The Wishlist


Creating and making - was it the first ever “Furniture Festival”?

We billed it as “making week”; others pronounced it the first-ever “furniture festival” as a talented group of designers camped out for a week this summer in the grounds of Benchmark Furniture on Sir Terence Conran’s estate in the English county of Berkshire.  The work was intense, the weather was kind, there was amazing food provided by Benchmark and even one evening of music (someone brought along a portable record player!). All part of the extraordinary “Wish List” project we have created with Benchmark Furniture for this year’s London Design Festival, which sees famous designers commission talented emerging designers to create the object in American hardwood “they have always wanted…but never been able to find”. Quite a few of the design legends, including Sir Terence, came to see their pieces being made and some even donned aprons and took part in the process!

It was not just the design teams that had an amazing wood learning experience, I also learnt a few things:
•    You can put red oak in a glass of water and blow bubbles through it (I tried it much to the amusement of the Benchmark craftsmen)
•    I was surprised that even some of the most experienced hardwood users didn’t know that tulipwood is different from poplar
•    Thermally treated ash turns on a lathe incredibly well requiring virtually no sanding or finishing (I have the sample to prove it)
•    I thought that only “green” timber can be successfully steam bent. But we discovered that kiln-dried red oak will steam bend really well providing it is well softened before hand. (Nice one Xenia - great touch to Richard Rogers’ ladder)
•    If you are brave enough to soak your best timber in a river for a while it becomes supple enough to weave (Sebastian you surprised us all!)
•    Using “whitening” oil on red oak, cherry and tulipwood provides a refreshingly different visual appearance.
•    With the right tools and expertise you can get a CNC machine to do the seemingly impossible to white oak! (Well done Gareth and Colin - Zaha loves it)
•    Norman Foster chose tulipwood for his pencil sharpeners for its “marble like qualities”. Wow! Time to stop painting and staining it.

It has been challenging, complex, ambitious, and one of the most exciting creative projects we have ever done. What other material could be used to create such an eclectic mix of personal products and render each one so beautiful and unique? Come and see the results if you can at the V&A museum in London from the 12th September to 24th October. Or catch up on all news and see the latest videos at