Felix de Pass
Alison’s brief for a kitchen stool really appealed to me from the beginning, particularly because she was describing a product that she herself had looked for but had not been able to find for her own home, and also for specifying to clients in her studio’s residential projects. I think her observation is true that the kitchen is the centre of the home and the place where people gather, and that whilst traditionally you might have gathered around the table - that in many new buildings and layouts, the 900mm high counter tops including island units have become informal hubs of the home. Developing a stool that would both respond to and actually help this important temporary social space was a great place to start.
Through our initial conversations, we identified that the core requirements of the stool were that it must be usable from every angle and accommodate an everyday perching, a hop-on/hop-off and dynamic movement at about 650mm height (higher than a chair, lower than a bar stool). To allow for this, I focused on the use of a central column and raised foot ring to free up as much space as possible under the seat and to ensure that the user’s legs and body would not be interrupted. It was clearly important to also get a balance between achieving a visual and physical lightness (encouraging one of its key functions - to be repositioned or pulled around easily), whilst also making sure the stool was sturdy and grounded. I worked with using a turned wooden top that was slightly dished and would have rounded edges specifically to enable comfort and to invite the user.
Alison was keen to use cherry wood which I knew very little about before the project. It’s a durable wood that has a uniform straight grain and smooth texture that is easy to work/machines beautifully. There is a real warmth to the wood with the colour varying from pink to reddish-brown to deep red, and that darkens and ages over time with exposure to light.
Continual dialogue with Alison led to focusing on drawing out a softness and seamless quality between the different stool components. Working with these qualities, a key development came by using three identical one-piece leg and stem components (individually steam-bent), that join and visually flow into what looks like a single central stem. This solution was also very efficient in terms of production (each component follows a series of repeated steps using bespoke jigs), and achieved the strongest result (all pressing into each other when weight is applied downwards/the stool is sat on).
The making week at Benchmark was intense - it was a rare opportunity to develop and produce a piece of furniture so closely and quickly with such skilled craftsmen, and also to respond to issues as they came up on the factory floor in conversation with AHEC’s specialist knowledge and expertise. It was a great pleasure to work with and for Alison both as a collaborator and the client. She had such an amazing way of so clearly articulating and identifying a specific sensibility, detail or functional requirement and always kept bringing it back to the overall feeling of the object in its final context. Working with someone from a different discipline and also with so much experience, and in a design process that was both personal and critical was exciting and refreshing in many ways.