Wood, Stone, and Metal
When describing materials, the word “modern” is usually synonymous with synthetic. It conjures slick plastics, featherweight composites, and indestructible polymers, many of them developed for a Space Age that has gone from futuristic to fuel for nostalgia. These advanced materials are ubiquitous in contemporary life, but today many of the objects that feel authentically modern are those that combine pure forms with more elemental materials, particularly wood, stone, and metal.
“This sounds a bit mythical or mythological, but there is the feeling that the space from this material is different from that material on your skin. Some materials take off more energy… wood doesn’t need any energy from your skin. Whether it is cold or hot it doesn’t matter. You could be in a wooden building and the felt temperature is always closer to what you want. If it is too hot it is always two to three degrees colder and the other way around. Wood doesn’t need you: It stays there.”Architect Peter Zumthor
For designer Andrianna Shamaris, wood only gets better with age. “We strive to retain and enhance the natural qualities found in reclaimed wood,” says Shamaris, who is particularly fond of teak and rosewood for its strength, durability, and depth of tones. When working in her studio in Indonesia, Shamaris hunts for the oldest pieces she can find and gives them new life by adding shards of cracked resin into the wood’s natural crevices and then performing a complex and somewhat mysterious process to meld the old and the new. The effect is stunningly organic, akin to a quartz crystal.
Left alone long enough, wood will undergo a metamorphosis of its own: absorbing naturally occurring minerals that eventually replace the original plant material. The petrified wood that results is somewhere between wood and stone. Shamaris selects and hand-polishes fossilized slabs found throughout Southeast Asia to create modern coffee tables, side tables, and stools. “Each piece of petrified wood lends a different story,” she says.
“A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories.”Artist Andy Goldsworthy
Also endowed with centuries of myth and meaning is stone. Rare and often colorful, gemstones are associated with an array of powers and uses, from amethyst’s protective powers to morally uplifting zircon, known as a “stone of virtue.” And marble has long fascinated for its crystalline gleam, whether in a classical sculpture or a contemporary building. Poul Kjærholm explored the material in a massive bowl he designed in 1963 for the town hall of Fredericia, Denmark. The popularity of that form, which contrasts smooth and rough marble, led him to create a smaller version for household use.
“Steel’s constructive potential is not the only thing that interests me; the refraction of light on its surface is an important part of my artistic work. I consider steel a material with the same artistic merit as wood and leather.”Designer Poul Kjaerholm
For all its industrial applications and associations, metal can take on a stunning variety of sculptural forms. Steel, an alloy of iron, can retain a rugged, fresh-from-the-mill character, as in the immense steel plate sculptures of Richard Serra, or be polished to a mirror finish, as in the chromium steel works of Jeff Koons. The reflective quality of stainless steel adds a mesmerizing quality to Finn Juhl’s Circle Bowl, designed in 1954 and only recently put into production.
See wood, stone, and metal objects come together in The Apartment.