27 January 2021

You need wood to make a table

Ancestral yet very contemporary, wood is the material of the moment because it is the only one that derives from renewable and regenerable sources, the only material that is truly totally recyclable and, often, the only one whose supply can really be said to be zero kilometre. At a moment in history such as this, when the exploitation of energy resources is on all the government agendas, it’s no longer possible to imagine design and architecture without it. On the contrary, using this furnishing (and construction) material is now a necessity, and an act of responsibility and maturity. It’s not a question of following a trend or an intellectual or merely aesthetic fashion. Nor does it “lose” its fascination, emotion or warmth. Quite the reverse, for those who choose it, wood is a constant surprise because each trunk, each branch, every plank and every slat is unrepeatable, original, different from the next. Wood combines functionality, good looks and huge versatility – it is light and elastic, it can be worked into an extraordinary wealth of shapes, carved, decorated and even inlaid. It demonstrates that it is absolutely contemporary and on a par with many other innovative materials.

Many businesses are now rediscovering not just the artisan skills, the knowledge and the abilities, but also the ancient processing techniques which are now being harnessed to fulfil the contemporary vision of designers. They inform products in which the cut, the shaping, the smoothing and the finishing almost make us lose sight of the fact that they are mass produced. They are “live” furnishings, made to be long-lasting and not made to cater for passing taste thanks to the tremendous expressive power of the wood.

We have chosen just over 20 pieces, their style unmistakable yet understated, solidly silent yet precious, inviting one to touch the material from which they are made.

However, there’s one thing that needs to be flagged up before we start out on our journey: last year, Riva1920, synonymous with Made in Italy wood furniture par excellence, has just celebrated its 100th anniversary and issued the Centenarium Collection to guide us through a world made up of carefully selected wood, sourced from planned and controlled felling, reusing Venetian “Briccola” mooring posts or very precious woods such as the Ancient Kauri from New Zealand, all shaped by master craftsmen and hand-finished with oils and waxes. Riva1920 products marry new technologies and craftsmanship to come up with made-to-measure furnishings and hand down stories and feelings. The brand’s journey has been an important one, fuelled by its great love for this particular material, sustainable design and its collaborations with leading designers, always with an eye to the environment and the upcoming generations.

Freedom, Tao design by C.R.&S. Riva1920; Bungalow, design by Jamie Durie, Riva1920

Now for chairs. Who said that in order to be comfortable they necessarily have to look like upholstereds? As well as being decidedly good-looking and made of wood, latest generation (timewise) and wooden chairs are also functional and comfortable. One such example is Armadillo, craftsman-designed and produced in Mogente (Valencia) by MUT Design for Expormim. The chair, a reworking of a furnishing classic in rattan – the Papasan – was inspired not just by the name but also by the silhouette of the amusing animal, channelling serenity despite a strong personality created by the postmodern features typical of this Spanish design duo.

Armadillo, desgn by MUT Desing, Expormim

Alfredo Häberli’s Time for Alias looks to the ancient art of origami. The concept behind the chair revolves around the transformation of a simple two-dimensional leaf into a three-dimensional shell of great stylistic balance and obvious ergonomic characteristics. The die cut leaf, made with a sandwich of wood and composites, allows the parts to slot perfectly together, making for an enveloping, ergonomic design.

Time, design by Alfredo Häberli, Alias

Jasper Morrison tells us that while on a trip to the country, his attention was caught by some old stools. They were hand-made with curved stick legs and round solid wood seats, and seemed to be the perfect shape for sitting on. His version, Zampa for Mattiazzi, maintains the direct, practical and genuine approach, while being lighter, flexible and decidedly more brightly coloured. The designer sees it as a statement against everything that is “fashion and fakeness” in furnishing.

Zampa, design by Jasper Morrison, Mattiazzi
Photo Fabian Frinzel

Patrick Jouin has also been won over by wood, as seen in Héra for Pedrali. Its pure design and fluid shape – which respects the material as much as possible, make for a blend of lightness, comfort and ergonomics in a product that is also sustainable. The wooden parts of the chair come from certified forests, while the water-based paints are largely composed of plant-derived resins.

