Flow Chair Iroko, design  Jean Marie Massaud (2020) for MDF Italia Images courtesy MDF Italia

Possibility of Wood Application in Furniture Design

The topic of this post is the usage of wood in the furniture industry. The natural and unique properties of wood inspire designers all over the world, at any time. This conventional material combined with innovative design ideas and advanced production techniques, as a result, has interesting design solutions and products on a high level of quality. This post is one of the posts which will follow, devoted to the materials for the furniture industry. In this one, I will present a wide range of usage of wood and wood products in furniture design.

Materials selection

It is a long way from the initial design idea to the final product. Materials consideration play an important role during the entire process of furniture product development.

At the early phase, designers identify the material(s) with specific properties which fulfil the required functions, the purpose and aesthetic. During the process, the idea has to be confirmed and enhanced.

Besides the design requirements, the chosen material(s) have to be in line to the production process, which will enable the realization of the product (shape, joining of the parts, surface finishing). 

The aim is always that innovative furniture design (Photo 1) is not only functional and manufacturable but also affordable. That is why the team engaged in the Materials selection process, includes diverse consultants: industrial designers than engineering and manufacturing specialist but also marketing and management members. Only work of interdisciplinary teams can bring an attractive, functional, ergonomic and safe piece of furniture.

Wooden Chair design  Marc Newson(1992)
Photo 1: Wooden Chair design Marc Newson(1992) for Cappellini Images courtesy Marc Newson Studio
Extended limits of wood shaping
Wooden Chair is a small armchair with beautiful flowing lines designed by Marc Newson. This innovative design is the best proof about performance and shapes that can be achieved from wood.
Wooden Chair is with fluid and continuous, almost organic form. The structure of the armchair is made of natural beech heartwood with oil-finish. The wood strips are bent with hot steam to form a double curve, supported by two horizontal reinforcements: 2 at the ends and 3 in the seating area, all fastened with stainless steel visible screws. The planks are with thin lines, seem fragile but the wood provides stability of the product.
Although Wooden Chair looks like the sculpture, it is an interesting piece of furniture enabling the user to sit comfortably. It adds the functional and visual quality to any space.

The wide range of wood usage

Wood is an organic, natural material widely used for different purposes: as a construction material, for production of paper, cellophane, cellulose acetate… Wood is also one of the essential materials used in the furniture industry for centuries. 

Wood is used for furniture production:

  • For a variety of product types and categories 
  • For variety of purpose
  • For different part of the furniture
  • For a variety of material combination 
  • for a wide range of shapes 
  • for a variety of dimension

Wooden final furniture products are of different purpose. There is also a wide range of semi-finished wood products for furniture and furnishings. These products vary from curved or shaped semi-finished products, wood elements for chairs (seat, legs..), wood furniture components like door frames or drawer fronts…than edged solid wood panels and many others. 

Wooden moulds are the tools used in the producing process for furniture and many other products. 

Wood used for furniture production can be divided into two groups-solid wood products and Man-made woods.

Wooden bench Loveseat designer Jake Phipps (2008)
Photo 2: Wooden bench Loveseat designer Jake Phipps (2008) for Riva 1920 Images courtesy Jake Phipps
Wood propertiesunderline aesthetic appeal
Designer Jake Phipps chooses a single block of scented Cedarwood for his bench Loveseat.
The properties of the used material enhance the elegant form of the product.
Movements, cracks and changes in the appearance of the wood are intrinsic characteristics of the bench.‎ There is no additional details, just form and this natural material. The product was realized completely from natural wood hand-finished without the addition of any treatment.‎
In this case, the cedar material and its characteristic emphasized with production process give the character to this original and ergonomic design.
Jake Phipps showed us how to apply wood on a new way with an addition that used material is an organic, renewable and sustainable resource.

For a variety of product types and categories 

The characteristic of wood enables designers to use it for their design which fulfils different human activities. Wooden furniture serves for storage, sitting, work, eating, lying down, sleeping and relaxing… So, the product range of wooden or wood-based furniture varies from chairs (photo 12), tables (photo 4) to storage units (photo 3), chests of drawers, cupboards, TV cabinets or sun lounger  …and many others. 

