“Forest Tales brings together a celebration of exceptional design from AHEC’s latest projects, a love for timber and a much needed call for balance. Balance in the way we use natural materials with particular emphasis on renewable ones, such as wood. The same balance on which today’s designers, as well as the entire sector, are called upon to reflect in order to address the greatest social and economic issue of our time: climate change; and the need to put an end to the current throwaway culture. Covid has shown that the world can react very quickly to a major global crisis, hopefully this experience will enable us to quickly make the necessary changes in the way we consume, build and live.”
London/Tokyo based design duo Studio Swine, have curated twenty two pieces from four projects;
Connected challenged nine international designers to create tables and seating in response to the isolation imposed by the pandemic.
Discovered: Designers for Tomorrow gave a platform to twenty emerging design talents from around the world, in collaboration with Wallpaper*.
Slow Design for Fast Change brought together nine young designers from Germany to create furniture and objects characterised by sustainability, longevity and craftsmanship.
A Seat at the Table is the latest collaboration with Italian furniture maker RIVA 1920 that sees four emerging Italian designers selected to create innovative, sustainable designs for solid wood tables.
Forest Tales is not only a showcase of creativity, but an argument against waste in design, a plea for a more thoughtful choice of materials, and a challenge to the status quo.
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6
3 – 12 June
11.00 – 21.00
(last entrance at 20.00)
Alter Ego stems from the desire to give lightness and freedom to a usually static and imposing piece of furniture such as the table. To achieve this, the designer wanted to bring opposites into dialogue: the freedom of form of the curved lines that seem to seek infinity and the symmetry that develops from a central point around which everything rotates, continually changing its appearance without ever losing rigour. The designer opted for American maple, whose light colour with golden hues enhances the table’s sculptural appearance.
Milan, Italy. American maple. Made by Riva 1920.
Maria’s Arco seat and table draw inspiration from sculptural forms and the architecture of Benedictine abbeys. With a focus on a prominent curve, the table uses prime American cherry with planks carefully grain matched and machined. The chair has been designed to be sculptural, and to mimic the curves of the body. The side panels of the chair are coopered – a technique drawn from barrel-making –, and the piece is a celebration of the beauty of the hardwood.
Warsaw, Poland. American cherry. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
While the term ‘isolation’ has acquired negative meaning over the past couple of years, Mac takes a more positive view. ‘For me, the word has always carried romanticised connotations of contentment, serenity, contemplation and a sense of withdrawal from the rigmarole of socially prescribed routine,’ he says. During his time alone, books became precious companions, and this inspired him to create a place for reflection and reading. His lounge chair and bookrest, a ‘companion object’, encourage the sitter to tune out of daily life and focus on an analogue task.
Nottingham, UK. American cherry. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
Studio Swine designed a throne-style seat and table inspired by traditional Chinese gardens and the archetype of the Ming chair. After spending lockdown in Tokyo, the pair were left craving nature and wanted to celebrate the timber in its purest form. American cherry was chosen for its warmth and caramel tones for the solid seat and back leg, with curved steam bent American red oak front legs, arms and backrest.
Tokyo, Japan. American red oak and cherry. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
Libra was developed with the objective of highlighting a strong connection with nature. Its silhouette reflects the stylisation of a dragonfly, with the ground support representing its tapered body, while the top depicts its wings. At the point of intersection, the top is reduced to its essence, while in the central part it has a greater thickness to connect the elements. Lightness, elegance of line and dynamism are the keywords of Libra, which presents itself as a useful and versatile table.
Turin, Italy. American red oak. Made by Riva 1920.
‘The pandemic was a time for pause and reflection, when we became more present with ourselves and our surroundings,’ observes Pascal. The object represents this ever-changing existence: ‘you can adapt it in various ways, there is no front or back, no right or wrong.’ It’s a helper around the house or a place to sit. He chose red oak for its strength and worked on a design with a rational construction: each chair is made from a single plank of red oak (so you get consistency of grain), and its parts are held together with dovetails.
