PITTSBURGH – American red oak—the dominant species in American hardwood forests—is plentiful, affordable, and a species whose versatility, aesthetics, and technical performance deserve the spotlight. Being hard, stable, and easily steamed, bent, planed, turned, oiled, or stained; it’s a hardwood ideal for furniture. Which is why the Hardwood Manufacturers Association, and  its promotion medium, the American Hardwood Information Center, along with Pratt Institute’s Industrial Design department, collaborated on a semester-long course, “Special Project: Red Oak Reimagined.” 
 
Set up as a furniture-design competition, titled “The Sovereign Wood,” the course focused on working with red oak as a sustainable material for the 21st century. Each of the nine participating students received 75 board feet of red oak—compliments of Weaber Lumber, Lebanon, Pennsylvania—and their challenge was to make creative use of it in residential furniture, containers, or other household objects with footprints small enough for compact urban living accommodations. 
 
During the semester, issues of modularity, multifunctionality, and storage were explored, while also addressing such competition criteria as sustainability, innovation, production technology, and aesthetic impact. The students’ practical understanding and creative imaginations were further stimulated by visits to the Weaber mill in Lebanon, and the George Nakashima studios in New Hope, Pennsylvania. 
 
At the end of the semester, each student presented a full-size, working prototype of a completed piece of furniture, together with a visual presentation outlining the thinking and process behind its design and manufacture. The projects were judged by a distinguished, seven-person panel of professionals representing all aspects of the furniture and design industries; prizes were awarded; and the nine prototypes exhibited at Wanted Design, an international fair in Brooklyn.
 
  • First place was awarded to ritual, an elegant and practical makeup vanity by Jeongbin Im. The top opens up to reveal storage space lined in brightly colored felt that contrasts pleasingly with the slightly pink hue of the red oak exterior. 
  • Second place went to Sisi Hong’s Lean chair—a low-to-the-ground seat surrounded by a picket fence-like arm and leg rest—is light and easy to move despite its almost monumental look. It featured an arresting gray finish.
  • Third place was shared by Chase Philpotts’ Slant, a storage cabinet and chair combination that features an eye-catching cerused finish and particularly fine craftsmanship; and Hyun Woo Lee’s maisoNique, a table that unfolds to provide seating for dining, much like a picnic table.
 
“It was thrilling to see the way the Pratt students brought a fresh and rejuvenating perspective to the possibilities inherent in red oak,” says Linda Jovanovich, Hardwood Manufacturers Association Executive Vice President, and one of the judges. “And it wasn’t just the flair and creativity that the pieces showed in terms of design and aesthetics. A number of them were so well considered, from a manufacturing point of view, that they could almost be production pieces of furniture. 
 
“The standard of excellence shown in the design, craftsmanship, and execution of all the pieces was exceptional. Altogether, the participants more than lived up to the premise of the course: Red Oak Reimagined.”

The Hardwood Manufacturers Association (HMA) is the only national trade organization with membership limited to American hardwood lumber producers and processors. Based in Pittsburgh since 1991, HMA is a member-driven association; providing member companies peer-networking opportunities, valuable information exchange and strategic management tools. The Association also conducts a focused, far-reaching promotion campaign, directed to both consumers and build professionals, extolling the beauty, environmental preference and lasting value of American hardwood flooring, furniture, cabinetry and millwork.

 
 

 

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