design Week), it’s right back in fashion.