Materials which are selected for the environment in which we work and live in are usually considered as a mirror of the soul. Some leave us cold and seem unapproachable, they keep us at a distance and create clear borders. Others are inviting and exude warmth, they invite us to touch and bring a harmonic balance to a room. Wood is without doubt part of the second category and is more and more sought after as a material - both for our homes and offices.
What is it that makes wood so fascinating? Surely, it can't be just the diversity of nature with its different grains, habits and wood types, providing us with a seemingly endless range of design opportunities. It's also the thought of a natural environment and grown beauty, the idea of valuable resources and sustainability and the feeling of security and soundness. Wood combines all of these qualities: a regrowing miracle material which never stops to live and is unparalleled. No surprise then, that since the invention of the saw blade man has always wanted to surround himself with this natural element.
In recent years, furnishing has seen a decline in the use of wood: The charm of a cosy home was often left behind in a desire to follow a strict purity. However, it seems that people now have had enough of resilient plastic furniture from the injection moulding plant and also aluminium, which is, after all, not very environmentally friendly. People want to come back to their familiar roots. A trend which is more and more found in the modern office world, too.
For a long time, wooden furniture has been a rigid and rather heavy affair, even though the artistry and flair of it has been outstanding over the centuries. From the farmhouse cupboard to the baroque chest, from the simple stool to a glorious throne, wood has left an impression of weight and immobility, causing a feeling of utter inflexibility and darkened the joy of such a piece of furniture. The first person to break away from this merciless immobility was Michael Thonet, a carpentry master who in his first own workshop in Germany's Boppard on the Rhine developed the bentwood technology and claimed its success for posterity.
In 1830, he started to create bentwood - mostly made from beech and sycamore - by bending the wood over hot water steam and built chairs. Before that he had already practised to process glued and bent battens. Whilst experimenting, he found that wood can be made pliable by cooking or steaming since this process softens the lignin within the wood. Otherwise, the wood would break on the outside. Tensioned into pre-made metal moulds, the wood was then dried and worked - in its bent state - into furniture. The most surprising result was that the products were absolutely solid and almost indestructible. The new lightness of the furniture, which could be moved single-handedly, also achieved a new dimension in a different matter: The famous Cafe-Chair no. 14 was completely folded flat and transported in large quantities all over the world. The logistical achievement of distributing this chair on such a large scale has been a part of its success and has made it a benchmark within the sector.
The use of bentwood designs not only flourished in Germany; the Scandinavians also discovered this technology for themselves. The aim was to restrain a bit of nature whilst maintaining the essence of it with its characteristic features. Specifically, in the fifties and sixties, a true bentwood technology fever began: wood was brought back as an item to live with and the material became an object of desire. The friendliness of wooden furniture was simply unbeatable and outshone everything.
This friendliness is probably one of the reasons why we still like to use these real classic furniture items. As an example look at the armchair 26, which was designed by Alvar Aalto in 1932 and of which initially only prototypes were made. In its design, you can see Alto's typical curved lines whilst the overall structure is very minimal. A different calibre is the PP 130 or the Circle Chair by Hans J. Wegner, which has been produced by PP Møbler since 1986. The solid ash and the braided halliard are elements which are often repeated in Wegner's designs.
The craftsman Sören Holst Pedersen and his experienced apprentice Henry Fisker found it necessary to develop a machine that would allow them to manufacture this armchair - something which even Wegner thought to be impossible. The designer, who made design history as the man who designed 500 chairs, was a total victim of his fascination with wood. Based on this passion, he created further masterpieces such as the Shell Chair, manufactured by Carl Hansen.
Ray and Charles Eames also could not escape the spell of wood and created famous classics such as the legendary Lounge Chair or the LCW chair. Previously, the duo had tried for years to form three dimensional laminated wood so it would perfectly complement the human body. It was not just adults who benefited from their unusual design approach: For kids, they developed the famous Elephant which brought young people playfully closer to wooden design.
It was not just Ray and Charles Eames who realised that wood creates a special atmosphere; all designers of those productive design years between 1940 and 1970 realised it too. In the meantime, almost close to extinction, the first decade of the 21st century saw a slow return to the renewable raw material. The results are remakes and new interpretations and also ideas and experiments which possibly have what it takes to become classics in their own right, e.g. the Derma Chair by Takao Ando, manufactured by Carl Hansen, or Mantilla chair by Patricia Urquell, manufactured by Very Wood.
Wood always presents itself gracefully on a large scale, not just for floors but also for tables and cabinets. Wood can develop here its full natural scope. If signs of branches, wormholes and other natural signs were in the past frowned upon, today they are enthusiastically embraced. A move from the mass products of the past has already begun to items that are more unique and have character. And this trend is specifically noticeable for the home furnishing sector. For business uses, a vivid grain or other irregularity will create in the eye of the beholder an almost welcome distraction from the strict everyday office life.
No matter how you look at it: Wood touches people's souls. It offers a huge range of technical opportunities to designers to realise their visions with a universal material. Wood means to its user a sense of homeliness and sensuality, agreeable haptics, smell and a sense of well-being. These attributes become increasingly more important and the workplace furniture sector certainly does not want to miss out. The trend for more individuality and personality in the office means that wood is no longer just a privilege for the management level. Wood in a completely new quality can now be found team areas, the meeting points and the "market places" of the business world. TIMBA by Bene, designed by PearsonLloyd is the best example for this.
TIMBA is a stool and also a table. The legs are made of solid wood. Specifically the TIMBA stool, with its tapered legs, reminds us that wood as a material also represents a healthy solidity and groundedness which is at the same time an expression of reliability and familiarity. The table regains its "old" traditional importance and at the same time introduces more weight to a room. If wood used to be seen as an elite only material then TIMBA embodies a completely new generation of furniture which is suitable for every application.
The office has no space left for non-durable products that soon lose their beauty once they are put through intensive use. On the contrary: Sturdiness and suitability for everyday use have become a new standard everywhere in the office which stands in stark contrast to those delicate tables and chairs found in the rooms of upper management.
And this fact is rather nice.