The first week of July was a very busy one at Benchmark’s workshops. Some of the country’s finest young design talents descended on Kintbury, in Berkshire, where Benchmark’s 50 craftsmen helped bring to life their designs for The Wish List.
The Wish List project sees a stellar list of architects and designers brought together by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) and Benchmark Furniture to create a compelling installation that will be exhibited at the V&A during the 2014 London Design Festival (13-21 September).
Terence Conran, co-founder of Benchmark, instigated the project when he wrote to his friends and asked, “What have you always wanted in your home, but never been able to find?” Such an open brief guarantees an extraordinary spread of design and the challenge was to produce each project in a single material – American hardwood, in celebration of the versatility of timber and the enormous variety that can be achieved with one material.
Terence Conran’s friends are, of course, some of the most illustrious names in architecture and design. Paul Smith, Norman Foster, Amanda Levete, John Pawson, Alison Brooks, Zaha Hadid, Alex de Rijke, Richard and Ab Rogers, and Allen Jones have all indicated what product they long for. The Wish List has not only engaged the interest of these 10 design legends, who have commissioned something personal, it is also giving an extraordinary opportunity to a group of emerging talented designers, who worked closely with their commissioner to develop the designs and have now made their piece under the watchful eye and guidance of Benchmark’s master craftsmen, some of whom have 40 years’ experience to draw on.
“Benchmark is the powerhouse of craft, where many of the world’s greatest designers come to push the boundaries of what is possible to do in wood,” says Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder of Benchmark. “The diversity of the pieces in ‘The Wish List’, and making them in one intense week, tested all involved. We had great successes, a few tears, some tantrums but I think everybody learned a lot about craftsmanship and making. This project is a terrific platform for learning, enriched by the interaction of so much design and making talent.”
Sebastian Cox has designed a workspace made out of red oak and cherry for Terence Conran, Norie Matsumoto has created the perfect tulipwood pencil sharpener for Norman Foster whilst Win Assakul has designed an extendable walnut fruit bowl for Amanda Levete. Gwendolyn and Guillane Kerschbaumer, the sisters who form Studio Areti, have designed three items for John Pawson, a set of walnut triangular shelves, a unique white oak tapered door, a set of walnut hooks and pegs and a walnut light switch, all for his new house.
Felix de Pass has designed cherry kitchen stools for Alison Brooks whilst Gareth Neal has made a vessel out of white oak for Zaha Hadid. Nathalie de Leval, who is also a cabinetmaker, has designed and built a thermally modified ash garden shed for fashion icon Paul Smith, whilst Barnby & Day have created an elegant CLT tulipwood dining table for Alex de Rijke. Richard Rogers with Ab Rogers have requested a red oak ladder from Xenia Moseley and Lola Lely has made a chaise longue for the artist Allen Jones made out of maple and walnut veneer.
For David Venables, European Director of AHEC, this project is very much about the versatility of American hardwood, and the ability to experiment with designs, both big and small. “I can’t think of any other material that could be used to create such an eclectic mix of products and render each one beautiful and unique,” he says.
During the manufacturing process, the teams recorded all material inputs and energy consumption allowing them to assess the environmental impact for each object, using data from AHEC’s Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) research for 19 American hardwood species. Life Cycle Assessment is a scientific tool that helps industry to establish environmental frameworks that have real meaning and assess true sustainability. The result will present the cradle-to-grave impact of creating each product across six categories. The most topical impact category is global warming potential (GWP), or carbon footprint.
Sean Sutcliffe comments, “Working with AHEC on ‘Out of the Woods’ in 2012, Benchmark produced the world’s first wooden furniture with full Life-Cycle Analysis (LCA). Now we seek to build on that learning and develop tools that will enable designs to be rationalised on the basis of LCA data feedback. It is an exciting moment to be working within this fast-developing science.”
A consignment of American white oak, walnut, tulipwood and cherry was kindly donated by timber and panel products distributor James Latham for this project and Morgan Timber donated thermally modified American ash for Paul Smith’s shed.
The American Hardwood Export Council and Benchmark’s ‘The Wish List’ will be on show at the V&A museum from the 13th-21st September.
Benchmark is a leading company of craftspeople and designers, founded 30 years ago by Terence Conran and Sean Sutcliffe. Based in West Berkshire on a converted farm, the team is now 50 strong in over 40,000 sq ft of workshops for timber milling, carpentry, veneering, spraying, specialist metalworking and upholstery, as well as design studio and showroom. Benchmark works extensively with hotels, restaurants, public buildings, offices and private residences.
For over 20 years the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has been at the forefront of wood promotion in Europe, successfully building a distinctive and creative brand for U.S. hardwoods. AHEC’s support for creative design projects such as The Wish List for London Design Festival, demonstrates the performance potential of these sustainable materials and provides valuable inspiration.
www.wishlistldf.info / #wishlistLDF
ABOUT LONDON DESIGN FESTIVAL
The London Design Festival is a key constituent of London’s Autumn creative season, alongside London Fashion Week, Frieze Art Fair and the London Film Festival. Established in 2003 its role is to celebrate and promote London as the world’s design capital and gateway to the to the international design community and it has now established a reputation as one of the largest and most exciting design events in the world. This year the Festival will run from 13-21 September and over 300 events and installations will be on offer across the capital, from an exciting programme at the V&A to a major installation within Trafalgar Square plus over 250 partners who will participate in the week-long Festival.