Berlin, Germany. American red oak. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
During his time in isolation, Taiho noted that ‘objects help human resilience through unusual situations’, and this thought served as the basis for his project. Guided by the ‘Ikea effect’ (consumers place higher value on products they partially created), he thought of a half-made design that users could partly assemble to foster interaction with their objects. He created one small table, put together thanks to an ingenious but simple-to-use joint system (no glue necessary), and the design multiplies to create a stackable system of shelves, suitable for different spaces. He chose hard maple, as the density of this timber means the joint can be moved in and out without crushing the fibre of the wood.
Seoul, Republic of Korea. American maple. Made by Evostyle.
The Kadamba Gate is driven by a strong narrative that guides the material choice as well as the piece’s construction. Both the table and bench function as outdoor pieces.The sculptural underframe is made from irregular-shaped extrusions in multiple heights, inspired by the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. This underframe is constructed from a mix of materials – American red oak, American cherry and thermally modified American red oak. The table’s top is laminated and machined, with a colourful gloss epoxy finish, and intricate removable brass detailing, which doubles as drainage for its outdoor environment. Ini’s bench uses a similar construction as the table, with a metal frame cased within sculptural timber extrusions.
Lausanne, Switzerland. American cherry, red oak and thermally modified red oak. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
The inspirations for Siyanda’s piece included isicholo, a hairstyle symbolising tribal identity in several African cultures, and indlamu, a tribal Zulu dance practised in celebratory ceremonies. He paired these visual references with a reflection on themes of engaging, human behaviour, and the role of design in people’s lives. ‘Engaging with other people is an intrinsic human trait,’ he says, citing this as the reason for his design, a modular, layered seat imagined for public spaces. He took a practical approach, looking into ergonomics and function to create his bench, composed of interlocking strips of thermally modified red oak – timber that has been baked to a high temperature, making it suitable for the outdoors.
Johannesburg, South Africa. Thermally modified American red oak. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
Gehring’s piece is an exploration into making better use of wood scraps from furniture production, combined with computational design methods. Leftover timber that falls below a certain dimension is often sorted out, incinerated or shredded. His concept aims to minimally process those leftovers, while retaining their individual forms and shapes. By using algorithms that adapt to the varying shapes and sizes, the leftover timber is precisely arranged, like building blocks, to create the form of furniture, giving the timber a second life as a functional object. The variable size and number of parts used for each chair, means each final piece is assembled in a different way with a unique finish.
Stuttgart, Germany. American cherry, maple and red oak. Made by Holzfreude.
Mesamachine is a complex and ambitious multi-element build, providing a single space to work, play, eat and spend time with family. Like a swiss army knife, functional elements can be opened and extended to serve a multitude of functions. The main table frame is made up like a hollow torsion box, with tensioning ribs running along its length. The various storage solutions and extending shelves work on timber runners and involve an exacting degree of precision in their manufacture. Two stools and a bench follow a similar design language, with smiley faces cut out to add a playful element. The timber choice is American cherry with a clear oil.
Valencia, Spain. American cherry. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
Morso is a table with simple workmanship that can be assembled completely by hand, without the use of tools. The concept is inspired by traditional carpentry: the starting point is the classic carpenter’s workbench. The legs are attached to the top with a countersunk dovetail joint, a reinterpretation of a traditional joint: this allows the binding properties of the joint to be maintained while facilitating its assembly. Two large screw clamps run horizontally across the legs and the top, and come together to hold all the parts together, binding them in place.
Milan, Italy. American cherry. Made by Riva 1920.
The Navalia table is made “via di levare”: blocks of wood are carved and refined until the final shape is achieved. The countersinks and inclinations build a dynamic form that mixes aesthetic and structural harmony in this complex trilithium. Its name echoes the nautical world, and by extension the aeronautical world, where the profiles and shapes of objects sublimate the relationship between form and function, expanding it into the realm of beauty.
Rome, Italy. American red oak. Made by Riva 1920.
Maria’s piece is from a wider collection, Nordic Pioneer, and offers a masterclass in Nordic design. The stackable stools with rounded seat pads are machined from solid maple act to celebrate the choice of timber. With a purity to both the seating and to her gate-leg table, they are intentionally pared back, to let the materials and construction do the talking. Made entirely in American maple, a key design detail is the elegant wooden hinge that runs the length of the tabletop, to lift and drop the leaf.