Furniture product can satisfy only one functional role like bench (photo 2) or chairs for seating, writing desk for work. Some furniture items are multipurpose and provide more than one task like console table which extended become dining table. 

Some furniture is, at first glance, with hidden possibilities it offers. One of the examples is wall-mounted, thin memo board which is, in fact, foldable desk and provides many choices for work like Flatframe design Michael Hilgers.

Designers choose wood for their furniture design whether it is an individual piece or part of the group of products. The furniture set represent a group of individual pieces, each fulfils different task and all of them are mutually combined. They are all designed with aesthetic features (material, finishing, colours…) that are compatible. Some of the examples are office furniture sets or dining room sets in the home.

Another type of group furniture is System furniture. They present a range of parts in standard, the modular dimension with the possibility to create a composition (dimension, functional solution…) in line to the needs and requirements of the user. These components have portability and can easily get assembled, disassembled and reassembled in different ways as needs change. The examples of this type are storage systems, modular systems, libraries systems (photo 6).

When group furniture is in question the designers take care of the following characteristic: type of material used, wood species, type of surface finish, colours and style of each item

Designers also use wood for items of Built-in furniture. They are a special type of furniture opposite of free-standing furniture with different purposes. The main characteristic of built-in furniture is that allows fully incorporation of the furniture in the available space. Built-in furniture looks like a part of the space and is the best option to achieve full functionality. There are several forms of built-in furniture: closets, built-in shelving and cabinetry which take place in living rooms, bedrooms or garages…

Finally, wood is an interesting material for the contract sector as satisfy a full spectrum of requirements and look just as good in large public spaces as in smaller ambiences. 

The individual pieces of furniture like wall shelve, CD rack or chair… are small items but not less interesting for furniture designers.

Wood is equally used for furniture whether the style is traditional or modern.

Storage units Tesaurus design  Antonio Citterio (2019)
Photo 3: Storage units Tesaurus design Antonio Citterio (2019), Collection: Maxalto for B&B Italia  Images courtesy B&B Italia
The craftsmanshipenhance the elegant form of storage unit
Tesaurus is a series of refined storage units designed by Antonio Citterio. The item represents an interesting combination of materials. The base is a die-castaluminium structure, top in marble while the interiors are made of refined maple frisé.
The shape of the curved wooden doors underlines the high quality of the craftsmanship. Among the offered finishes the wood ones are especially interesting. The veneered light oak or Chilean Tineo wood with semi-glossy shellac finish is made with a staggered checker motif with crossed grains. Thanks to the complex handcrafted processes inherent in the manufacturing processes, the value of Tesaurus is immediately obvious.
Carioca table, design Andrea Lucatello (2014)
Photo 4: Carioca table, design Andrea Lucatello (2014) for Cattelan Italia  Images courtesy Cattelan Italia
The dining table base in the first forefront
Andrea Lucatello made a good combination of materials for his design. His Carioca table is with base in solid Canaletto walnut wood. Made of wooden ‘rings’ which can be doubled depending on the top dimensions. The structure looks light but stable. The top is with plates in 15mm clear glass or extra clear bevelled glass. Designed this way the table looks very light, simple and fit in any space.
Swing armchair Swing, design Carlo Colombo (2015)
Photo 5: Swing armchair Swing, design Carlo Colombo (2015) for Giorgetti  Images courtesy Giorgetti
Wood structure for seating
Carlo Colombo designed Swin, a comfortable armchair for Giorgetti. Swing is one of the examples of wood used for the structure of the product. The frame of Swing is in solid walnut Canaletto wood. The wood structure is elegantly shaped and provides support to the upholstery in saddle leather.
The good design solution with a combination of wood and leather is timeless, refined design and at the same time vintage.
Bookcase PrologodesignJamesTresserra(1995) Bookcase PrologodesignJamesTresserra(1995) Bookcase PrologodesignJamesTresserra(1995)
Photo 6: Bookcase Prologo design James Tresserra (1995) for Tresserra  Images courtesy Tresserra
The modular bookcase withsuccessful combination of materials
The collection of the furniture designed by James Tresserra includes the Modular bookcase Prologo. The designer decides to use walnut wood with the combination of cedarwood for interiors for this product. Both materials are matched and fit into the harmonious unity of the final product. Metal fittings and accessories in stainless steel and vaquetillaleather complement this modular bookcase. At first glance, this library seems simple, but its details express the design level and quality of the production.
Prologo is a proof of aesthetic values which can be achieved with a combination of the finest wood and other materials with skilled craftsmanship.

