American hardwoods have always been promoted to designers as a natural product that should be fully utilised, minimising waste. The prime design value of American hardwoods is their wide variety of colours and grain patterns. It is because wood is not a homogenous material that makes it so exciting to designers, resulting in uniqueness of products in colour and character. There are many non-wood materials that satisfy the need for uniformity.
From a design point of view, it is essential to embrace all of the character of American hardwoods to show off their beauty. But also, from a sustainability point of view, waste can be minimised by using all of the material’s natural colour and grain variations.
Making the most of American hardwoods, both to reduce waste and improve character of the design, will require a different way of thinking for designers too concerned about uniformity and the use of prime grades.
Designers need to be aware that the design itself, and utilisation of the stock, has a huge impact on the sustainability of this material. Designers also have a responsibility to notify customers that this natural material will vary in colour to avoid disappointment. Samples cannot be reproduced identically in large volumes.
More and more designers are changing their attitude so as to embrace the colour and character of American hardwoods. For example, Rafael Moneo was deliberately relaxed about colour and grain variation in the Navarra General Archive in Spain, resulting in a wonderfully rustic feel to the building.
Several other architects and designers are leading the way in using this material sustainably. For more information visit Sustainable Design Case Studies.