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Jarrod Lim pushes the boundaries of wood furniture

Renowned designer Jarrod Lim on his modern interpretation of the peacock chair, his adoption of thermally modified American red oak and his collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC).

Jarrod Lim pushes the boundaries of wood furniture

Jarrod Lim and his Sun Lounge

Jarrod Lim needs no introduction. The half-Singaporean, half-Australian designer is known for his clean, cool and purposeful wooden objects. From his award-winning Streamline Chair to The Elephant money box, Lim’s work conveys a strong graphic element, with a solid foundation of form and function. 

His latest masterpiece – Sun Lounge – for the recent EMERGE showcase at FIND Design Fair Asia 2023 is a modern interpretation of the peacock chair, crafted from thermally modified American red oak. His design, realised by fine furniture manufacturer Omega Mas in Surabaya, which he has had over 15 years of working relationship with, also fabricated the Kyon Ottoman and Side Table that was showcased at IFMAC 2023 for American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC).

IndesignliveAsia caught up with Lim to learn more about his furniture showcase, design philosophy, collaboration with AHEC and his upcoming projects.

Sun Lounge designed by Jarrod Lim
Sun Lounge

Could you delve into the creative process behind your design, particularly in how you reimagine the iconic Southeast Asian peacock chair? 

The Sun Lounge is a design that I’ve been thinking about for quite some time. I’d always admired the original rattan peacock chairs and I wanted to create something very clean but with an oversized backrest. The peacock chair is actually quite difficult to reinterpret because it’s so iconic. Also, the seat and backrest are different in shape, yet somehow complement each other and work together harmoniously. 

My original sketches and ideas for the design always felt unbalanced and out of proportion. It wasn’t until I started thinking about it as an outdoor piece that I thought about trying it in timber. As I sketched it, I realised the lines created by adding slats of various sizes brought the whole piece together with just the right amount of detail.

The Sun Lounge is reminiscent of your award-winning Streamline Chair, with both featuring slatted designs and curved seats. Was the Streamline Chair an inspiration for the Sun Lounge?

No, it wasn’t. Honestly, I had forgotten about the Streamline chair. But now that I look back on it, I think it shares a similar concept – focusing on small details – that plays a large part in my design thinking. In both pieces, the lines created by the slats really become the focal point of the design. Without those very deliberate lines, and the exact size and spacing of the slats, both designs would feel quite crude. 

Sun Lounge designed by Jarrod Lim
Sun Lounge

Traditionally, peacock chairs are crafted from rattan and wicker. Why did you choose to work with American red oak for this project? 

Once I had made the decision to use solid timber for Sun Lounge, I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to present the chair using the relatively unknown process of timber thermal modification. Previously I had worked with the AHEC, testing some ideas using thermally modified red oak. It’s a beautiful material and I knew it had all the properties I was looking for to create the design. 

Firstly, AHEC timber is sustainably sourced and tracked so it’s easy to verify its environmental credentials. Secondly, American red oak is readily available compared to other species, making it more cost effective. And finally, I already knew that the thermal modification process could provide the properties and the durability that is required for an outdoor product.

Singapore’s humidity can pose challenges for red oak, which may be prone to movement. How did your design and manufacturing techniques address this issue and ensure the longevity of the Sun Lounge in this climate?

Thermal modification is simply the process of using heat and pressure to ‘cook’ the moisture out of the timber. This leaves the wood much drier than standard timber and removes much of the sugars in the cells making it more durable, less prone to warping and much more resistant to rotting or pests. Different temperatures and different time-periods can change both the appearance and the internal properties of the timber and that is something we have been experimenting with.

The thermal treatment process also leaves the red oak a beautiful chocolate brown colour, which goes all the way through the boards. This is something that is highlighted in the design where the edges have all been rounded off showing the internal colour of each plank. And the chair has no chemical finishing, unlike many other types of outdoor timber products.

AHEC booth at IFMAC 2023 designed by Jarrod Lim
AHEC booth at IFMAC 2023 designed by Jarrod Lim

You also designed AHEC’s booth for IFMAC 2023 along with the Kyon Ottoman and Side Table using American red oak as well. Can you share your experience working with AHEC and the concept behind the booth and furniture designs?

The concept for the AHEC booth at IFMAC 2023 was to simply create a living room space for people to relax and chat, all while showing a variety of AHEC materials and their research. Each fair is a chance for AHEC to meet with customers so it’s always important to create a comfortable atmosphere for discussions.

I wanted to explore a few different processes on the various timber species, which is easier to do on a smaller scale such as furniture pieces. In the case of the Kyon Ottoman and Side Table, I had been looking to test out this particular hand carved texture for a while and since we had been testing the thermo treatment of timber, I already knew that the colour would continue throughout the wood. So it was a perfect way to display both the material and test the carving process in a new design. The two products received a lot of attention so I’m looking to create a collection around them and present them to some clients.

What exciting projects or designs do you have in the pipeline for the future?

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s been a real grind trying to find design projects but suddenly, in the past few months, everyone seems to have re-emerged with new enthusiasm. Now I’m looking to develop several new ideas including a set of fabric prints in collaboration with a well-known fashion designer, through to some ceramic products and more furniture pieces. I’ve got some interesting ideas for small apartment living and I’m in discussion with a potential partner to see how we can produce them. 

Images courtesy of AHEC
Jarrod Lim with his Kyon Ottoman and Side Table
Jarrod Lim with his Kyon Ottoman and Side Table

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