 

For Variety of purpose

Designers use wood equally for indoor and outdoor furniture (photo 7). Wood is a good choice in the case of outdoor furniture if made of certain types like teak, eucalyptus, cedar, pine, and oak. For instance, teak furniture can last for generations and requires truly little maintenance thanks to its natural oils. 

We recognize outstanding use of wood furniture in residential, commercial (hotels, office, retail..) and public buildings (schools, libraries ).

 

Archi Collection, design Henrik Pedersen for Gloster
Photo 7: Archi Collection, design Henrik Pedersen for Gloster  Images courtesy Gloster
The materials adapted for outdoor use
Henrik Pedersen (Danish design studio 365°) designed Archi Collection outdoor. The structure and seat of the furniture are made of teak wood while the back rest is made of curved teak with wrapped rope fully weather resistant.
Because teak is a naturally oily wood, it is not possible to paint or varnish. Any paint or varnish applied will not adhere properly to the surface and after a short while will start to peel off.
Natural finish & buffed teak, left to age naturally outside, will gradually change to a soft, silver-grey as the pigments in the surface layer of the wood begin to fade away.

For different part of the furniture

Designers use solid wood and Man-made Wood materials for the whole furniture product (like a wooden bench) or only as a part of the product ( like bed frame, tabletop) or just ornaments. The combinations of solid wood and Man-made Wood materials are numerous.

Structure or structural parts

Wood selection is a complex process, partly depend on part of the furniture where it will be applied. Thanks to the mechanical properties’ designers use wood for the structure of the furniture. This solution is especially present on the product like chairs, armchairs (photo 5).  or tables. If we consider a wooden chair, designers usually choose hardwoods for pieces where abrasion and other stress will occur. Legs of chairs are one of such items and for them, it is suitable to select hard maple. They will usually choose pine or poplar for the seat, for back also hardwoods like maple, oak or ash. If the chair is with bent parts, ash or white oak will be appropriate (photo 12). Whether the designer option is to use hardwood (oak, cherry, maple..) or softwood ( pine), there is innate stability and reliability to a well-made wooden piece of furniture like chair or desk. The structure of the chair or table (photo 8) can be made of other materials for instance of metal with wooden parts applied for the seat, backrest or tabletop. 

Designers use the wooden frames or only pedestals for upholstered furniture and they are visible on the first glance (photo 9). In many cases, wooden structural elements are hidden under the upholstered layers of the furniture.

Even when structural items are made of a different material (metal for instance),

the upholstered furniture can be with wooden parts like legs, feet or arms

The wooden support is present also on other product like a vertical bracket for umbrella or structure for deck chairs. 

The external frame of furniture like a chest of drawers, sideboards, wardrobes, kitchen units, libraries and many others are usually made of wood. Lately, traditional wood products such as hardwood lumber, veneer, and plywood designers replaced with products such as particleboard, hardboard, and medium-density fiberboard with the final finish in line to the design. These modern composite wood products are constructed of wood fibres, or particles and save wood resources and cut down the cost. 

Exterior solid parts 

Some parts of the furniture can be made of solid wood like door and drawer front or door frames.

