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business models, strategies and technologies

Bendy wood changes perceptions and possibilities

Dutch designer Carolien Laro crafts break-the-mould Spring Wood furniture in which solid timber is engineered to be flexible

Wood is a wonderful natural material with all kinds of eco-friendly pluses to its name. It’s softer than materials like stone, brick and metals – but no one will ever claim that sitting on a wooden chair or stool for long periods is gentle on the posterior.

Enter cushions, upholstery, padding and a plethora of other different ways of making wooden furniture more comfortable. But all these additional materials also introduce complexity in manufacturing, upkeep and repair as well as involving other materials, often less easily recyclable or less eco-acceptable.

Wood goes soft – Spring Wood

Dutch designer Carolien Laro provides an innovative alternative take on this basic challenge for furniture designers, with a series of furniture made entirely of solid ash wood, yet engineered so the seating surfaces give and flex, accommodating the size, shape, weight and position of any sitter.

In addition to the original, the series consists of three stools — one with wheels, one without wheels and one with folding steel legs — and a three-seater bench. Her website shows them here.

Engineered flexibility

The flexibility of Carolien Laro’s Spring Wood designs comes from meticulously engineered mesh-like slits cut into the solid ash upper surface of these stools. Each pliable wooden seat apparently requires no fewer than 480 CNC groove-milling cuts, exploiting the manufacturing skills of Dutch woodworking studio Ritmeester.

It’s conceptually complex, and a remarkable idea that exploits all the best features of ash (and presumably other timbers, too), using the intelligent application of well-known machining techniques and the benefits of digital control.

Changing perceptions about wood and what it can do

Laro’s innovative blend of contradictions, of rigidity and flexibility, simplicity and complexity is also an idea that seems to point the way to exciting possibilities for using a natural, sustainable material in parts of furniture design where synthetic materials (often featuring chemical dyes and other nastinesses) are widely used.

The Spring Wood idea moves timber from being perceived as hard and rigid to being soft and flexible, ideal for use as a responsive springy structure that in turn can alter our millennia-old perceptions about what wood is capable of, and how it can be used in design of many different kinds.