Héra, design by Patrick Jouin, Pedrali

Fuelled by GamFratesi’s creative energy, Romby for Porro is the translation of an extremely simple geometric shape, the rhomboid, into a three-dimensional piece of furniture. The designers worked with 3D modelling and designs to preserve the original shape. The chair is thus made up of two harmonious elements – the solid wood cone-shaped base, its flared shape made in segments in an example of fine cabinetry, and the padded, soft and compact swivel seat.

Romby, design by GamFratesi, Porro
Photo Kasia Gatkowska

Frank Jiang draws inspiration from the weaving of vine branches for the wooden structure of Vine, his small easy chair for Turri. The result is a light, comfortable and deep chair that references typical Fifties design, thanks to the back and arm rests that come together in a complex balance of straight lines and geometrical curves.

Vine, design by Frank Jiang, Turri

Nikari, the Finnish brand noted for the responsible production of solid wood furnishing, has looked to the Sixties and to its heritage. The Storia stool, designed by the founder of the brand Kari Virtanen, channels minimalism in order to highlight the natural beauty of the material and is a homage to traditional Nordic craftsmanship and to the very first stool he designed many years ago.

Storia, design by Kari Virtanen, Nikari

The function of the table, however, is no longer unique and unequivocal. During the day it serves as a place where people can gather and eat or take a solo coffee break, as a work or study station or as the hub around which the entire family can gather for new forms of conviviality and sharing. Basically, a piece of furniture originally designed for dining purposes has now become the focus for many different domestic activities. One certainty remains, however, which is that wooden tables always have a story to tell, exuding welcome and transmitting a feeling of intimacy.

Nara, by Jean-Marie Massaud for Poliform, is not just a simple coffee table, it can also be turned into a practical stool or bedside table. Its shape is fluid, its lines are clean, its personality is strong and its power evocative.

Nara, design by Jean-Marie Massaud, Poliform

“Is a piece of wood that rests on a simple structure enough to produce a piece of furniture?” This is the question Christophe Pillet asked himself when he designed the Any Day console for Flexform. The answer has to be yes, if “in this sophisticated understatement we find attention to detail, balanced proportions, celebrated elegance of the silhouette and masterful execution, characteristics that define the unique quality of that object.”

Any Day, design by Christophe Pillet, Flexform

Thomas Bentzen reminds us that we are just at the start of the smart office concept with his Linear System of tables for Muuto, which respond effectively to the demands of constantly-changing contemporary workspaces. They are not just tables, but desk systems with tabletops, lights, screens and integrated power. Needless to say, they can be customised. The use of wood, with its tactile warmth and familiarity, transmits a feeling of belonging to the user.

Linear System, design by Thomas Bentzen, Muuto

Shibumi, Jiun Ho’s latest creation for Porada, is a dining table that marries Italian craftsmanship with elements of Japanese design. Characterised by its elegant design and individuality, it combines highly visually impactful geometries with the lively and expressive nature of ash wood.

Shibumi, design by Jiun Ho, Porada
Photo Davide Cerati

Bookcases and sideboards, the domestic wunderkammer on or in which we display or tidy away the objects that tell the story of our lives, have always been the protagonists of cabinetmaking. They’ve made a comeback in interior design and have been brought bang up to date with designs that combine the allure of wood with contemporary lines. Carl Hansen & Søn, for instance, has issued unused designs by Børge Mogensen and produced the BM0253 Shelving System, a modular bookcase conceived in 1958 but never brought onto the market. With its infinite compositional possibilities, minimalist design is the strongpoint of these furnishing pieces, which channel beautifully the interest in Danish Modern wood.

BM0253 Shelving System, design by Børge Mogensen, Carl Hansen & Søn

Gordon Guillaumier’s Rigadin collection for Alf Da Frè is extremely interesting. He has taken the traditional ribbed decorative “rigadin” motif, engraved onto Murano vases and glasses in order to obtain particular refractions of the light, and has applied it to wood, producing a collection consisting of a solid wood cupboard, sideboard, and table named after the process itself. Solid wood is the essence of Rigadin, and the relief effect transmits warmth and a powerful feel.