The knobs, drawer pulls, or just ornaments are sometimes the only solid wood parts on the furniture. The wood types commonly used for such parts of the furniture are walnut, beech, teak, maple, oak, ash, poplar and pine, etc,

There is also vide range of combination of solid wood and Man-made boards. One of the combinations is that solid wood doors and drawers, or solid door frames are used with veneer overlaid particleboard and MDF board for other parts of the furniture.

Interior parts

Certain types of wood products are used for interior parts of the furniture like drawer frames (bottoms, sides and backs), back of cabinets, internal shelves. For instance, designers can opt for wood particles panel with melamine faced cover or painted for a drawer frame.

Side Table freistil 159 design Jonathan Radetz for FreistilROLF BENZ
Photo 8: Side Table freistil 159 design Jonathan Radetz for Freistil ROLF BENZ  Images courtesy Jonathan Radetz Studio
The side table with hidden possibilities
The multidisciplinary designer Jonathan Radetz designed Side table freistil 159. The table represents a combination of wood and metal. The shape of the table is simple and elegant. Our attention attack tabletop in solid natural oak with nice texture. The metal frame is thin, stable and connection of two parts is achieved through laterally milled notches of the top. Interesting is that assembling is easy, without tools. This means that you can easily remove the top from the frame and turn it over. The designer proposal is to dedicate one side of the table for your kids who want to paint or carve something on the surface. The decision is up to the owner.
Sofa system Belle Reeve, design Luca Nichetto (2018) Sofa system Belle Reeve, design Luca Nichetto (2018) Sofa system Belle Reeve, design Luca Nichetto (2018)
Photo 9: Sofa system Belle Reeve, design Luca Nichetto (2018) for De La espada Images courtesy Luca Nichetto Studio
The sofa system sense of details
Luca Nichetto designed Belle Reeve a sofa system with numerous possibilities of configuration. The main feature of the product is wood construction, particularly visible on the side panels, whose texture gives lightness and dynamism to the product. The different types of wood (3 types) in a range of finishes gives specific personality to each piece. The contrast to the wood structure is brass or stainless-steel feet. The wood appears also on armrests as a small, functional table. The natural materials and craftsmanship give the value to Belle Reeve system.
The sense of details is shown in the connection between the metal leg and wooden structure and button which connect upholstery and solid wood lattice panels.

For a variety of material combination 

Wood offers a unique opportunity for combination with other materials.

This is a reason that many furniture pieces are made of wood and other materials like metal, stone, leather (photo 5), glass(photo 4)...depending on the product type and design. In this case, designers should consider the issues of the interconnections of the materials. This detail can become a crucial part of the whole product design (photo 10).

In some cases, designers create furniture items made with two or more kinds of solid wood, from different reasons (cost, aesthetic). For instance, rare (expensive) solid wood can be used where appearance is important, such as table-tops; while the more common woods are used for less displayed structural pieces, such as table or chair legs. It is assumed that in such a situation, the designer harmonizes the used solid woods types and their aesthetic appeal. The joining details of woods can be enhanced by manual production (photo 11). The real value and quality of the furniture will be achieved with the combination of the contemporary production technique and manually production.

Flow Chair Iroko, design  Jean Marie Massaud (2020)
Photo 10: Flow Chair Iroko, design Jean Marie Massaud ( 2020) for MDF Italia  Images courtesy MDF Italia
The wood type enable indoor and outdoor usage
Jean Marie Massaud designed Flow chair which with the swivel 4-legged base. The base is made of the solid Iroko wood and because of that suitable for indoor and outdoor spaces.
Iroko is a very dense African wood, highly resistant to bad weather, light and extremes of temperature with smooth, even surface.
All parts made of Iroko are treated using an exclusive varnish, specifically for outdoor use. The shell, made from polycarbonate through injection moulding, is gloss outside and microgoffered inside. The contrast of natural wood and gloss polycarbonate enhance aesthetic values.
Flow Chair Iroko also meets the various design needs for the contract, hospitality, and restaurant business.

For a wide range of shapes 

Although most furniture projects involve the use of wood straight boards, some design solution requires the realization of the curved lines. The possibilities of wood processing offer to the designers a wide range of shaped and curved elements. 