Copenhagen, Denmark. American maple. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
Maximilian took inspiration from the distinct propeller-like shape of maple seeds for his table and stools, with many subtle details that mirror the ingenious design of nature. The form of the stool allows it to be adjusted in height by a screw thread, referencing the spiral trajectory of the maple seed as it falls from the tree. In the natural world, the seeds hang from the tree branches and are carried away by the wind for pollination. Maximilian has reflected this in his stools, which can be distributed around the room or hung under the table to save space.
Vienna, Austria. American maple. Made by Holzfreude.
Ivana’s own experience of solitude led to extensive periods of reflection, ultimately inspiring her to change her approach to designing and making. A recurring theme of her research featured ways of framing a view at different scales, and the resulting design is a sculpture made from a series of small carved objects that layer to create a composition acting as a ‘sculpted path for light’. Working with three woods, she was interested in exploring different material hollows, cutting each layer to expose the wood’s grain.
Adelaide, Australia. American maple, cherry and red oak. Made by Evostyle.
For Clémence, the definition of ‘slow design’ is taking time, reducing waste, producing higher-quality products and finding balance between the society and environment in which we live. For her, a rocking chair embodies ‘slow design’. The back-and-forth motion of the chair encourages mindfulness in activities, while the object itself is traditionally passed down through generations. The chair’s thoughtful design gives it an artisanal feel but allows it to be flat-packed for practicality and to reduce the carbon footprint of transport.
Paris, France. American red oak. Made by Holzfreude.
Trang looked at traditional Vietnamese roof tiles for her project, creating a collection of nesting stools that replicate the way the tiles overlap to hide the connecting structures below. Her simple stool design is inspired by traditional temple architecture and Vietnamese dresses, and features pins made of contrasting wood at the joint, which remains hidden when the stools are stacked and is revealed when they are in use. By randomly using two of the species for the pins and another one for the rest for the stool, users can explore the various timbers when they unstack each piece.’ As people have been spending more time at home, her design is imagined to provide additional seats, while creating a beautiful composition when not in use.
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. American cherry, red oak, maple. Made by Fowseng.
Heatherwick Studio’s Stem celebrates the power of biophilia by incorporating planting into curved CNC-machined American maple legs, clamped to a glass tabletop. After spending 3 months at the same desk using video conferencing to communicate, the studio craved nature and began to see the space around them as a mini television studio – what is behind you and around you is now being seen by the world. Initial inspiration evolved from the craft of wooden spoon carving.
London, UK. American maple. Made by Benchmark Furniture.
A nostalgia for travel and social interaction guided Nong’s creative thinking through her project. Physical transitions were replaced with changing states of mind, and the physical realm merged with the psychological realm through domestic space. She looked at furniture created for relaxation, and landed on a rocking motion, which became the basis for her chair, offering a mix of relaxation and repetitive movement to enhance mindfulness. She used red oak for the chair because she was fascinated by its grain. ‘It’s quite expressive and I was interested in its porous nature.’
Bangkok, Thailand. American red oak. Made by Fowseng.
Inspired by Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison’s book Super Normal, Anna designed a chair that flirts with the idea of an archetype to draw attention to a more important issue: supporting a sustainable forestry system. Today, combining different types of wood in a single piece of furniture is still unusual and often a matter of taste. But the forest can’t be healthy and climate resistant in the long run if we continue to simply cherry-pick material from it. With its classical form, The (un)ordinary chair makes the combination of woods both visually and physically appealing for our living spaces, while contributing to a sustainable use of the forest.
Berlin, Germany. American red oak, maple, cherry. Made by Holzfreude.
Unable to carry out certain customs during lockdown, people were confined to performing rituals at home. Yunhan wanted to create a domestic alternative to the ‘winding stream party’, a Chinese drinking custom in which poetry is composed while a cup is floated down a stream with people sat on both sides; the person sitting in front of the cup that stops has to drink it. Inspired by Hakka round houses, she created a compact table design with storage concealed in the legs and a central slit to fit trays and cups. She chose hard maple for Winding Stream because she was drawn to the light colour, and the timber has been spray-painted to prevent rot from setting in.
Zuhai, China. American maple. Made by Fowseng.
