Two techniques that are often confused, they are very similar but by no means the same!
Before getting into what either of these terms mean, we need to understand where they originated from first. These refer to a style of inlay that grew in popularity during the 18th century. The terms were used to describe two different types of surface inlays used across the decorative arts in numerous applications. Our interest is in antique furniture and objects.
Parquetry refers to a geometric mosaic of veneer pieces that were used for ornament in both flooring and furniture. It comprises of geometric shapes and patterns such as squares, triangles etc. that were made out of strips of veneer or wooden blocks for a decorative effect. The woods used were typically fine grained and lent themselves to decorative applications, some woods were stained or charred and arranged in strict geometric patterns. Tunbridge ware is a good example of parquetry ornament, but it was used in all spheres throughout the 18th century from tabletops, to commodes.
Cabinetmakers used contrasting wood such as boxwood, cherry, walnut, maple, ash and exotic woods such as mahogany, satinwood, calamander, rosewood, and ebony to enhance said patterns. The different tones, grains, and colors of the different wood types would allow designers to create unique patterns for furniture in particular.
Marquetry is similar to parquetry but instead of geometric shapes, it comprises of natural flowing forms of flora such as flowers, branches, leaves, landscapes, and also figures. Traditional forms might contain floral arrangements in a range of colors while other furniture from Sorento for example also features figural designs. In addition, marquetry was also made out of stained light wood such as boxwood and dyed with different colors for a striking effect. Over the years this has diminished
Both marquetry and parquetry are veneers that are overlaid over a flat surface. It is quite common for a piece of furniture to be decorated in both marquetry and parquetry, where a central panel of marquetry is surrounded by the more structured parquetry decoration. writing tables, shelves and other pieces of antique furniture were decorated in this fashion to varying levels of competence. While they can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt, these two styles gained prominence in Europe during the 18th century. They became true art forms when it was discovered that veneers were flexible enough to accommodate intrinsic and complicated art work that could make them stand out from other furnishings.
So whether you need high-end antique furniture with floral or geometric patterns, these two design options will not disappoint.