British designer Max Lamb was inspired by a tree in his grandfather's garden in Yorkshire for his latest project – titled My Grandfather's Tree, appropriately – which is showing at London Design Festival this week in collaboration with Gallery Fumi.
The tree in question was a female ash tree, ‘born’ in 1822 and so tall, the designer explains, that from its top you could see York Minster, a full 25 miles away from his grandfather’s house. In 2009, the tree started to rot and it became necessary to take it down, inspiring Lamb to give it a new life and shape with a poetically-conceived furniture project.
‘The typical afterlife of a felled tree is very sad,’ the designer says, explaining that an old tree’s fate is usually as firewood. ‘A quick and sad ending for these incredible structures of nature, and a waste of such a wonderful material containing so much potential.’
To offer a design-led afterlife to the tree, Lamb collaborated with tree surgeon Jon Turnbull, who helped section it in a way respectful of its structure, branches, knots and crotches. ‘I wanted the tree to remain integral to the wood and to maintain the story told by its 187 annual growth rings,’ Lamb explains. The rings gave the tree’s history a well-documented identity, illustrating not only its growth but also the humidity and temperature of each of its epochs, the direction in which it grew and the climatic condition of each growing year.
The result of the collaboration is a collection of 131 pieces, including stools, small tables and chairs. ‘Learning by collaborating is the essence of what I do and the language I speak,’ says Lamb, whose work is often inspired by the craftsmen, engineers and makers he learns from – in this case, Turnbull, who was instrumental in helping him understand the material at hand.
Lamb’s participation in the Festival includes another project working with wood. His collaboration with Benchmark also looks at the life of a tree, sectioning it in a different direction to create long tables using a single plank from a tree’s trunk. Both projects highlight the designer's talent for working in wood, establishing a testimony to his keen craftsman's sensibility.