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AHEC spotlights underused American hardwoods at Clerkenwell Design Week 2024

The debut of ‘in-between’ furniture system created by Foster + Partners Industrial Design x Benchmark and Kingston University student creations give underused hardwoods a fresh perspective.

AHEC spotlights underused American hardwoods at Clerkenwell Design Week 2024

For years, the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has fostered design innovation through collaboration with established as well as emerging designers. Most, if not all of such collaborations’ premise focuses on championing environmental stewardship by exploring the possibilities of underutilised American hardwoods.

At this year’s Clerkenwell Design Week, AHEC called to attention two groundbreaking projects that demonstrate the creative and practical properties of underused American red oak and low-grade cherry. Though different in outcomes, both projects highlight the importance of sustainable practices in design and the potential of overlooked materials.

Related: Advancing design innovation through collaboration

ILE modular furniture

Two British powerhouses, Foster + Partners Industrial Design and furniture maker Benchmark, joined forces to create a versatile timber furniture collection designed to optimise underutilised office spaces. The ILE modular system includes benches, tables, lockers, shelves, and planters that interlock using an innovative timber fixing strip, allowing various configurations to suit different working modes. It accommodates lighting rails, power displays, and accessories like shelves and bookends, enhancing its adaptability.

With offices averaging ten fitouts over 60 years, ILE’s reconfigurable design and durable hardwood construction ensure longevity. ILE uses American red oak and British ash, chosen for their practicality, affordability, and sustainability. The red oak, sourced from the Northern Appalachians, is especially sustainable due to its rapid regeneration and underuse, contributing positively to forest management.

The Cherry Project

High-grade cherry timber is popular in high-end joinery, but lower grades, though equally beautiful and sustainable, are less used. To promote sustainability, Kingston University students were tasked with creating furniture from lower-grade American cherry. This initiative by AHEC encourages using all parts of a harvested tree, leading to cost-effectiveness and environmental stewardship.

As part of their ‘Intelligent Making’ module, 50 second-year Product & Furniture Design students crafted new designs from cherry wood offcuts. This hands-on approach allowed students to explore materials, develop structural principles, and create full-size prototypes. The resulting collection includes stools, shelving, benches, and even a playground seesaw, showcasing cherry wood’s versatility and the students’ creativity. Fourteen of the students’ pieces were on display at the ‘Future Laboratory’ exhibition throughout Clerkenwell Design Week 2024.


ILE modular workspace system, exhibited at Benchmark
Exhibition at Kingston University, School of Art
Product & Furniture Design students, Kingston School of Art

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