Discovered: Why Designers Love American Oak, Cherry & Maple

The future is now: Wood Central covers, "Discovered Singapore" showcasing ten of Asia-Pacific's rising stars!

Mon 13 May 24


Asia-Pacific’s generation-next artists and designers will showcase a cross-section of furniture, objects, and sculptural art developed with American red oak, cherry, hard maple, and soft maple as part of “Discovered Singapore,” which will kick off later this week.

Featuring 10 of the region’s top young designers, including three from Australia, two from Thailand, and representatives from China, Japan, Vietnam, South Korea and Singapore, the designers were mentored by established designers Nathan Yong and Adam Markowitz.

Conceived by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC), which stole the show at Milan’s Salone del Mobile last month, “Discovered Singapore” allows new creatives and emerging designers to show their wares at Singapore’s premier design venue.

According to Rob Wiles, AHEC’s Oceanic Director, the project (which was born during the pandemic) not only provides young designers with a valuable learning experience on product design and development with sustainable hardwoods but “also an opportunity to work again with established design mentors and the best manufacturers in Australia, Singapore and Malaysia.” Before adding, “They are leading the way in making efforts to ensure sustainable design is also sustainably made.”‘

For over thirty years, the AHEC has been at the forefront of the push towards a “material-first” approach to design with hardwoods and pioneered in developing Life Cycle Assessments (or LCA’s) for hardwoods.

Working with Fowseng, who creates furniture for Liberty, Ligne Roset, and Heal’s, and Evostyle, who works closely with many of Australia’s high-end furniture brands, the designers used American oak, red maple (both featured at Salone del Mobile), and American cherry, now in the midst of a furniture-led revival. 

Meet the Designers and their creations:

Duncan Young (American hard maple) –  Shelter Within, Adelaide, Australia

Mr Young focused on the materiality of timber and how this organic  material can help us connect with nature while confined at home: “For those in dense urban environments, lockdowns have impacted our physical and mental strength by limiting the biological needs of humans have for being in outdoor spaces.” 

Shelter Within by Duncan Young Hard maple credit Tim Robinson
Shelter Within by Duncan Young, which used American hard maple (Photo Credit: Tim Robinson)

He looked at studies analysing the positive impact of nature on physical and mental health and, in response, created a modern cabinet of curiosities as a pillar to nature for the user to engage with the natural world while at home.  Featuring a solid carcass with discreet joinery and a moiré-effect shelf  (a design inspired by the historical symbolism of the cabinet as a theatre), the simple plinth includes two glass sculptural elements handmade at Mr Young’s studio, refracting and distorting the light to evoke the effect of walking beneath a canopy of trees. 

Hard maple was the perfect choice for the carcass: “It’s such a pared-back timber,” he explains. “It has a gentle grain structure and I thought the lightness would soften the heaviness of my piece’s form.”

Vivienne Wong (American cherry) – luxta Me (Beside me), Melbourne, Australia.

Dancer-turned-designer Ms Wong looked at non-verbal communication as the starting point of her project, approaching the task from a personal point of reflection and knowledge: “I wanted to translate my previous understanding of how we can connect and communicate,” she said, looking to “create a piece to nurture strength, intimacy, and connection.”

Iuxta Me by Vivienne Wong American cherry credit Tim Robinson
Iuxta Me by Vivienne Wong using American cherry (Photo Credit: Tim Robinson)

Invisible physical boundaries and the creation of textures through light formed the basis of the project, which developed into a coffee table featuring interlocking echoed forms, where the functional joinery also became a decorative motif for the piece.

Ms Wong chose American cherry because of its grain and colour: ‘It has a beautiful warmth in its pinkish red hue,’ she said. “I felt that supported everything I was trying to put into this piece.” Her design’s name (using the Latin word ‘beside’) represents the desire for human connection and closeness that guided the process. 

Ivana Taylor (American hard maple, cherry and red oak) – Reframe,  Adelaide, Australia 

Ms Taylor’s experience of solitude led to extensive periods of reflection, ultimately inspiring her to change her approach to designing and making. For this project, she aimed to “design a contemplative sculptural object that triggered reflection on the multi-layered nature of any experience, including isolation.” 

image 8
Reframe by Ivana Taylor using American hard maple, cherry and red oak (Photo Credit: Tim Robinson)

A recurring theme of her research featured ways of framing a view at different scales. The resulting design is a sculpture made from a series of small carved objects that layer to create a composition acting as a “sculpted path for light.” Working with three woods, Ms Taylor was interested in exploring different material hollows, cutting each layer to expose the wood’s grain. 

Mew Mungnatee (American soft maple and cherry) – Corners Lamp, Bangkok, Thailand 

Ms Mungnatee’s emotional response to the objects surrounding her took in the relationship between form, light and shadow, and with this project, she explored this connection through geometry.

Corners Lamp by Kamonwan Mungnatee Soft maple cherry credit Winston Chuang 10
Corners Lamp by Kamonwan Mungnatee made from American soft maple cherry. (Photo Credit: Winston Chuang)

Inspired by pagodas, her lamp designs are based on a bulb casting a shadow over surfaces below, thanks to an intricate grid composition featuring wooden slats and indented corners. 

She worked with soft maple because of how light bounces off its surface—”the wood has an opalescent gleam,” and American cherry because of its ability to take stain. 

