WARNING: personal opinions follow.
As to ply vs lumber, ply has its place but whenever possible I use lumber.
One problem with ply is the necessity to band the edges. Well, it isn't
actually a necessity as long as you don't mind looking at butt ugly plywood
You don't necessarily have to fill the pores in oak, depends upon the look
you want. However, with red oak,you do need to seal any end grain (in red
oak, not white) as it is vey porous and will suck up paint like a sponge.
Color is quite personal but I would not try to match the floor. I'm not
sure I would try to match the ET center either. I'd probably go for a dark
brown but much depends upon what else you have in that room If you were
replacing all wood stuff, I'd suggest keeping the wood the same in all so
you have a set. What wood? Well...
Cherry is popular but I don't like it
Maple is popular but not among my favorites.
Walnut is wonderful if you like dark.
Everyone hates poplar but I like it. The heart wood is wierd but sap wood
boards are readily available and if you like light woods, it looks fine.
I don't do red oak. I love white oak...to work and for its inherent
characteristics but not for its looks.
Ash is sort of albino oak.
Birch is ho-hum IMO.
Hickory is under rated...hard but not hard to work; reasonable in cost; both
sap & heart wood are attractive.
Mahogany - particularly quartered African mahogany - can be spectacular.
Nothing wrong with dark red luan either but not as spectacular.
Depends on the size of what you're making. For end tables
and a coffee table, I'd use solid wood. For an entertainment
center, I'd make the big pieces out of plywood.
Note that even tho a coffee table top is a fairly "big
piece" I wouldn't use ply for that, because it's a surface
that will get a lot of use, and you may want to sand and
refinish it at some point. Plywood, to all intents and
purposes, cannot be sanded. An entertainment center, once
you have the TV situated, gets little wear, so no risk in
using plywood there.
Note also that the grain pattern on Oak plywood can be
extreme. Some people like that look, some don't.
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