We need to use more (not less) hardwood in our products

I believe designers and consumers in Europe still have serious reservations about using any hardwood because of the constant stream of publicity about tropical deforestation. But the reality is that hardwood forests are expanding not shrinking in North America and Europe. For example the standing volume of US hardwoods in American forests has more than doubled in the last fifty years. A fact we widely report with the data to prove it.

Sustainability for us is not just about growing more trees than are harvested, it is also about how the timber is specified and used. I believe designers and manufacturers have a responsibility to use these hardwood materials efficiently and embrace what nature produces. It is therefore encouraging to see that gone are the days when wooden furniture was only about straight lines and even colours, what I dubbed the “plastic look”.  Instead the “rustic look” is now in – colour variations are celebrated, knots are included and swirly grain patterns become features – all of which means we get more out of every tree.

The shift in use in Europe from tropical to temperate hardwoods is partly as a result of changing availability, partly because of new environmental legislation, but most significantly, because of changes in fashion. Temperate hardwoods offer a greater palette of colours, characteristics, and grain patterns to excite designers. It is frustrating though, that given this great selection the market has appeared to focus in recent years on just oak and walnut. It’s time we embraced more species – not only from a sustainability point of view but also to offer more choice to consumers. 

What happened to maple and cherry? Why aren’t we making more furniture out of these beautiful high performance timbers? Questions we have been asking and why our projects and collaborations this year are centred on these species. But we are not the only ones sensing change, the Italian furniture manufacturer and market leader RIVA 1920 was showing cherry in some of their product lines at the Salone in Milan in April for the first time in many years.

We have been using hardwood for thousands of years but I believe it is more relevant now than it has ever been. People love its touch, its smell, its look – it makes us want to buy it, consume it, and work with it. Therefore if you also take into account the enormous environmental contribution it can make as a renewable, low environmental impact material which stores carbon, then it would be almost irresponsible not to make more use of it.


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David Venables


David Venables is the European Director for the [...]