Which should you buy? Furniture made with solid wood, especially when expertly crafted and properly cared for, can indeed last for many, many years. Its durability is also dependent on the type of wood (wood species) that was used. Furniture made from softwood shows wear & tear more easily than furniture made from hardwood.
Being a natural product, real solid wood furniture are more susceptible to changes in temperature and humidity, which, depending on how well they are sealed, may cause warping, cracking or swelling. Natural wood expands and contracts. But solid wood furniture can be sanded, stained, varnished or painted several times over, which is generally not possible with the “non-solid wood furniture”. What people refer to as “Fine Furniture” are often made with solid wood - terms like “heirloom pieces” or “pamana”-worthy, etc. also come to mind.
By the way, it is also important to note that a seemingly solid wood furniture may still contain engineered-wood or so-called "manufactured wood" (eg. MDF, particleboard) components, like for the back, or the floors of the cabinet drawers, for example.
It is also important to note that engineered-wood like plywood, and synthetic materials like laminates and plastic have been used by famous mid-century furniture designers. These are ‘new’ materials during their time, and their creativity allowed them to create some of their now iconic furniture designs. In fact, some are still produced today (example one, two, three).
The beauty & allure of a solid wood furniture generally comes with a hefty price tag, which might be out of reach for some people wanting the look & feel of a solid wood furniture. That is probably why many furniture in the market today are “non-solid wood furniture” to make them more affordable & accessible to a wider demographic.
As the mantra attributed to the legendary mid-century design duo Charles & Ray Eames would say “getting the most of the best to the greatest number of people for the least amount of money” … the answer to the question “Which Should I Buy?” pragmatically boils down to the question “What is the most value I can get for the money that I currently have?”. Like most things in life, it is all relative. :)
If the budget allows for a real solid wood fine furniture that makes you happy (or “sparks joy”, as Konmari would say), we say “go for it”! We always say here, you do you. :) If the budget is relatively not within reach, there are many other alternatives that could also “spark joy” just as much. Don’t let what others think bring you down. The only question now is, out of those many other alternatives, how can you tell if you are “getting the most value for the money you are paying for it”?
Answering that question requires understanding how these non-solid wood furniture are made, the materials used to build them, and how those materials differ from one another. This guide is not exhaustive but hopefully, helpful enough in educating future furniture buyers.