From 24 to 26 May 2022 at Clerkenwell Design Week, British furniture maker Benchmark unveiled a series of adaptable new additions to its Victoria family of solid-wood furniture for the workplace. The collection was accompanied by the official launch of the Migo Stool by Pascal Hien, which made its debut as a prototype at Wallpaper*and AHEC’s exhibition, Discovered, at the Design Museum last year.
The new Victoria Collection pieces are Benchmark’s combined response to three key challenges facing the furniture industry: the changing nature of the workplace; the urgent need to prioritise sustainability and carbon-efficiency in furniture manufacture; and a critical breakdown in hardwood supply lines across Europe.
With many European timber varieties increasingly hard to source in the current geopolitical climate, Benchmark has risen to the challenge by choosing to manufacture these new designs in two lesser-used sustainable, practical, affordable and beautiful wood species.
Working with longstanding collaborator, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Benchmark chose to construct the collection from American red oak (Quercus rubra). This sustainable, renewable timber makes up around 40% of North America’s hardwood forests, but is hugely underused, meaning that opting for red oak in preference to more conventional hardwoods actively benefits forest biodiversity.
“The fact that an iconic workshop such as Benchmark decides to launch a new product line using American red oak is an indication of how the scenario is shifting and both manufacturers and consumers are paying attention to sustainable timbers that have too often been overlooked. Red oak is a readily available, beautiful and high-performing material which has so much to offer from both an aesthetic and sustainability point of view. It is very exciting to see it used by such a skilful company to create furniture that will last for generations, giving consumers a wider choice. Benchmark started exploring the potential of red oak as part of some of our joint creative ventures (including Discovered and Legacy) and it is great to witness how the use of this timber has shifted from being a creative experiment to becoming a commercial reality.” – David Venables, European Director, AHEC
Benchmark’s other material choice is British-grown ash, carefully salvaged from trees stricken with ash dieback.
“Ash is a fantastic furniture making wood that has historically been undervalued. Now, we are faced with its loss from our countryside, we are determined to use those trees that are dying but being felled whilst the wood is still usable.This means we can lock up the carbon contribution of those trees rather than seeing them used for firewood or simply left to rot. Soon we shall have no more ash, so let’s celebrate it while we still have it to make furniture from.” – Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder, Benchmark
Benchmark has always put sustainability and wellbeing at the heart of its making, focusing on the production of furniture that has a positive effect on both the environment and the wellbeing of its users. All products are created to meet the WELL Building Standard, which recognises environments that put human health and wellbeing at their core, and accredited Red List Free by the International Living Future Institute, which confirms no toxic chemicals are used or emitted in production.
Having invested in Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), Benchmark is able to provide the full carbon footprint for each piece in the collection, all of which are designed and made with longevity and circularity in mind. In addition, the brand offers a lifetime repair service and a take-back scheme on all solid timber furniture.
Another product crafted from red oak and designed for versatility, is the Migo Stool by Pascal Hien. Making its debut alongside the Victoria collection, the stool was introduced to the world at the Discovered showcase at the Design Museum in September last year. Hosted in association with Wallpaper* and AHEC and supported by Benchmark, the exhibition set out to celebrate both emerging design talent and American hardwoods as sustainable design materials. Not only was the German designer’s inventive stool design chosen for the exhibition, and inducted into the Design Museum’s permanent collection, it was also selected by Benchmark to be put into commercial production. Clerkenwell Design Week marks its official launch.
Conceived during the pandemic, a time of change, uncertainty, and rapid adaptation, Migo is designed to be used in multiple, non-prescriptive ways, as a chair or a stool, with no definitive front or back, or right or wrong approach to using it.
"Just occasionally we get a new design that is fresh, challenging and very appropriate to our time. Migo is all these things. It challenges our perception of chairs and stools, and the way we use them. It offers a really useful solution to sitting and using our digital devices, it has humour and is dynamic in form. It also shows a maturity of design beyond Pascal’s years, utilising wood in an extremely efficient way. The whole chair comes from a single modestly sized plank of red oak, which makes it a model of sustainable design both in material choice and in its rationalised design." – Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder, Benchmark