Project demonstrates the versatility of American hardwoods and the ability to experiment with designs both big and small

December 14, 2014 - ‘The Wish List - What I Have Always Wanted Is….’ exhibition, a unique collaborative project between some of the world’s best-known design names and up-and-coming designers, was a massive success and draw at the London Design Festival 2014. Commissioned by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), the leading international trade association for the American hardwood industry, and brought to life by Benchmark Furniture, the compelling installation had an extended stay at the Victoria and Albert Museum until October 24, 2014. The project demonstrates the versatility of American hardwoods and the ability to experiment with designs both big and small.

Following the tremendous response to the project, AHEC has announced that seven of the unique ‘Wish List’ pieces will go on display in Barcelona during the Christmas period, at the new design museum - Disseny Hub. They will be exhibited as part of the ‘Design Market’, organized jointly by the promotion design company Mercado Central de Diseño (MCD) and the design association ADIFAD, which runs from the 19 to 21 December, 2014. However, the design museum has asked for the ‘Wish List’ to remain on display until 7 January 2015 so that members of the public will also have a chance to see it. This will be the first time the ‘Design Market’ has taken place at the newly built Disseny Hub, which was formally inaugurated on 13 December 2014. The Hub will become a central focus in Barcelona for all things design.

Terence Conran, co-founder of Benchmark, instigated the project when he wrote to his friends and asked, “What have you always wanted in your home, but have never been able to find?” Such an open brief guarantees an extraordinary spread of design and the challenge was to produce each project in a single material: American hardwood. Conran’s friends are, of course, some of the most renowned names in architecture and design. Paul Smith, Norman Foster, Amanda Levete, John Pawson, Alison Brooks, Zaha Hadid, Alex de Rijke, Allen Jones and Richard and Ab Rogers have all proposed a longed-for product.

“The Wish List has not only engaged the interest of these ten design legends, each of whom commissioned something for their personal collection. It has also given an extraordinary opportunity to a talented group of emerging designers, who worked closely with their commissioners to develop the designs and constructed them with the help of Benchmark’s master craftsmen, some with 40 years’ experience to draw on. The result is ten beautiful objects in a variety of American hardwoods including red oak, white oak, walnut, hard maple, ash, tulipwood and cherry. The pieces show the amazing versatility and variety of design that can be achieved with hardwoods,” said Roderick Wiles, AHEC Director for Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Oceania.

Terence Conran himself commissioned a workspace in red oak and cherry from Sebastian Cox, who crafted a complex and ingenious cocooned desk with shelving units; Norie Matsumoto created the perfect set of tulipwood pencil sharpeners for Norman Foster; Win Assakul designed and made an extendable 3m long walnut serving dish for Amanda Levete. Gwendolyn and Guillane Kerschbaumer, the sisters who form Studio Areti, designed a suite of interior architectural elements for John Pawson: a set of walnut shelves, a tapered white oak door, a set of walnut hooks and pegs and a walnut light switch, all for his new house.

Felix de Pass designed simple but strikingly elegant cherry kitchen stools for architect Alison Brooks; Gareth Neal made two extraordinary sculptural vessels out of white oak for Zaha Hadid; Nathalie de Leval, who is also a cabinetmaker, designed and built a personalized garden shed for Paul Smith out of thermally modified ash; Rob Barnby and Lewis Day of Barnby & Day created a dramatic circular dining table for Alex de Rijke using engineered cross laminated tulipwood. Richard Rogers, together with his son Ab Rogers, requested a red oak ladder that they could sit and work on from Xenia Moseley; and Lola Lely interpreted a very unusual design concept for a reclining seat from artist Allen Jones constructed out of maple and walnut veneer.

“Benchmark is the powerhouse of craft, where many of the world’s greatest designers come to push the boundaries of what is possible to do in wood,” said Sean Sutcliffe, co-founder of Benchmark. “The diversity of the pieces in The Wish List - and making them in one intense week - tested all involved. We had great successes, a few tears, some tantrums, but I think everybody learned a lot about craftsmanship and making. This project is a terrific platform for learning, enriched by the interaction of so much design and making talent.”

During the manufacturing process, the teams recorded all energy consumption and assessed the environmental impact of each object using data from AHEC’s Life-cycle environmental assessment (LCA) research. LCA is a scientific tool that helps manufacturers establish environmental frameworks that assess true sustainability. The results present the cradle-to-grave impact of each product across six categories. The most topical impact category is global warming potential (GWP), or carbon footprint.

“Working with AHEC on ‘Out of the Woods’ in 2012, Benchmark produced the world’s first wooden furniture with full LCAs,” added Sutcliffe. “Now we seek to build on that learning and develop tools that will enable designs to be rationalized on the basis of LCA data feedback. It is an exciting moment to be working within this fast-developing science.”

All of the objects on display at the V&A were built during the first week of July 2014 when some of the country’s finest young design talents descended on Kintbury, Berkshire, where Benchmark’s 50 craftsmen helped bring to life their designs for The Wish List. A consignment of American white oak, walnut, tulipwood and cherry was kindly donated by timber and panel products distributor James Latham for this project. In addition, Morgan Timber donated thermally modified American ash for Paul Smith’s shed. AHEC has developed a microsite for ‘The Wish List’ project, which is now live at www.wishlistldf.info and www.americanhardwood.org. This will be the hub for all information regarding the project and currently includes complete details regarding the design teams and project descriptions as well as images.

About AHEC

The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) is the leading international trade association for the U.S. hardwood industry, representing the committed exporters among U.S. hardwood companies and all the major U.S. hardwood production trade associations. AHEC runs a worldwide programme to promote American hardwoods in over 50 export markets, concentrating on providing architects, specifiers, designers and end-users with technical information on the range of species, products and sources of supply. In addition, AHEC also produces a full range of technical publications. For more information, please visit: www.americanhardwood.org.

About Benchmark

Benchmark is a leading company of craftspeople and designers, founded 30 years ago by Terence Conran and Sean Sutcliffe. Based in West Berkshire on a converted farm, the team is now 50 strong in over 40,000 sq ft of workshops for timber milling, carpentry, veneering, spraying, specialist metalworking and upholstery, as well as design studio and showroom. Benchmark works extensively with hotels, restaurants, public buildings, offices and private residences. For more information, please visit: www.benchmarkfurniture.com.

About London Design Festival

The London Design Festival is a key constituent of London’s Autumn creative season, alongside London Fashion Week, Frieze Art Fair and the London Film Festival. Established in 2003 its role is to celebrate and promote London as the world’s design capital and gateway to the to the international design community and it has now established a reputation as one of the largest and most exciting design events in the world. This year the Festival will run from 13-21 September and over 300 events and installations will be on offer across the capital, from an exciting programme at the V&A to a major installation within Trafalgar Square plus over 250 partners who will participate in the week-long Festival. For more information, please visit: www.londondesignfestival.com.