¦ At this year’s London Design Festival red oak will feature at the V&A Museum.
¦ White oak was specified for Bury St Edmunds’ new complex, The Apex.
¦ American white oak featured in an exhibition at Marks & Spencer.

The American Hardwood Export Council’s (AHEC) work with an Italian architect and designer is a good example of how it is influencing specifiers to use wood, and US hardwoods in particular.

Last year AHEC collaborated with Italian architect Matteo Thun to create five structures in American red oak, black walnut and cherry for the Milan Furniture Fair. And this year Matteo Thun demonstrated timber’s sustainability and flexibility by reworking the red oak to create a kitchen in the La Cucina installation at the IMM furniture fair in Cologne in January.

“Matteo Thun is a strong campaigner for wood,” said AHEC’s European director, David Venables, “but he wasn’t really aware of US hardwoods before we started working with him. Now he’s incorporating them into some of his industrial design, telling his clients about them, and he’s planning to use red oak in a forthcoming project.”

Some of Mr Thun’s furniture, previously designed in black walnut for furniture maker Riva 1920, has also been recreated in red oak.

Milan Furnture Fair

This year it’s tulipwood’s turn at the Milan Furniture Fair, with Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto using the species to create an installation in one of the meeting areas.

AHEC is also continuing its involvement with the London Design Festival, and this year’s project in red oak by Amanda Levete Architects at the V&A Museum promises to the “most ambitious” yet, said Mr Venables.

“She’s not an architect you would normally associate with wood so that’s indicative of the change in thinking and how influential architects are turning to it,” he said.

US hardwoods have also featured prominently in some high-profile buildings.

American white oak is very much on show at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds’ new theatre and conference centre. The popular species has been used for the floor and seating, and it also lines the roof and the fronts of the two balconies.

“I like it because it has a good colour and a good grain,” said Jim Greaves, the partner in charge of the project at Hopkins Architects.

“It’s consistent and good to work with, and you get a beautiful effect. You tend to get a feeling of quarter-sawn timber even if it hasn’t been cut that way.”

Luke Hughes, who designed the seats which use a mix of solid white oak and veneer, is equally enthusiastic. “The great thing about American white oak is that it’s consistent in its colour and tone and there is less waste than with European oak,” he said.

Black walnut

American black walnut was chosen for its rich colour and texture for a new library in the small town of Rush in the Republic of Ireland.

The project, which won the conservation/ restoration category in last year’s RIAI Irish Architecture awards, involved the conversion of a 19th century church. In order to retain the existing internal features, Dublin architects McCullough Mulvin created a structure which sits within the building. And they specified American black walnut for the contrast it provided with the lime plaster of the old interior.

“As well as its dark colour and rich texture, it is very stable and worked brilliantly for this wraparound form,” said lead architect Niall McCullough.

American hardwoods were also specified for the new £80m London Clinic Cancer Centre, where the aim was to create an environment that was more luxury hotel than hospital.

In the main entrance American black walnut was used to create a wall and ceiling feature, while pale, creamy American maple was chosen for the integrated cabinetry in patient bedrooms.

The choice of black walnut for the doors to the clinical rooms and patient bedrooms had the added bonus of compliance with Disability Discrimination Act regulations, which require a 30-point contrast between door and wall surface to help visually-impaired patients.

“It meant we didn’t have to paint the frames in a contrasting colour and the texture and colour added the richness and warmth we were looking for,” said designer Velimira Drummer.

High street retailer

American hardwoods have also found favour with Marks & Spencer. The high street retailer has selected American white oak for its Sonoma and Lichfield contemporary furniture ranges and at the company’s west London head office American species recently featured in “Innovation Alley” which showcased the source and supply chain of its products.

The display, which aimed to reflect M&S’s commitment to sustainability, featured hardwood samples and a short film on American forestry.

An important tool for reaching architects and specifiers is AHEC’s recently relaunched website

The site, which is available in 10 languages, features comprehensive technical information and case studies on 20 commercial US species. The organisation’s publications can also be ordered for free, downloaded or viewed as PDFs.

“We wanted to use it to re-engage a whole community,” said Mr Venables, “create a focus for hardwood information, debate and comment, and include a very clear picture of the environmental credentials and strategy of the US hardwood industry. The goal is to engage all our European audiences, from wood traders to architects, so that they use the new website as a regular and valuable resource.”