In the Details: Living Materials – Wood

Celebrating wood's inherent aliveness.

This is the second in a series of Journal pieces exploring Kalon’s relationship with living materials. You can read the first, on Brass, here.

Kalon is a materials-focused practice. Our material selections are a primary driving force of our designs, right alongside sustainability and long-lasting functionality. But that’s not just because we love the look of the wood, brass, and linens we use. It goes beyond beauty.

In today’s furniture industry, materials are so often taken for granted, which makes their ecosystem of impact go mostly unacknowledged. When wood is simply wood — abstracted from its particular species, forest, locality — environmental and supply chain considerations become invisible. When materials are given the illusion of infinite supply and effortless production, furniture can easily be regarded as disposable. 

Our mission has always existed beyond the confines of our brand: Through Kalon, we champion alternative perspectives so that we may contribute to the cultivation of more reverence for materials, greater awareness of resources, and a desire to buy fewer, better things. The way we see it, spending time telling the stories of seemingly small or oft-overlooked details invites deeper connections.

In modern design, unique and aberrant qualities of a material are often polished away to a point of streamlined perfection. Even with wood, an inherently unruly and varied material, a façade of uniformity is created. One needs to simply take a walk through your nearest design chain to observe that every wooden piece looks quite the same. Despite the fact that grain variation often has little to no impact on the structural integrity of the wood itself, a very small percentage fits the traditional furniture industry’s arbitrary definition of beauty. The cost of maintaining this overly processed illusion is over-consumption of materials and the creation of unnecessary waste that might be perfectly suitable.

By contrast, Kalon actively embraces a much wider range of wood grain variation. For us, this is not a concession: In addition to environmental impact considerations within our materials and methods, we also happen to love the way dynamic grain structure looks juxtaposed with clean-lined design. Celebrating the natural quality of wood also wields the unseen power of highlighting, rather than obfuscating, the fact that a piece of wooden furniture was made from a particular tree that was harvested from a forest, by a woodsman. Understanding all of the energy and resources that go into creating a single piece of furniture deepens our love for it. When we know what has gone into making something, we are that much more likely to cherish it forever. Zooming out, if customers come to see the value in wood furniture that actually looks like wood, this could impact the decisions made (and, in turn, the waste produced) by huge design retailers.

Within the world of lumber, the lack of uniformity is actually one of wood’s most cherished qualities. Every board has a unique pattern of grain variation that tells a story of its age, locality, the climate conditions it has weathered, the soil it called home, the minerals it has encountered, and more. Grain variation is a naturally occurring property of wood, and when a tree is cut into boards, its growth rings become visible. Growth rings are the lines of grain that denote each year a tree has grown. They tell a story of the particular weather and soil conditions — if it was a fat year of quick growth or a meager year plagued with beetles or singed by fire. Some logs will boast a dramatically darker hue that comes from the heartwood, which is the older, harder, and denser central wood of trees. Even more striking is Black Heart, a natural variation considered a mark of beauty, which is found in trees older than 100 years. The occurrence is believed to be linked to the particular soil conditions where the tree grew, likely high-moisture. Once formed, its presence increases with age and has no impact on timber properties or strength. Other variations, like mineral streaks and knots, provide further textural interest. It can be easy to forget that knots are actually the point at which branches grew along the trunk — a concentration of nourishment at these growth points is what results in the dark, hard rings. 

While our Stump & Trunk collection is a more explicit celebration of this type of material provenance, all of our collections put wood — in all of its imperfect, beautiful glory — front and center. We developed our custom Kalon Bare Finish specifically to honor and preserve the luminous quality of raw wood, and to ensure that pieces can be refinished over the years as they acquire the inevitable knicks and bumps. As pieces weather and age, their tonality transforms and takes on something akin to the patina of well-loved leather. Within our body of work, materiality takes center stage and simplicity of form lets the wood tell its story. The hand of the craftsman — and the designer’s imagination — become conduits for the material, rather than external forces working to exert control. 

We love seeing beyond the final product each time we engage with the material world, and we invite you to join us in seeing things this way, too — and, maybe, to think of imperfection as beauty, wood as nature, and materials as living.