The American hardwood forests cover a vast area, from Maine in the north to Louisiana in the south. It’s not a planted resource, so what exists in the forest is there because nature intended it. Generations of careful selective harvesting means there are trees of all sizes and ages, creating a more dynamic environment which is vital for biodiversity and carbon sequestration.
The timber choice we make will have a long-term impact on the health of these forests. Over-reliance on a narrow selection of wood types ultimately results in supply stress – so collectively we have a responsibility to use what nature provides.
Forest Tales presents three underused timbers – American red oak, cherry and maple – and questions the assumption that the most well-known varieties of wood are always the only ‘right’ woods to use. These three sustainable timbers account for over 40% of all the standing timber, so it’s vital they aren’t ignored. With their net volume increasing by 63 million m3 each year, the volume of timber used to make all the pieces in the exhibition can be replaced by new growth in the time it takes to read this paragraph.
American red oak
Acer saccharum, Acer nigrum, Acer rubrum
While cherry trees aren’t unique to the American hardwood forests – there are individual trees scattered in woodland across Europe, for instance – it does possess an important concentration. In fact, cherry makes up around 3 % of the American forest, and is most heavily concentrated in Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia.
A typical cherry tree reaches a height of 20m, with a truck diameter of 50cm, and takes 60 years to mature. The wood is easily recognisable by its warm red colour, while it also has a fine texture and a tight grain, which means it’s smooth, almost glass-like, to the touch. The wood is moderately strong as well as being easy to machine, shape and connect. One of its more quirky traits are the dark ‘gum streaks’ that can form in its grain. These are created by the peach bark borer and other insects but don’t affect the performance of the wood itself.
Cherry was a popular timber in the furniture industry 20 years ago. However, more recently it has fallen from fashion. Perhaps though, it’s time for it to be rediscovered. The wood is also used for panelling and veneers, and can often be found in auditoriums and concert halls because of its acoustic properties.
One of the curiosities of red oak is its name. After all the wood itself isn’t red – although it does sometimes possess a pink hue. Instead it derives its moniker from the colour of its leaves in the autumn. Importantly, it is the most abundant species in America’s hardwood forests and can be found through much of the eastern United States.
A typical red oak tree reaches a height of 21m, with a trunk diameter of 1m, and will take around 80 years to mature. One of the wood’s key characteristics is its open, porous, grain structure, which allows it to take up stain extremely well. It also means that, when soaked, water can travel through the wood, softening it and making it good for steam bending. The wood has a coarse, tactile texture and, as it grows across a continent with a slew of different climates, it can display variations in colour.
Traditionally red oak hasn’t been used regularly in Europe, with manufacturers often preferring indigenous oaks, but this might be about to change. It has similar properties to white oak but, due to its availability in the American forests, the wood comes in a huge range of specification options (or sizes) and represents excellent value for money.
There are two groups of maple – hard and soft. However, it’s important to point out that, in the latter’s case, its name is misleading as both woods are relatively hard and heavy. They are also reasonably common, making up around 15 % of the American hardwood forest. However, there are small anatomical details between the two groups that create some performance differences. Hard maple is heavier, and generally stronger, for instance. The trees grow in colder climates – so north of New York state and into Canada – while soft maple grows everywhere across the forests, meaning there tends to be more variations in the wood.
Eight species of maple are used commercially for timber and veneer – four hard and four soft – and a typical American maple tree can reach heights of 23-27m, with a trunk diameter of 75cm. The wood has a fine grain and is white, almost translucent, in appearance.
A little like cherry, maple has rather fallen out of fashion with furniture manufacturers and designers in Europe but is surely due a comeback. After all it is strong, machines well and can be stained to look like other species if necessary. It can also be used for a variety of things, from kitchenware to sports hall floors and other high traffic areas.
As they grow, trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while releasing oxygen. That makes timber a carbon store, vital for climate regulation. When harvested the carbon from this process is locked in the timber while in use. This has a positive impact on the carbon footprint of products made in wood.
A project by the American Hardwood Export Council
Four ambitious projects, three sustainable hardwoods,
With thanks to
Exhibition Design and curation
Viale Emilio Alemagna 6
3 – 12 June
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