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The global pandemic of 2020 and its impact will doubtless leave its indelible mark for decades to come but the more immediate nature of its impact on our working lives, in particular, has created a distinct moment for innovation and creativity.

Designers and craftspeople have been forced to look anew at their process and employ the use of technology and home offices in unfamiliar ways. ‘Thinking outside the box’ has escalated ever higher up the agenda as we see a new approach to our work emerge and we establish what positives can be taken from such formidable circumstances.


Image: Dezeen

Earlier this year, coming together as proponents of seeking out such positives and championing innovative thinking in terms of both design and the sustainability of resources, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Benchmark Furniture and the Design Museum challenged nine international designers to create a table and seating, that is personal to them, for home living and working.

Designed for their personal use, each designer’s creation was made to suit their new ways of living and working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The exhibition aimed to explore how designers and craftspeople have adapted their working methods during lockdown and the resulting pieces were shown at the Design Museum throughout September 2020, celebrating the act of physically coming back together – reconnecting – after lockdown.

The show, which was also digitally scanned by V21 Artspace, is now permanently available to view online as a virtual exhibition.

Commissioning nine designers to make furniture from wood doesn’t sound like a particularly original brief. But these are not ordinary times. We are all being over-exposed to our homes, and having to adapt to new patterns of working. The pandemic has forced each designer to approach their home-working set-up with a completely fresh perspective – what do they really need? The Connected project is a rare opportunity for them to design for themselves, but the key challenge is that they will have to rely entirely on digital communication. “

Justin McGuirk, Chief Curator at the Design Museum

A sustainable approach

Image: The Design Museum

Championing solid wood as a sustainable resource, each design was made from a choice of three sustainable American hardwoods: red oak, maple or cherry and according to AHEC, the resulting collection of objects removed more carbon from the atmosphere than they generated.

When considered as a group, the Connected designs are better than carbon neutral,” said AHEC. “The total global warming potential (GWP) – often referred to as the ‘carbon footprint’ – of the nine Connected designs is minus 342 kilograms of CO2 equivalent. The full environmental Life Cycle Assessments on each of the nine projects prove that these pieces are environmentally sound, going beyond carbon neutrality and leaving a negative carbon footprint.

9 designers – 3 hardwoods – 1 workshop

Here are three designs, each using one of the hardwood choices available, that caught our eye…

Image: Dezeen

Called Stem, London-based Heatherwick Studio created sculptural maple planters to form the legs of a modular desk; the system is made up of six legs of different heights and diameters, which can be combined and clamped onto a desk surface to prop it up.

The desk incorporated living plants into the design to align with the ideals of Attention Restoration Theory, which was developed by psychologists Rachel and Stephen Kaplan in the 1980s. “It proposes that exposure to natural environments for 40 seconds or so really has very tangible improvements to brain functioning and to help your mind recover and replenish in-between periods of concentration,” said Heatherwick.


Spanish designer Jaime Hayon set himself the “challenge to make an extraordinary piece and learn by doing it”.

His resulting Mesamachine is a complex and ambitious multi-element build, providing a single space to work, play, eat and spend time with his family. Like a swiss army knife, functional elements can be opened and extended to serve a multitude of functions.

Crafted from American cherry and finished with a clear oil, the main table frame is made up like a hollow torsion box, with tensioning ribs running along its length. The various storage solutions and extending shelves work on timber runners and involve an exacting degree of precision in their manufacture. Two stools and a bench follow a similar design language, with smiley faces cut out to add a playful element. 


Sebastian Herkner “starts with the material, its texture and its colour,“. With an organic and modular form, he wanted to create a landscape where the various elements of his day meet.

The name Stammtisch translates as the ‘regulars table’ – a space for friends and family to gather every week.

A thoughtfully selected choice of materials is brought together – the table is made from red oak, bleached, with a white matt natural oil finish, the large tray is made from American maple, ammonia fumed with a clear matt natural oil finish and his stools and small tray are made from scorched red oak.

Using spindle-moulding to achieve the characteristic shape key to Sebastian’s design, components were carefully jointed and glued up, with the design playing with contrasting grain directions from the tabletop and the movable trays, which can run along the length of the top within skived tracks.

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Categories:Interiors & Lifestyle