In an exciting new show, ‘FIVE’, the American Hardwood Export Council teams up with OKAY Studio to celebrate Clerkenwell Design Week’s 5th Anniversary

A 5th wedding anniversary is celebrated with a wooden gift.  In keeping with this tradition, and in celebration of its 5th Anniversary, Clerkenwell Design Week is curating a special exhibition with OKAY Studio and the American Hardwood Export Council. Inspired by five American hardwood species and Clerkenwell’s 5th Anniversary, five design teams from OKAY Studio will work independently to produce an eclectic mix of innovative designs showcasing how versatile American hardwood can be. The five species are tulipwood, ash, hard maple, red oak and cherry, chosen to promote the diversity of colours and grains in these lesser-known American hardwood species. The designs for FIVE will be manufactured by Kent-based sculptor and fabricator, Adam Kershaw who is renowned for his craftsmanship and skill with wood.  

Left to right: Liliana Ovalle, Adam Kershaw, Mathias Hahn, Oscar Narud, Amy Hunting, Ed Swan, Peter Marigold, Andrew Haythornthwaite.

OKAY Studio is a design collective that consists of several individual design studios. It originated in 2006 when at first it consisted of six colleagues, all of whom graduated from the Royal College of Art that year. It has since grown organically into a much larger group and now has members in Holland, Spain and Japan to add to its North London base. The designers participating in FIVE are: Mathias Hahn, Liliana Ovalle, Ed Swan, Andrew Haythornthwaite and Peter Marigold (collaborating for this project), and partnership Hunting & Narud. When approached with the project, Amy Hunting from Hunting & Narud said, “We were thrilled to be challenged with such an interesting and open brief giving us the freedom to produce new and exciting work, exploring the use of American hardwoods.”

Demonstrating creative flair, the early concepts from each design team are unique and inspired, studying the beauty, texture, colour and performance of American hardwoods through sculptures, furniture and tableware.  Liliana Ovalle comments on the project: “Everyone in the group has a particular approach to design from objects oriented towards production, to bespoke prototypes, to projects that show different aesthetic explorations.  It will be interesting to see how this diversity emerges through the different proposals.”

At the end of February, the designers visited Adam Kershaw’s workshop to discuss their initial concepts and to learn about working with American hardwoods.  Kershaw’s role as fabricator is to preserve the visual intention whilst guiding the designers through the working qualities of American hardwood and how the material can enhance OKAY Studio’s designs. Ed Swan comments, “I've not personally worked with American hardwood before so it's a really nice chance to do so.” Liliana Ovalle adds, “Wood is incredibly versatile. As designers, we can revisit this material many times and always find techniques, processes, or species that we haven’t used before.  This project is an exciting opportunity to evolve that knowledge and find new applications for it.” Adam Kershaw likes working with young designers because often their perception of materials is intuitive and untainted by tradition and practicality. He comments, “Fresh eyes on familiar problems can generate surprising results.”

Alongside the design potential, American hardwoods are specified extensively by designers and architects around the world for their strong environmental credentials. American hardwoods derive from managed natural forests; selection harvesting and favourable growing conditions mean the forest is maintained and biodiversity is protected. Whilst contributing 20% of total global hardwood supply, the net volume of standing timber after harvest is increasing year on year. The session at Kershaw’s workshop offered AHEC’s European Director, David Venables, an opportunity to brief the designers on the environmental credentials of U.S. hardwoods.  Hunting & Narud’s Amy Hunting said, “Having only worked with European woods, I was uncertain about the sustainability of U.S. hardwoods, both being based in Europe but also in regards to what I assumed about their forestry and processes.  Learning from AHEC about the expansive resource luckily proved me wrong.”  

Clerkenwell Design Week has become one of the best-loved events in the design industry calendar.  The event has increasingly become a must go-to showcase for the UK and international design community. Ed Swan comments, “The opportunity to create show-specific work for a public space at Clerkenwell Design Week, in celebration of its 5th Anniversary, is really exciting.  The show is growing in strength and recognition year by year and I hope we can add to that.”

FIVE will be open to the public during Clerkenwell Design Week from 20 – 22 May 2014 at The Scin Gallery, 27 Old St, London EC1V 9HL.