Taiho Shin (American hard maple) – Ikare, Seol, Republic of Korea 

During his isolation, Mr Shin noted that “objects help human resilience through unusual situations,” which served as the basis for his project. Guided by the ‘Ikea effect’ (consumers place a higher value on products they partially created), he thought of a half-made design that users could partly assemble to foster interaction with their objects.

Ikare by Taiho Shin maple credit Tim Robinson
Ikare by Taiho Shin maple credit Tim Robinson

He created one small table, put together thanks to an ingenious but simple-to-use joint system (no glue necessary), and the design multiplied to create a stackable system of shelves suitable for different spaces. He chose hard maple, as the density of the timber means the joint can be moved in and out without crushing the wood’s fibre.

Nong Chotipatoomwan (Amercian red oak) – Thought Bubble, Bangkok, Thailand 

A nostalgia for travel and social interaction guided Ms Chotipatoomwan’s creative thinking through her project. Physical transitions were replaced with changing states of mind, and the physical realm merged with the psychological realm through domestic space. 

Thought Bubble by Nong Chotipatoomwan red oak and maple credit Winston Chuang
Thought Bubble by Nong Chotipatoomwan using American red oak and maple (Photo Credit: Winston Chuang)

The designer looked at furniture created for relaxation and landed on a rocking motion, which became the basis for her chair, offering a mix of relaxation and repetitive movement to enhance mindfulness.

She used red oak for the chair because she was fascinated by its grain. “It’s quite expressive, and I was interested in its porous nature.”

Kodai Iwamoto (American red oak) – Pari Pari, Tokyo, Japan 

For his project, Mr Iwamoto researched traditional Japanese techniques, such as uzukuri (giving texture to wood by scrubbing) and chouna (chiselling the surface with an adze), and then started experimenting directly on the wood, peeling its layers to create a new veneer. 

Working with red oak, he peeled it by cutting the panel’s edge and removing the surface by hand, resulting in a jagged effect where the texture of the grain emerges. These imperfectly textured panels became the starting point for a design exploration that led him to a round table shape, using the subtle material as a base to create the effect of an ancient tree trunk. 

Trang Nguyen (American cherry, red oak, hard maple) – The Roof Stool, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam 

For her project, Ms Nguyen studied traditional Vietnamese roof tiles and created a collection of nesting stools that replicate the way the tiles overlap to hide the connecting structures below. Her simple stool design is inspired by traditional temple architecture and Vietnamese dresses, and she features pins made of contrasting wood at the joint, which remain hidden when the stools are stacked and are revealed when they are in use. 

Roof Stool by Trang Nguyen red oak cherry maple credit Winston Chuang
Roof Stool by Trang Nguyen using American red oak, cherry and maple (Photo Credit: Winston Chuang)

“I chose three different types of wood, cherry, red oak and maple, because of their colour differences,” she said. “By randomly using two of the species for the pins and another one for the rest for the stool, users can explore the various timbers when they unstack each piece.” 

Roof Stool by Trang Nguyen Cherry red oak hard maple credit Winston Chuang 7

As people spend more time at home, her design provides additional seats while creating a beautiful composition when not in use.

Yunhan Wang (American hard maple) – Winding Stream, Zhuhai, China 

Unable to carry out certain customs during lockdown, people are confined to performing rituals at home. There is a novel need for suitable furniture and objects that can fit a small space but serve the same purpose. Ms Wang wanted to create a domestic alternative to the “winding stream party,” a Chinese drinking custom in which poetry is composed while a cup is floated down a stream with people sitting on both sides; the person sitting in front of the cup that stops has to drink it. 

Doris Yunhan Wang Winding Stream Hard maple credit Winston Chuang
Doris Yunhan Wang Winding Stream using American hard maple (Photo Credit: Winston Chuang)

Inspired by Hakka roundhouses, Wang created a compact table design with storage concealed in the legs and a central slit to fit trays and cups. The table is also equipped with a drain so users can dispose of their water through the twisting gully, and it then trickles into a waste bucket housed in the main leg.  

Ms Wang chose hard maple for Winding Stream because she was drawn to the light colour, and the timber has been spray-painted to prevent rot from setting in. 

Tan Wei Xiang (American hard maple, red oak) – Recollect, Singapore 

Searching for a tangible physical connection to loved ones (beyond virtual calls), Mr Tan turned to keepsakes to fight off nostalgia. His keepsake cabinet is imagined as a way to hold, preserve and give respect to the items we hold dear. Its forms were inspired by Singapore’s ubiquitous construction sites and the ridged zinc sheets used to protect them. 

Recollect by Tan Wei Xiang maple and red oak credit Winston Chuang
Recollect by Tan Wei Xiang maple and red oak credit Winston Chuang

Mr Tan recreated this motif as the outer shell of his tall, lean cabinet and created curved shelves to sit inside it, with a mirrored, polished brass circle, mimicking the sun setting on the horizon. 

The designer had worked with maple before but never from the American hardwood forests, and for this project, he selected a combination of hard maple of different thicknesses to achieve the “crinkled’ effect on the shell, and red oak for the curved shelves inside.”

  • Discovered: Singapore is on display at Red Dot Design Museum, Singapore, 16–22 May, 2024


  • Jason Ross

    Jason Ross, publisher, is a 15-year professional in building and construction, connecting with more than 400 specifiers. A Gottstein Fellowship recipient, he is passionate about growing the market for wood-based information. Jason is Wood Central's in-house emcee and is available for corporate host and MC services.


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