Rycotewood Furniture at the City of Oxford College, one of the United Kingdom’s most respected furniture making programmes, has collaborated with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) for the second year to produce a series of storage pieces using American red oak.
AHEC tasked 17 of the school’s Second Year Foundation students with a brief to create a piece of storage out of two boards of red oak. The students were told to use the material as creatively and efficiently as possible, making the most of its natural characteristics. Each student was also asked to think of an inspirational architect or artist to influence their piece. Students used a variety of techniques including scorching, staining, wirebrushing, fuming and steam-bending to reveal the texture of the soft-grained timber or change its colour or shape.
Renowned British furniture designer Sebastian Cox was a guest tutor for the project and spoke to the students at the beginning of the project, giving an insight into his own business and inspiring them with work he has created using red oak. Cox continued to oversee the project and mentor the students, giving each student three individual sessions to advise on their pieces and critique their ideas.
“Courses like these are an essential part of the make-up of a university education. A lot of product design courses have workshop access but not proper craft training and that misses something in terms of getting a deep knowledge of how to make a piece and how to read a material,” says Cox. “What’s special about Rycotewood is that they really teach that in-depth exploration of working with wood and I think that is essential for anyone who wants to work in design.
“It is great to see a course that is craft-based setting a brief which has a narrative angle on it. That is just as important as teaching craft processes.” Adds Cox: “Those students need to leave university equipped with the ability to take a concept and turn that into a product.”
Course tutor Joseph Bray says: “At Rycotewood we love to collaborate on projects to bring them to life. Working with red oak provided by AHEC and tutorial input from Sebastian Cox has proved to be inspirational for our students.”
Tom Acland has created a wall-mounted drinks cabinet with end grain panelled doors, two inside drawers and shelf space. The mesmerising piece is beautifully patterned, with a fabric-like appearance from a distance.
Nick Wright’s red oak and jesmonite jewellery storage cabinet was inspired by British sculptor Rachel Whiteread. The cabinet is internally lined with mint-green suede and equipped with in-built lighting, special Japanese hinges, two concealed dovetailed drawers and a secret compartment.
Alec Brown stained the red oak black to create an interesting table top storage piece. The piece has gliding behind the handles and along the drawer slides which is revealed when the drawer is opened.
Jenna Eve’s round-cornered blanket chest features felted wool in between the joints.
Jamie Waite designed a wall-hanging shelf with sliding fabric doors.
The versatility of the red oak and ingenuity of students is highlighted by the breadth of projects created. Other projects created by the Rycotewood Students include a contemporary reimagining of a Māori Wakahuia (feather box), a mobile planter with steam bent components which join to form a screen, a gentleman’s valet chair and a bedside cabinet with balancing legs.
David Venables, AHEC’s European Director, says: “Collaborating with Rycotewood is a great opportunity to expose gifted students to a great looking but underused sustainable material and encourage them to experiment with it.”
“American red oak represents almost 20% of the natural hardwood forests of the U.S. and its volume has more than double in the last 50 years. Although this beautiful timber is well regarded in other markets, it is still underutilised in Europe. This collaboration with Rycotewood is part of our wider effort to encourage European designers and makers to move away from using only a few fashionable species and instead use all the species nature provides in order to contribute to a sustainable use of the forests.”