Designers use curved bentwood or curved plywood to achieve needed furniture design solution with different shapes (photo 1).

Bentwood items are made by wetting wood then bending it and letting it harden into curved shapes and patterns. Parts made by this method are used in the production of different type of chairs, tables or other light furniture. Such items can also be used for parts of upholstered furniture like armrest on the armchair.

Moulded plywood parts of furniture can be two- or three-dimensionally shaped from multiple veneer layers that are glued together so they do not return to their original flat state when removed from the mould, after heating and pressuring. The three-dimensionally shaped moulded plywood items designers use for chair frames and components (photo12) like seats, shells and backrests. Designers also use moulded plywood parts for door.  or drawer front on the sideboard or other types of furniture. The wood types mainly used for the construction of curved and shaped elements are the following: Ash, Oak and Beech.

Several different methods that can be used for moulded plywood parts and each of them is with its advantages and disadvantages.

Tsuki Ash table,design Henley and Kille for Henley and Kille
Photo 11: Tsuki Ash table, design Henley and Kille for Henley and Kille Images courtesy Henley and Kille
The table with personality
Henley and Kille created Tsuki table which is meticulously made by hand, in their workshop. The main features of the Tsuki table are fine materials in this case wood (Ash, Oak and Walnut), quality of woodworking and sense for details. The form of the Tsuki table is with clean lines, circular top and half crescent leg detail. The main feature of the table is the detail such as split wedge tenons, that are as strong as they are beautiful. The realization of such subtle details is possible only with a deep passion for craft and exceptional craftsmanship.
The details which are between Japanese tradition and Scandinavian minimalism give personality to this beautifully crafted and cleverly designed table.
Chair Palmo   desrgn LucidiPevere ( 2019)
Photo 12: Chair Palmo desrgn LucidiPevere ( 2019) for Cantarutti  Images courtesy LucidiPevere
Curved lines express the character of the wood
Palmo is a seating collection designed by LucidiPevere (Paolo Lucidi and Luca Pevere). The main feature of the collection is a solid wooden structure made of beech or ash wood. The structural items are monolithic and monochromatic. Especially attractive is curved backrest expressing the texture of the material. Plywood and solid wood match perfectly and create a continuous shell. The contrast is small, round soft seat cushion in fabric.

For a variety of dimension

The variety of wooden furniture is obvious not only in typologies but in dimensions of items from high and long ones like storage units, cabinets, to the very small ones like wood accessories as hangers (photo 13). 

Although wood products used in furniture production are with the defined dimension of boards and elements, this does not represent an obstacle in the dimension of the final furniture. The designers should pay attention to the dimension of boards and their joint where necessary.

Calvet hanger designer Antoni Gaudí¬ (1903)
Photo 13: Calvet hanger designer Antoni Gaudí¬ (1903) for BD Barcelona Design  Images courtesy BD Barcelona Design
The sculptural wood accessories
Calvet hanger is a very small design in wood. It represents the smallest design by Antoni Gaudí (1903). This useful product even with minimal dimensions, express the character of the wood. The hanger is made of solid oak wood which is natural waxed. Even small, Calvet hanger is with complex structure. It consists of three independent, differently shaped wooden elements mutually connected with wavy metallic ribbon. The forged iron structure is with a burnished copper and varnished finish.
The hanger which is made as a combination of wood and iron satisfy the needed function.
Designed this way, Calvet hanger looks like a small sculpture with functional qualities.

The presented examples 

My idea is to present how wood, in fact, its properties, as well as its forming, joining and finishing technologies all together contribute to the success of a product.

This is possible to achieve only with the knowledge of wood and its properties (the type, colour, grain, and production method ), which enable determination of the specific kind of wood or woods for the certain design. In that case, it is possible to take advantage of potentials and eve the limits of wood.

I tried to choose examples which show how the innovative ideas of a furniture design can be underlined by the chosen material, in this case, wood.