The Biggest Piece of Furniture

I just returned from the Middle East where I gave a series of presentations to architects, designers and joinery companies.  Part of my presentation is to tell those in attendance that the challenge of design is threefold:  1) Create a vision; 2) Convey a vision and 3) Make it deliverable.  In my mind number 3 is the most important because lumber specs, quantities and timelines can be wildly out of synch with reality.   In order to make the project deliverable the designers need to connect with the source of the lumber to make sure that the vision is actually possible to deliver.

In the land of design excess, Dubai, one would think that money is no object in creating the beautiful and amazing buildings you look at on Google.  I had a principal of one of the largest joinery companies in the UAE come up to me after I was finished with my presentation and he said that I had it wrong with my 3 point “challenge of design” order.  He said that conveying the vision is really the toughest part.  When it comes to interiors, especially those using American hardwoods, their clients become apoplectic when they hear how much it will cost for the joinery and flooring for their space.  This is usually in a building whose overall cost is astronomical.  Since the joinery and flooring are among the last parts of the project, that is where the client wants to cut costs as much as possible.  If the original design and bid called for high quality sustainable American hardwoods, especially quartersawn hardwoods, the specification is quickly changed to “or equivalent”, which usually means the cheapest possible alternative to actual solid American hardwood.

I try my best to convince architects and designers to take the attitude that the timber component to any space is the biggest piece of furniture in the space.  Just like with furniture, one can install woodwork that is inexpensive and of inferior quality to save money or one can pay for high quality that will last for generations.

When I walk into a hotel, office building or commercial space of any kind I will notice the woodwork immediately and will have no clue about the quality of the lighting fixtures, glass or metalwork.  Granted, I have a bias towards wood, but the fact remains that the wood joinery or flooring is the most visible part of the space, the biggest piece of furniture.  Everyone resonates with wood clad environments.  If you are going to design your space to include wood, buy the highest quality wood, perhaps quartersawn hardwoods, and build the cost of the space around that.  Don’t try to save money on the wood using “equivalent” products.  That is like ordering a Bentley and saying that you don’t really need the leather seats or the expensive sound system.  Find out what the Bentley costs and wait until you have the money to buy the Bentley. The finest hardwood is quartersawn hardwood and Bentley is considered one of the finest cars.  Accept no substitutes.