Rigadn, design by Gordon Guillaumier, Alf Da Frè

Setsu & Shinobu Ito’s project for Giorgetti is all about emotion. Kiri is a mobile bar cabinet, a precious treasure chest, a timeless object named after the ancient Japanese tradition of planting a Kiri tree to mark the birth of a daughter. The tree would grow with the child and was turned into a precious sideboard when she got married, as dowry intended to accompany the bride into her new life. The two designers have overlaid their precious object with vertical strips of Canaletto walnut and chosen to go for a carved marble top.

Kiri, design by Setsu & Shinobu Ito, Giorgetti

Just as in some of the most classic film thrillers, what seems like a simple wall can be activated automatically to reveal a secret room. It then closes and becomes a majestic bookcase. Lybre, designed by Piero Lissoni for Lualdi is an imposing revolving bookcase in fossil oak that can be activated manually or by remote control. It’s a creative way to separate and mark out spaces whilst also keeping them connected.

Lybre, design by Piero Lissoni, Lualdi
Photo Beppe Raso

Cassina is also channelling heritage and the diktat of the moment – division. In collaboration with the heirs of Giacomo Balla, the brand has produced the screen designed by the artist in 1917, which fully represents the revolutionary principles of the Futurist movement of which he was a leading exponent. Brightly coloured and powerful, the Paravento Balla is composed of three honeycomb wood panels of differing heights and widths, which can be opened in either direction.

Paravento Balla, Cassina

Another rediscovered ‘vintage’ furnishing piece for eclectic interior decor is the floor mirror. Zanat has come up with Sky by Monica Förster – not just practical objects but modern art sculptures, hand carved in solid wood that are so good-looking that they look beautiful from every angle. Like totems, they are becoming protagonists of domestic spaces.

Sky, design by Monica Förster, Zanat

Why stop at kitchens and living rooms? Wood is also making inroads into bathrooms. This is where it fosters intimate and natural relaxation. Effegibi is well aware of this and, with Yoku by Marco Williams Fagioli, it is channelling a particular branch of natural Japanese medicine based on the beneficial effect of contact with plants and forest atmospheres. While the design is essential, balanced and rigorous, inside Yoku is welcoming, while the wide glazed front is articulated by vertical elements in natural wood that become the load bearers for open shelves that “dialogue” with all kinds of surrounding spaces.

Yoku, design by Marco Williams Fagioli, Effegibi

Not just furniture. Light too is fascinated by wood. Lens, for example, is an entire collection of lighting devices designed by MUT for LZF, which makes wood its strong point. A perfectly round or elliptical shade, empty in the middle or embellished with a mirror in the wall version, emits a suffused, radiant light. Also available as a table or floor lamp, it sits on a slender metal base, sending out the image of a fluid, perfectly symmetrical and elegantly simple object.

Lens, design by MUT Design, LZF
Photo Angel Segura Foto

The Illan pendant lamp by the young Hungarian designer Zsuzsanna Horvath for Luceplan, which was presented at SaloneSatellite as a prototype, valorises all the qualities of wood. In Hungarian the word illan indicates something ephemeral, fleeting, its beauty needing to be captured immediately without allowing oneself to be distracted by busy, everyday life. The highly decorative, very light body is made from thin, flexible plywood, laser cut along densely packed, equidistant lines and hung from the ceiling. Gravity gives it its characteristic shape which flutters in the undulating air, making for an ethereal, vibrant design and a comfortable and relaxing lighting effect.

Illan, design by Zsuzsanna Horvath, Luceplan

With the pandemic, words and concepts like circularity, eco-design and respect for nature have acquired new potential and new dynamism. ReThinking The Future from Tabu expresses this awareness through the study and unveiling of new potential for wood. This is a new collection of veneers and inlays, a polyphony of wood species, shapes and colours, an expression and synthesis of beauty and of the emerging interior design trends.

ReThinking The Future, Tabu

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