Wood is both universal and unique. No other material is as deeply embedded in the history, culture and life of humans worldwide as wood, yet every single piece of wood is unique.
The color tone, texture, durability, flexibility and even sound qualities of different tree species have puzzled and challenged artists, architects, designers, builders and artisans for thousands of years.
Still today, nothing matches wood in versatility or beauty, so it is great to see how today’s designers and architects continue to face the challenge of wood, and use it creatively to interpret sleek, modern designs.
They use wood to meet their current needs and desires for which wood is ideally suited. People seek calm surroundings, simplicity and minimalism to soothe their frayed nerves and to counter the constant visual overload they face. Wood’s warmth and natural beauty works wonders for creating a sense of balance and calm.
People also look for sustainable alternatives, eco-friendly options, greener solutions. When harvested, managed and used sustainably, forests are still the source of the greatest material on earth.
We especially love the influence of Scandinavian and Japanese traditions that we can detect in today’s wood architecture and design. Minimalist, functional, beautiful, and light in both color and weight.
Scandinavian building and design traditions are based solidly on the use of wood. Finnish modernist master, architect Alvar Aalto, stunned the world with Living Wood, his design for the Finnish Pavilion for the Paris World Exposition in 1937. In the pavilion, he combined both traditional and modern architecture and showcased his functionalist design sensibilities. It was considered one of the boldest and most innovative pavilions of the Expo.
Earlier, Aalto’s exploration of the limits of bent wood and mass production had resulted in the Paimio chair (1931) and other furniture classics, and had a permanent impact on how furniture looks even today. Aalto’s work influenced many other modernist masters including Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen.
The use of wood in Japanese architecture and design is characterized by austere construction methods, the lightness of materials, the connectedness between indoors and outdoors, and the way in which buildings merge with their surroundings.
With hardly any furniture used inside, Japanese master craftsmen were able to focus their skills on the buildings themselves, on skilful joining of sections without nails, and on revealing, rather than covering or adorning, the original texture and tone of the wood.
Wood as a material has held a charmed place in architecture and design for both its simplicity and complexity. It lends itself to imposing, bulky structures, yet also yields to delicate, undulating forms that seem lacy and transparent.
We love this lightness and elegance, the play of light and shadow, the countless tones of color that can be achieved with skilful use of wood both structurally and decoratively.
In more and more residential projects, both big and small, architects and designers are finding new, creative ways to reveal and highlight the beauty and versatility of wood. They manage to create structures that appear current and cool, yet also exude a classic, timeless elegance.
Every day, we come across images of fantastic single-use residences, recreational cottages, furniture, decks and patios, where the qualities of wood are perfectly matched with the users’ needs and the requirements of the surroundings as well.
In retail and hospitality, wood is also making an impact. We love the blocky, clean look of the Aesop stores. At the other end of the spectrum a good example is the lightness and playfulness achieved in RDAI Architects’ use of wood-slat “huts” as departments in the Paris Hermès store built inside an old hotel swimming pool.
In not just eco-lodges, but also in luxury resorts, spas and hotels, wood is becoming the material of choice. As guests are looking for a retreat, a sense of being back in nature, a quilt-free, tranquil vacation, resorts are responding with wood-frame structures, wood interiors and sustainable solutions that also look fabulous.
Wood is not trendy yet it is incredibly cool. It is a demanding, noble, ancient, living material that we have the privilege to use and enjoy. In wood, the architect, designer and builder face the exhilarating challenge of the sculptor — to reveal the character of the specific species, the individual tree. And we, the viewers and users of their work, have the opportunity to discover it for ourselves. We are looking forward to more. - Tuija Seipell.
At TCH, we are so obsessed with wood that we even created Treelife, an event to showcase the most innovate work using wood in the design of Treehouses.
Our fascination with cool offices continues. This time, we are attracted to a Victorian building in Dublin.
This past June, after only six months of elaborate reconstruction and renovation, global insurance firm XL Group plc moved into one of the most prestigious addresses in Dublin, Ireland.
The former private club building at Number 8 St. Stephen’s Green is a protected structure, which made the job of RKD Architects that much more challenging.
RKD’s not-so-easy task was to respect the original building and its later reiterations, while making sure XL Group’s staff and management had all the tools and comforts of a modern office.
The building dates back to 1792 when it was constructed as an imposing, five-bay, four-storeys- over-basement residence for Lord Mountgarrat. From 1847 to 2003, it was owned by the Hibernian United Services Club and operated as a private club.
After the 6.5 million Euro (about $8.2 mil. US) renovation, the grand scale, elegance and drama of a private gentlemen’s club are still intact, and the unseemly practicalities of air conditioning, IT and plumbing are discreetly and stylishly hidden behind cabinetry and other structures.
Reinforcing and restoring the best parts of the building has left, for example, the grand Portland-stone staircase as the central eye-catcher at the entrance, and given the staff and clients an impressive environment that demands attention.
We love the ceilings, the exposed brick, and the mirrors and subtle insertions of colour in the modern offices.
In even the most updated of the spaces, there is some aspect that reminds of the past and shows off the peculiarities of the grand, old building. - Tuija Seipell.
If only we had a spare historic Barchessa in Italy and an extra million lying about, we, too, would build an office and showroom, just like fashion house Rubens Luciano’s in Villa Gritti, Stra, near Venice.
We’ve covered many a gorgeous office over the years in our quest for the world’s coolest offices, and although many of them a grand in scale and lavish in budget, each one has ideas just waiting for any of us to emulate in our own, perhaps more modest, surroundings.
