Let’s go with the grain

Unlike people, trees get better with age. Wood is back in fashion
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Wood is back in fashion. The pendulum has swung towards a big revival of interest in this ancient material, and it comes at the right time, compared with less environmentally friendly plastic. Wood also arouses passion in many top designers.

“It is my favourite material. Every bit is unique because it is natural, and I love to celebrate its defects,” says Russell Pinch (020 7501 9262; www.pinchdesign.com), who has his own eponymous company but also designs for manufacturers such as Benchmark and SCP.

“Wood is so versatile. It comes in different colours; it can be hard or soft, manipulated and bent. It has familiarity, a human scale. A house without wood is a soulless place; with it, it feels like a home.”

His own designs certainly do. His award-winning Armoires are carefully crafted cupboards from full height to low sideboards, all with beautifully detailed interiors in cherry, ash and walnut. The more modernist Vigo storage system, with solid wood drawers, is high quality and practical.

Pinch pegs his passion to his childhood experiences of wood, as does designer/maker Gareth Neal (020 8510 0732; www.garethneal.co.uk). “I had an affinity with it as a child; I was always touching it and feeling it. I had a passion for making things and it was an available material. I just gelled with wood at an early stage,” he says.

Sideboard/bookcase (£4,950) by Russell Pinch
© James Merrell
Sideboard/bookcase (£4,950) by Russell Pinch
Neal’s extraordinary table, called Queen Anne because it looks like a table from the period trapped inside a modern table made of layers of wood, was recently auctioned alongside the work of Damien Hirst at Bonhams.

“I wanted to look at historical pieces in comparison to the blandness of much modern furniture. This is a statement of how decoration is back in.”

Pattern can come from the wood itself

As in the new range for Litton Furniture (01258 472359; www.littonfurniture.com) by Terence Conran and Andrée Putman. Litton is a long-established Dorset cabinetmaker with unparalleled making skills, which both designers exploit in their new furniture.

Putman’s trompe l’oeil side-tables have mixed veneers on the surface to give a 3D effect, and the decoration on her Seven Secrets cupboard comes from the juxtaposition of the grain at different angles.

Conran’s pièce de résistance is the L’Arche, an impressive cupboard faced with London plane and bog oak. The pattern is of receding doors down a corridor, or, as Conran describes it, “Looking up the Arc de Triomphe to La Defense”; the interior is burr ash.

Teak bath (£6,200 plus VAT), by The Water Monopoly
Teak bath (£6,200 plus VAT), by The Water Monopoly (020 7624 2636; www.watermonopoly.com)
“I love the idea,” says Conran, “that a tree grows all its life and at the end is beautiful. Unlike people, who are more beautiful when they are young and deteriorate as they get older, trees get better and better, especially if they have a disease. I just love using the burr (caused by disease) as I have done in L’Arche.”

Conran, with designer Sean Sutcliffe, owns furniture manufacturer Benchmark (01488 608030; www.benchmarkfurniture.com), and the pair bought Litton two years ago. Benchmark’s own wooden furniture is impressive.

The design philosophy is to use wood, craftsmanship and new technology with designs by, among others, Thomas Heatherwick, Russell Pinch, Shin and Tomoko Azumi, Jim Partridge and Liz Walmsley, Sarah Kay and Andrea Stemmer, as well as its two owners.

Lacquered sideboard by Russell Pinch (£3,995)<br />
© James Merrell
Lacquered sideboard by Russell Pinch (£3,995)
Benchmark has the Queen’s Award for Sustainable Development and was the first company to get a Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) chain of custody accreditation. This means they can show that each piece of wood comes from sustainably grown, harvested and sold timber.

Sean Sutcliffe is passionate about sustainability and until now has refused to use exotic woods because sustainability couldn’t be guaranteed. But for the first time in 25 years he has managed to acquire some approved Brazilian mahogany and teak.

An increasing number of designers are appreciating the joys of wood

Matthew Hilton (www.matthewhilton.com), formerly head of furniture design at Habitat, launched his own company last year making wooden furniture; Tord Boontje (00 33 477 396604; www.tordboontje.com) created an extraordinary cabinet that looks like a glamorous woman in a wooden corset, L’Armoire for Mallett in New Bond Street, in mahogany, okoume and padouk; and upcoming designers Jorre Van Ast (020 8880 0690; www.jorrevanast.com) and Peter Marigold (020 8880 0690; www.petermarigold.com) both offer fresh ideas in wood.

Andrée Putman’s Jack-in-the-Box coffee table (£6,400) for Litton
Andrée Putman’s Jack-in-the-Box coffee table (£6,400) for Litton
Two of the Homes & Property award winners at Origin work in wood. JP Vilkman (00 358 40 740 2031; www.j-pvilkman.com) makes unusual handmade tables and sideboards, while Nick Barberton (01725 510364; www.nickbarberton.co.uk) handmakes platters in strong modern designs.

Wood is a comforting material, especially in times of economic difficulty. “There are so many reasons to use wood,” says Sean Sutcliffe. “It is sustainable, has a positive effect on the environment, it ages well and its life is visible on the finished product. It is also strong and light but above all, it is beautiful to look at.”

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