Max Lamb’s furniture puzzles play with material innovation

Presented at New York’s Salon 94, ‘Wood, Stone’ features experimental furniture designs by Max Lamb in the two materials, exploring complex manufacturing techniques

A stone chair by Max Lamb camouflaged on the rocks of a stone quarry in Northern Italy
Max Lamb’s ‘Campione’ chair photographed among the natural stone in the Pedretti quarry in Northern Italy. The stone furniture is part of a new exhibition titled ‘Wood, Stone’ at New York’s Salon 94 (until 21 September 2021)
(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Max Lamb presents a new body of work at New York’s Salon 94 Gallery (opens in new tab) (until 21 September 2021): titled ‘Wood, Stone’, this is the third in a series of solo exhibitions exploring ‘a direct, honest, and playful approach to materials’.

As the exhibition title suggests, ‘Wood, Stone’ presents two separate bodies of work; a series of wooden furniture (opens in new tab) pieces in Western Red Cedarwood, and a collection of chairs in stone, part of an ongoing collaboration with Italian granite specialist Pedretti. The pieces in both series consist in interlocking forms with a mix of straight, curved and scalloped edges, eclectically-formed blocks composed into familiar furniture shapes. 

Max Lamb's puzzle-like designs in wood

A pair of chairs made of red cedar wood. Each chair is composed like a puzzle, using the elements cut from a single block of wood.

‘6x8’ Chairs in Western Red Cedar

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

For the wooden pieces, Lamb describes his creative process as a puzzle in reverse. The starting point of these pieces are simple blocks of wood, measuring 6x6 or 6x8 inches: Lamb cut them into blocks, rearranged them and then mortised and tenon joined the resulting fragments into functional chairs, stools and benches. Apart from little sawdust, the designer notes, this process doesn’t create any material waste, as each piece that is cut from a single block is then recomposed into the furniture designs. Lamb likens this process to a game of chess, each move precisely planned in advance.

‘Each cut is mapped out and the consequence of the cut is processed before the incision is made, every cut and part generated is essential,’ says Lamb. ‘What is taken away cannot be too big or the grain is weakened, but each cut yields a positive and the benefit of the cut is potential for the block of wood to become something else with a larger surface area with more function.’

Stone furniture in collaboration with Pedretti

Large red stone with white speckles being cut by a machine to become a chair

The making of the ‘Dolomite’ chair

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Elsewhere in the exhibition, Lamb experimented with the expressive possibilities of stone, with a collection monolithic seats made of gray Tonalite granite and red Dolomite rock. The collaboration with Pedretti was part of an exhibition by Lamb at Salon 94 in 2017:  titled ‘Boulders’ (opens in new tab), it focused on furniture made from these large stones, which the designer had found during his trips to the mountains around Carisolo, Northern Italy. ‘[...]I collected from the rivers a handful of the smooth rounded pebbles of the same black and white speckled granite found in the quarry,’ the designer recalled of his first few visits to the region. ‘The power of the fast paced river can be heard, felt and even tasted in the air due to the fine spray drifting down the valley from the thundering Cascate di Nardis waterfall. The power of the river is also immediately visible in the way it has carved the landscape over millions of years, and perhaps only slightly quicker, shaped the riverbed and eroded the loose granite rocks as they tumble down stream until they become perfectly smooth rounded boulders.’

Each piece in this new collection celebrates the complexity of the natural stone, whose natural patterns resemble man-made terrazzo. To keep the material intact as a compact volume, Lamb used several stone-cutting techniques to create his chairs: the ‘Wedge Chair’, made from a large slab of Tonalite, is created using an ancient stone splitting technique, known as feather and wedge, consisting of cutting the rock using metal wedges and spacers. Meanwhile, the making of the ‘Campione’ chair prototype combines over a dozen techniques, in which Lamb experimented and tested the versatility and history of stone working.

Far from an isolated creative exercise, the process behind each collection and piece is a combination of concentration and precision. Concludes Lamb" ‘each move is considered, exact and focused whilst also requiring a view on the macro, the whole, the end game.’

A wooden bench by Max Lamb, composed like puzzles with pieces of wood cut from the same block

6x8 Bench in Western Red Cedar

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

A wooden chair held together by red tenon joining tools in Max Lamb's studio

One of Lamb's 6x8 Chairs in Western Red Cedar shown during the joining process in the workshop

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Wooden blocks cut from a single piece of wood, arranged on a work table at Max Lamb's studio

Blocks cut from a 6x8 piece of Western Red Cedar, ready to be reassembled

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Wooden chair by Max Lamb, composed like puzzles with pieces of wood cut from the same block

‘6x8’ Chair in Western Red Cedar

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Two wooden chairs by Max Lamb, composed like puzzles with pieces of wood cut from the same block

‘6x8’ Chair in Western Red Cedar

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

A stone chair by Max Lamb camouflaged on the rocks of a stone quarry in Northern Italy

The ‘Campione’ chair

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Stone chair shown in the workshop with dramatic light and shadows showing the cuts on the stone resulted from the making process known as feather and wedge

The ‘Feather and Wedge’ chair, made of tonalite

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

A large boulder being cut in the middle to create a seat

Making of the ‘Dolomite’ chair

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Red stone cut in the shape of a seat

Making of the ‘Dolomite’ chair

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Water jets cutting a stone to create the ‘Dolomite’ chair

Water jets cutting a stone to create the ‘Dolomite’ chair

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

Stone chair made from a single Tonalite granite boulder

The ‘Rotating Boulder’ chair, made of Tonalite granite and steel bearing

(Image credit: Max Lamb’s furniture)

INFORMATION

‘Wood, Stone’ is on view until 11 September 2021
salon94.com (opens in new tab)

ADDRESS

Salon 94
3, East 89 Street
New York
NY 10128

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Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.