Can one almost-damaged tree lead an exhibition at the London Design Festival, extending conversations of sustainability? As the name suggests, the One Tree project took birth from a single tree, standing in British furniture company SCP founder Sheridan Coakley’s garden. An ashwood tree suffering from ash dieback, a fungus that affects around 80 per cent of ash trees in the UK, and ready to fall, was Coakley’s inspiration. He thought of putting his beloved tree to better use and brought forth a group of designers to envision the act of dying into creative outlet. “When the time came to cut them down, I thought actually, surely, rather than cutting them up for firewood there could be something we could do. The penny dropped, I am in the business of making furniture and know lots of people that design furniture, so let’s turn this into a project,” shares Coakley. Following this initiative, the One Tree Project was realised and was a part of the Almost Instinct exhibition at the SCP showroom in Shoreditch during the London Design Festival 2022 for Shoreditch Design Triangle.
On April 2022, with the vision of the project ahead, the tree was set to be cut down. “The tree was cut down by professional tree surgeons. Then a single day was arranged when all of the designers came to see the tree, and designer Sebastian Cox brought along a team with a mobile sawmill and chainsaws. The tree was cut up into different sections and some of it was cut into planks. Then the designers all chose what part of the tree they wanted. The sections were then delivered to the designers whom all worked on them individually at their own workshops or studios. Some of the wood was kiln-dried by Sebastian Cox’s team before it was ready to be worked on,” shares SCP on the process of removing and reshaping the trees into individual artworks. Talking about the concerns of the ash dieback affecting the quality of the raw material, SCP adds, “Ash dieback had damaged the tree significantly, but there were still sections which could be used without a problem. However, the tree would not have been attractive to a commercial sawmill, due to the ash dieback damage.”
Choosing to give the timber a new lease of life through product design, the designers created their own versions of representing the life of the tree. British artist Faye Toogood, who works on diverse disciplines from sculpture to furniture and fashion, decided to retain the trunk’s natural form by designing a sculptural seating from the y-shaped junction of the tree trunk. Known for his elegant work exhibiting fine craftsmanship, furniture designer Matthew Hilton designed an abstract standing sculptural of intricate repeated forms held together by a piece of string. Max Bainbridge, an artist, craftsman and author, creates sculptural works in wood which imparts meditations on the human relationship to the natural world. For the One Tree project, he chose to work with sections of the tree that retained the raw edges, splits, and cracks that formed when it fell. The sculptural installation comprised vessels, a bench, and a wall piece.
Distorting traditional techniques with contemporary narratives is London-based designer Moe Redish’s forte. Choosing pieces of wood with voids naturally created by damage, birds, insects, and the ash dieback fungus, Redish used those imperfections as moulds to create textured blown glass vessels. Oscar Coakley, who wears many hats being a creative director in film production, artist, musician, and metalworker created the 90s-inspired smiley face, to be hung from the ceiling. Echoing Kazimir Malevich’s iconic 1916 installation of his black square is the design by Poppy Booth. Acting as a cenotaph to all the ash trees, the corner cupboard is designed to be hung high up in a redundant corner of the house and worshipped from below. Skilled in woodwork, Sarah Kay made side tables from a single log cut into two. Highlighting the grain of the wood, Kay sculpted the surfaces of the wooden furniture with facets.
Cox, a designer, craftsman, and environmentalist working with woodlands and wild-lands in the UK produced a pair of dimmable lights. The lighting designs include one ceiling hung, and one standing, utilising thinly sliced sheets of wood taken from branches. Cox also has his own company to create furniture and homeware in a forward-thinking, zero-waste, carbon-counting workshop and studio. A collaboration between husband-and-wife Grant Wilkinson and Teresa Rivera, Wilkinson & Rivera shows a passion for classic woodworking and craftsmanship while expressing an irreverent sense of joy. For the project, the duo created a three-seat sculptural bench comprising rudimentary shapes. Constituting many creations from the nine designers, the project exhibits the potential of one tree to give rise to multiple forms of design. “The aim of this project is to create things that people will enjoy and never get rid of. Then the carbon that has been absorbed by the tree over its life is retained and not released. Hopefully, it will be an interesting show that gets the message across that wood is good. It’s the perfect material, it always has been, we just need to grow it more,” states Coakley in an official release.
“The whole point about capturing carbon is the most important part of this project. Once the tree is down, you either leave it on the ground and it rots and releases all of the carbon it has gathered over the years. Or you make it into something and keep it, and then you have captured that carbon for as long as that piece exists,” adds Coakley. Within the global spectrum of finding newer materials that are sustainable, at the design week SCP extended a conversation on using the materials around us sustainably. The design exhibition is on display at SCP’s showroom till October 25, 2022.