Milan furniture inspired by food and fabric

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Above: Parti design at Jan Hendzel Studio. Photo: Dan Medhurst

Milan Design Week is an unparalleled opportunity not only to showcase the design possibilities of wood, but also to see creative collaborations with emerging and established talents.

At this year’s Salone del Mobile, American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) shone the spotlight on maple – a valuable yet underused hardwood with a delicate colour and a fine grain. Two UK studios participating in the Wallpaper* ‘Class of ’24’ exhibition at the Triennale were commissioned to create new work in maple: the artist and architect Giles Tettey Nartey, and Parti, the interdisciplinary studio founded in 2015 by Eleanor Hill and Tom Leahy.


Giles Tettey Nartey, photo by Jason Yates

David Venables, European Director AHEC commented: “We take immense joy in collaborating with creatives due to the unique opportunities it offers us as an organisation representing both an industry and a precious natural resource. Over the past two decades, we've cultivated fruitful collaborations with architects and designers to showcase the diverse possibilities of the sustainable timbers we represent.” 

The project was supported by Jan Hendzel Studio which created two very different bodies of work from a common starting point. “For us, it's about balancing traditional joinery methods with pushing the capabilities of digital machining. In these projects, we are celebrating the use of American maple, a beautiful creamy white, very hard, dense-grained timber, with an almost illustrative grain patterning. The challenge for us is in mastering how far we can push it,” said Jan Hendzel.


Making the Communion table at Jan Henzel Studio. Photo: Petr Krejci

Making his Milan debut, the British-Ghanaian designer Giles Tettey Nartey used the commission as an opportunity to explore culture, culinary tradition, and the rituals of domestic life in Ghana. Created from maple, Communion is a table designed for the making of fufu – a West African staple food, which is made by pounding cassava into a dough. Nartey’s table reimagines this practice as a communal performance, in which everyone comes together in the shared act of making food.

His design features an outer table equipped with dents, grooves, bowls, and bumps to enhance the preparation and cooking process, while a central table is dedicated to serving and communal dining. Included within the design are mortars (woduro) and pestles (woma) for grinding cassava, along with seating inspired by both traditional Ashanti stools and typical kitchen stools found in Ghana.


Communion table designed by Giles Tettey Nartey. Photo: Jason Yates

Through its form, Communion aims to elevate the act of pounding cassava to the level of performance, one person pounding, another turning the mixture in an almost choreographed fusion of movement and sound that is akin to dance.

Inspired by the fluid movement of fabric and the childlike joy of spinning around, Parti’s Pirouette collection is a range of timber furniture that explores complex geometric forms. Translating the folds and creases of twisting and billowing fabric into the solid forms of seats and tables is a demanding and complicated process, usually associated with sculpture and the highest levels of craftsmanship.


3D print models and samples for Pirouette by Parti at Jan Hendzel Studio. Photo: Dan Medhurst

Collaborating with Jan Hendzel Studio, Parti embarked on a journey of experimentation, pushing the boundaries of a three-axis CNC machine to sculpt the wood and develop the furniture. Because the CNC machine cuts only one side of the wood, the forms are simplified, with each piece constructed from a series of complex shapes connected together, with top and bottom elements acting as ‘keys’ to lock everything together and sustain the structure. 


In the foreground, Pirouette by Parti. Photo: Paola Dossi for Wallpaper magazine

To truly embrace sustainability, AHEC believes the industry must shift its paradigm towards a more holistic understanding of materials. This begins with integrating material choice into the initial stages of the design process, prioritising responsibly sourced, renewable natural materials and investing time and effort in learning and understanding their unique characteristics and potential.

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