Last summer, our sister organization, the American Hardwood Export Council, collaborated with the London Design Festival on the Legacy Project in which ten leaders of British cultural institutions each commissioned a prominent designer to create an heirloom piece—a beautiful and useful everyday object that they’d like to pass on to a family member or the institution they head—made of American red oak. The results, all manufactured in England by Benchmark Furniture, ranged from a pair of meeting-room sofas to a beehive. Here are three of our favorite pieces.
Dr Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, commissioned Jasper Morrison Studio to design a set of table and chairs for the waiting area outside his office at the museum. “Having a well-designed wooden chair that is both comfortable but also in a sense validating of the waiting person’s position seems to me important,” Hunt says. “American red oak has an unusual strength to it and a redness,” adds John Tree of the Jasper Morrison Studio. “The ‘Fugu’ chair is a great object to show off the wood because it is solid and chunky but also extremely comfortable and delicate.”
Meeting Tomoko Azumi of TNA Design Studio for the first time, Kwame Kwei-Armah, Artistic Director of the Young Vic Theater, expressed a desire for something that his grandson would be able to touch long after he was gone. Azumi used thin slats of steam-bent oak to create a boat-shaped garden seat as a cozy hideaway for Kwei-Armah and his grandson. The outdoor piece will weather and change color. “It’s going to age and maybe break, but the owner can always repair it,” Azumi notes. “That is my idea of legacy.” The wood is finished with yacht varnish that will need to be reapplied every three years to conserve it for as long as possible.
Tamara Rojo, Artistic Director of the English National Ballet, started collecting vinyl records at an early age. Having moved to a new apartment with no place for her LPs, she asked Martino Gamper to design storage and display shelving for them. Gamper highlighted the versatile qualities of red oak by using different finishes on the horizontal and vertical elements. The shelves are fumed a dark color like walnut or chestnut, while the uprights are slightly bleached. “I create work I hope is going to be in the world for a long time because that’s the sustainable way to make furniture,” Gamper says. “But legacy is also about how people look after a piece and its emotional value. This knits into a story, a narrative.”