In the case of the Rubens Luciano office architect Simone Micheli mastered several copy-worthy feats: The use of natural light and glass to create the feeling of openness; the combination of old and new in a way that is not pretentious; and the exquisite attention to detail.
Several of Micheli’s other hallmarks are also visible in this project: smooth, flowing lines; shiny, seamless surfaces; rounded edges; and organic-looking, bulbous shapes. We also love the meticulous detailing and the minimalist, clean overall look.
The four-year-long renovation collaboration between Simone Micheli and his friends, fashion-house founders Rubens and Luciano, was unveiled at a great party on September 1, a date that also marked the 49th birthday of the architect. - Tuija Seipell.
The work of Paris-based Matali Crasset always makes us smile. Her ability to take something basic and make it appear fun and fresh is unparalleled. More remarkable is her ability to do this while avoiding the gummy-coloured slide that so easily leads to overly cute, fake and just plain childish.
Including just enough colour to pop, adding just enough quirky shapes to make a point, and leaving everything else out, makes this little university grocery shop a delight.
Mini M grocery is a neighborhood grocery store at the Toulouse University where the student services organization is working to improving the options and accessibility of various food service alternatives from eat-in and take-out to grocery stores.
This colourful market is designed to stand out from the concrete buildings that surround it. Its overall feel is positive and fun; it is a market-stall-like casual shop, clearly different from the typical, boring convenience stores and corner stores elsewhere in the city.
With our fascination with both minimalism and colour, we’ve kept an eye on Emmanuelle Moureaux, the French-born and Tokyo-based architect famous for her use of candy-hued colours in many of her projects.
Since 2003, she’s run her own Architecture and design firm in Tokyo.
Her solo exhibition, “100 Colours” is currently on at the Shinjuku Mitsui Bldg., 55 Square, Tokyo, as part of the Shinjuku Creators Festa 2013.
For many years, Moreaux has explored the use of colour and the use of the traditional Japanese paper screens as dividers. Many of her projects in retail, hospitality and public spaces express some combination of the two, using colourful screens as dividers and using colour as a space maker. - Tuija Seipell.
See also The Power of Colour
Filmed at sunrise on the 57th floor of 4WTC in lower Manhattan, this short film captures an extraordinary and moving performance of Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain. It is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and a tribute to the future of the city that New York City Ballet calls home. Beautifully shot.
Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Part
After the Rain by Christopher Wheeldon
Ask la Cour
Directed by Davi Russo
Romita Comedor is a restaurant that is less than two years old yet it has the ambience of a well-loved, casual tradition.
The interior touches - the use of wood and tile, the wood furnishings, the many plants and various surface treatments - all seem to belong here, and they seem to have belonged for a long time. Nice vintage-chic patina that also looks fresh and modern – not easy to achieve.
The dining room is located in Mexico City, in the heart of Colonia Roma, at Avenida Álvaro Obregón 49.
The building dates back to early 1900s and its style was inspired by grand railway stations. It is also protected by the INBA (Instituta Nacional de Bellas Artes).
The massive windows, glass ceiling and a retractable awning all take full advantage of the station-style architecture, and let the light in for the benefit of the many plants.
The building’s current owner, Rodrig Espinoza, and his two partners, Marcela Lugo and Arturo, designed the restaurant with the idea in mind that it would become a gathering place that would attract not just the locals but visitors as well.
Romita Comedor is known for authentic Mexican cuisine, great cocktails at the two bars, and live entertainment by well-known DJs. The building also houses a design shop and a hair salon. - Tuija Seipell
As the ice cream and cupcake shop genre has become increasingly pink and cute, to the point of icky and utterly boring, we were delighted to run across Once Upon A Cream.
It is an ice cream shop in the beach resort town of Hua Hin, about 200 km south of Bangkok, Thailand. The refreshing shop was designed by Bangkok’s MADA Design Factory.
The design team was led by co-founder and creative director Nisachol Loetritsirikul. She managed to avoid the cute overload and instead came up with a crisp balance of whimsy and old-word dairy.
A few little nods to Willy Wonka are there – the pieces of machinery and copper fixtures, the pepperminty red-and-white round tables, the chewing-gum blue seating, the blue sky and fluffy clouds in the ceiling. But they are counterbalanced by the old-dairy accents: The white tiles, the clean surfaces, the wooden boxes.
The wood boards, rattan chairs and again the blue sky - references to the resort town location – round out the design concept. - Tuija Seipell.
This is what we call breathing room! A room in which one can breathe. Where the sea breeze moves freely. Where the scent of the ocean is ever-present. And the best part? It is not in a deserted island far, far away, but in an urban setting.
This 300-plus year-old house is located in the ancient port city of Jaffa, the oldest part of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality in Israel.
The gorgeous renovation is by the Tel Aviv-based Pitsou Kedem Architects, already well known for their minimalist approach to architecture and design.
The single owner of the house asked the designers to maximize the sea view while keeping the historical feel of the building intact. The project team - Pitsou Kedem, Irene Goldberg and Raz Melamed - has achieved this beautifully.
The residence consists of a 100 square meter (1,076 sq.ft) living area (living, dining and kitchen) plus an additional 80 square meters (861 sq.ft) that includes the master bed room, a study and a guest room.
Our main attraction points in this cool sanctuary are the gorgeous arches, the exposed texture of the old stone, the subdued colour pattern, and the lovely balance between the old and the new. It looks so easy and natural, but it is very tough to achieve such poise.
There is an overall sense of peace and harmony that is a luxury in itself. Breathtakingly lovely. We are seriously envious of the owner. Tuija Seipell
Design team: pitsou kedem, Irene Goldberg, Raz Melamed
Photographer: Amit Geron