Chairs

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Lightwood

2011

A chair with a birchwood frame and plastic mesh. Also produced in leather, textile or woven synthetic webbing.

Timeline

One of the first projects I designed while living in Japan was the Lightwood Chair for Maruni. It’s a European typology of chair but in its simple formality it seemed to have affinities with Japanese aesthetic sensibilities. Seeing a prototype for the first time is always a difficult moment, especially when it’s in front of the manufacturer's team of engineers, marketing personnel and management, because the first prototype always looks a bit strange, so I have developed a trick which gets me a bit of time and space to think about it before I say anything. The trick is to ask for a tape measure and check the dimensions against the drawing. Normally I can find some differences which allows me to start by saying that the depth of the seat is shorter than the design and the legs are not attached at quite the right angle etc. Then I can criticise my design quite comfortably saying that we would need to change this or that as well as making the necessary adjustments to get the prototype accurate. When I did this at Maruni it didn’t help me at all because all the dimensions were perfect and I had no excuses to blame for the way the chair looked, so I was faced with my own creation exactly as I had planned it. This was an early lesson in the difference between European and Japanese prototyping skills. In the end, the Lightwood went through maybe three prototypes before it was finalised. The adjustments were quite small.

I very much admire the ability of Japanese architects and designers to make things appear super light. It makes buildings and objects seem so futuristic, as if they’d arrived from another planet. I was trying to give the Lightwood project a similar quality but this time blending a rather traditional chair shape with a very modern and slightly transparent mesh which would allow the structure of the chair to be seen in its entirety, while also providing a new type of comfort. The design would never have happened that way in Europe. It was an interesting collision of cultures and benefitted from the skill and craftsmanship of Maruni as much as it did from my interest in trying to make a Western chair shape fit in with the atmosphere of new Japanese architecture and objects. The quality of manufacturing often contributes to the actual design more than might be appreciated. A good design made badly will not be a good design!