“Wood is universally beautiful to man. It is the most humanly intimate of all materials.” So said, the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, responsible for such iconic marvels as the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Wood is an intrinsic part of so many homes, from their unseen infrastructure to surfaces conveying depth and character. Used since the dawn of time to create shelter and edifices to support our existence, craftsmanship has been observed as early as the Neolithic longhouses of 5,000 to 6,000 BC. Remarkably, a 476,000 year old structure has been discovered on the border of Zambia and Tanzania, believed to be the work of Homo heidelbergensis, a predecessor of modern humans.
Wood is so prevalent in our lives that it’s simultaneously underestimated and highly coveted in equal measure, often hidden from view but essential for the very spaces we call home. As designers, this omnipresent material is something to appreciate and celebrate in all its glory, and especially for its beauty.
Standing the test of time
As an organic material, the strength and durability of wood is often underappreciated, compared to its organic stone or metal counterparts. However, like so many things its quiet power is not to be underestimated, and nor is the importance of its malleability. Like many organic materials, part of the beauty of wood is that it evolves as it ages.
For example, we can take the Coronation Chair, also known as St. Edward’s or King Edward’s Chair, which took centre stage at King Charles’s coronation this year. The ancient wooden chair is the oldest piece of furniture in the United Kingdom still used for its original purpose. It has been the seat of British monarchs as they receive the crown ever since the coronation of King Edward II in 1308. Where once the chair would have been painted entirely in gold, today we see the remnants on surviving patterns of birds and plants, while on the back there’s the destructive graffiti of Westminster schoolboys and visitors to the Abbey in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even when the monarchy was in question, the chair was not, as Oliver Cromwell chose to be installed upon it as Lord Protector in Westminster Hall. It is an indelible symbol of continuity – not in spite of its age and imperfections, but because of them.
We might also look at the ancient Greek klismos chair, identifiable by its curved backrest and tapering, out-curved legs. The concept dates to 430–20 BCE, and yet remains a strong influence in 20th-century design. Still appearing not only relevant, but modern, we see it replicated in Knoll’s own Klismos collection, designed by Antonio Citterio with an emphasis on sustainability, natural materials and, as the brand describes it “the expression of a modern language”.
Variety is the spice of life
Of course, one of the many beautiful things about wood is the enormous variety to choose from. Rich cedar, warm teak, solid oak, deep mahogany, elegant rosewood and light beech or ash are all amongst the options for use in home and interior design.
In our own work we take enormous joy in seeing these woods used in different aspects of the home, whilst also anticipating how they will evolve over time, further enhancing the space with the impact of sunlight and use.
From the smoked oak and untreated wood contrasting with Pentelic marble in a sculptural home in the South Downs, to the wooden herringbone floors that ground contemporary, industrial style in the warmth of a family home at Woodland House in Suffolk the impact wood has on an environment is without question.
Our Design Director, Niko Rasides, epitomised his love of design, teasing different wood finishes into an exceptional bespoke cabinet for one home. Inspired by a fusion of Art Deco, the tantalising lines of cut out fashion and a passion for master craftsmanship, it evokes the timelessness of both exceptional style and exceptional materials.
He said: “True style is timeless, so in this item we wanted to create something that spanned the decades, creating a time continuum that means it would be as iconic and impressive in a home whether the year were 1930 or 2030.”
Shape shifting materials
Finally, our ability to carve wood and bend it to our will, whilst retaining its inherent richness, makes it perpetually evolving and diverse. That shape shifting capability is not limited to carving it into shapes for cabinetry, joinery, surfaces and more, but even changing its form from the raw material to something that appears entirely different.
For example, we see the reuse and metamorphic nature of wood in ways that can slip our minds – not least when it comes to wallpaper, where even non-woven backings are made of ground wood, wood pulp, or wood pulp combined with synthetic materials.
It is an indicator of the value of wood as a design material that all the greats have used it at one point or another. That includes Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Charles & Ray Eames, Le Corbusier and Marcel Breuer to name a few.
In the modern age we aim to use wood with greater mindfulness for the environment, looking to more fast-growing species or restored and reclaimed materials that embrace the circular economy. As a member of the home environment, this may be an ancient material, but it’s at once a valuable modern one as well.
See how master craftsman nurture this material in our Signature Collection kitchens