While in-person collaborations have largely come to a halt during the Covid-19 pandemic, designers and makers have embraced digital communication technologies to stay productive and creative. A new project, announced today by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), Benchmark Furniture and London’s Design Museum aims to celebrate this shift, while reflecting on the ways in which work-from-home is transforming domestic spaces.

Titled ‘Connected’, the project calls on nine designers to each create a table and seating out of hardwood, to suit their new ways of working from and living at home. Each will be paired with a craftsman at Benchmark’s workshop in Berkshire, England to develop their pieces, relying solely on digital communication and video conferencing. Subverting furniture industry norms, the designers will have no physical contact with their work until it is finished and on view in the atrium of the Design Museum.

Hailing from nine different countries, the participating talents come to the project with varying perspectives. Jaime Hayon and Sebastian Herkner are best known for their industrial design projects, and Thomas Heatherwick for working at an architectural scale, so this will be an opportunity to work on something more bespoke. For Studio Swine’s Azusa Murakami and Alexander Groves, this will be a departure from their usual installation-based output. Wallpaper* Designer of the Year Sabine Marcelis usually works in cast resin, glass and stone, so ‘Connected’ will represent a material shift. The roster further includes Ini Archibong, Maria Bruun, Maria Jeglinska, and Studiopepe’s Arianna Lelli Mami and Chiara di Pinto.

Connected designers
Ini Archibong (Switzerland), Sebastian Herkner (Germany), Studiopepe (Italy), Maria Bruun (Denmark), Jaime Hayon (Spain), Thomas Heatherwick (UK), Studio Swine (UK/Japan), Maria Jeglinska (Poland) and Sabine Marcelis (Netherlands)

In the only concession to tactility, each designer has received samples of the designated materials: American red oak, maple and cherry. These were chosen not only for their aesthetic and performance potential, but also with environmental concerns in mind, explains AHEC’s European director David Venables: ‘These are underused hardwoods which account for more than 40% of all standing hardwoods in American forests. Our emphasis is on making more use of what nature is growing. Over reliance on a narrow selection of wood types must ultimately result in supply stress. So, we have a responsibility to widen the choice.’

Benchmark Furniture is a regular production partner for AHEC, and just last year created ten pieces for the ‘Legacy’ project which debuted at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. This will, however, be the first time they’ve developed pieces in a purely digital environment. ‘It is pertinent at this moment to explore new ways of working remotely – and of creating at a distance,’ acknowledges founder Sean Sutcliffe.

wood colours

Slated for autumn 2020, the ‘Connected’ exhibition at Design Museum will feature the finished pieces alongside information on the project’s environmental impact, measured with AHEC’s life cycle assessment tool. The organisers are also chronicling the nine design journeys on the project website and on social media via #connectedbydesign, with the goal of weaving these into a documentary-style film. §