3 Nordic talents on challenges and benefits creating spectacular designs made of hardwood timbers
One female maker from each Scandinavian country turns to the other side of the Atlantic ocean to explore raw materials from the vast American forests.
4 Jul 2023

In times of crises for the climate and global supply chains, American Harwood Export Council (AHEC) aims to rethink timber sourcing and make the switch to hardwoods from the North American continent. During 3daysofdesign, the organisation presented Three, an exhibition during three days featuring three designers who had been given three different American woods to work with. 

— It’s important to be in Copenhagen and show this because this region is on the way up again, said David Venables, European Director, AHEC. It’s always been a strong influence in design and has a very strong history of craft, particularly in wood. Now, this part of the world has exploded with younger generations running the brands and design studios. It’s a different world and the place to be right now.

— This exhibition is trying to connect three amazing designers and craft. Some are more artistic than others, but the three of them together show a passion and freshness to what they’re doing. They happen to all be women. We didn’t set out to do that, but I think these industries need more gender equality. Not necessarily because of gender equality but because of what they can bring. The creative world needs more women to get it out, change the balance, and bring freshness.

Three. All pictures: Benjamin Lund
Anne Brandhøj.

When one of them, Anne Brandhøj, did her graduation project at the Royal Danish Academy in Copenhagen, she ordered planks to her workshop but then started thinking about where the wood came from, and how it was cut down, dried, and handled. 

— I’ve worked a lot with drying my own wood and highlighting the shrinking cracks that appear and all the fungus, nuts, and everything that is inside, she says. You don’t know what you will find when you open it up; I find that really beautiful.

By building up layers of carved wood, she’s created a series of consoles made of American cherry for the Three exhibition.

— This wood has a lot going on in the structure, colour differences, and the small knots. And everything stands out, especially when you apply oil to it. I also like to show that this is an individual piece of wood and you cannot have two pieces that are alike.

How’d you describe the design?

— I thought that I could give form to it before I glued it together to make something happen on the inside. I always try to do something that people haven’t seen before, to start a discussion. And also, in this case, to make them put their heads inside it. I just hope that people think: ’Wait, what has she done?’

Inner Beauty by Anne Brandhøj.
Pia Högman.

Furniture designer Pia Högman likes to work with traditional materials and working methods, like birch bark, and put it into a new, modern context, such as architecture or furniture design. For Three, she worked with American red oak when presenting a set of five matching chairs, each treated with a finish that enhances the structure in a different way.

— I wanted to make a really comfortable and strong wooden chair based on a very comfortable wooden chair I have at home, she told us. It’s a pretty grainy material with big pores that is really great for staining and for surface treatments. I have been researching different ways to treat the wood to enhance the properties that I find interesting, such as tactile and visual properties and qualities.

According to Högman, when people know more about white oak, red oak has a slightly bad, undeserved, reputation. 

— It’s viewed badly for being less valuable and not as pretty or nice to work with as white oak, but it has really nice features if you want to have a really woody material with a woody look. It’s also really strong. For my construction, we didn’t need to use any screws or plugs but just had to glue it. It’s so strong that you can’t break it, even if you try to.

Cured Series by Pia Högman.
Anna Maria Ofstedal Eng.

Multidisciplinary designer Anna Maria Ofstedal Eng works in the boundaries of art and design.

— I try to make furniture that could be an art piece but also something functional. I try to always ask myself to be a bit more abstract in my process and also intuitively work on how I can develop furniture that is sculptural, organic, and has genuine materiality.

What did you show in the Three exhibition?

— I worked in American hard maple. I wanted to see how the CNC routed elements (a process that uses a computer to control the movement of a cutting tool, Ed’s note) or pure geometrical shapes could be in contrast with my very intuitively hand-carved sculptural shapes.

— It was a brand new material for me and the whole project was about exploration. I’ve worked with hard timberwood like ash or birch before, in Norway, but this was very hard. But it was very fun and I still managed to create my hand-carved expression. Also, American maple has amazing grains which made me want to create a sculptural, totally carved piece of furniture.

Sno Collection by Anna Maria Ofstedal Eng.