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Q&A with Alain van Havre

It would be an understatement to say that designer Alain Van Havre likes working with wood.His genuine regard for the gracious material is apparent as he passionately speaks about his experience working with wood. Designing pieces such as Ethnicraft’s iconic Circle table and Bok chair, his creations are odes to solid wood. Here, he chats with us about the fluidity of wood, working with their unique characteristics and how they seem to form lives of their own.

Hello, Alain. Let’s get straight to the topic of woodworking. What advice can you give us about working with wood?

Wood is the material of the past and the future—it’s an honest and precious material that should be respected. Having almost unlimited possibilities, it could be sculpted, bent, turned and reassembled in almost any shape we can think of. Every day, its boundaries are pushed further. As it is a long-lasting, sustainable material, any design incorporating the material should be timeless but created using techniques that are relevant to the period in which they were made.

What is the most important element to keep in mind when incorporating wood into design?

Wood is a living material. Even after being cut, solid wood continues to live and evolve. Every single piece of wood is unique and has to be considered as such. Solid wood has had a long life before it is made into furniture. Every panel wears the scars of growth. As I see it, the wood is an ideal canvas that allows the material to take on unique characteristics through a natural aging process.

How do the unique characteristics of wood contribute to design? How do you work with different types of wood? 

Density, stability, and grain define most of it. These are the features to respect, as you cannot impose shapes on wood. We also have to consider which piece of the tree it comes from to determine what it is best suited for. Every component has its own characteristics and we should work with these attributes, instead of against them.

Do you have a favorite type of wood to work with?

There are lots of interesting types of wood! They each have their own distinctive features. I especially like walnut and some exotic woods, such as Rosewood, because they have extraordinary grain drawings. If they’re cut properly they can stand on their own as artwork.

What do you try to convey with your design?

Lightness and intrigue. Lightness in the sense that a piece of furniture shouldn’t raise questions—it should bring a form of inner peace, and intrigue in how it should incite envy with the high level of craftsmanship.