The Secret Life of Wood

Wood:
a humble word with an extraordinary history. It is somewhat awe-inspiring to
consider how much wood is part of our day to day lives. Take a look around you.
From chairs to tables, from cabinets to blinds, from jewellery to shoes, from
homes to gardens; the versatility of wood is breathtaking. The relationship
between wood and man is intrinsically linked. Wood is fuel, fashion, furniture,
and, evidently, our future.

Yet,
how much do we really know about wood? It is one of the most ubiquitous
materials available, and one of the most mysterious.

Kenny
Wulffsberg, co-owner of Mario and Son, has been working with wood for more than
25 years. The carpenter, who hails from Denmark, loved the creativity and craft
inherent in this material from an early age.

“Since
I was a little boy, I always liked to go into the forest and cut down branches,
and make things,” Kenny says with a laugh.

Nowadays,
Kenny creates beautiful, customised pieces for the home and office, ranging
from cabinetry to furniture. He has not lost his love for the craft, which he
describes as “a very creative job”.

When
it comes to constructing his unique works of art, Kenny says different woods
serve different purposes, depending on their individual characteristics. For interiors,
he prefers to work with maple, a light medium-to-hard wood with a fine grain.

For
exterior use, Kenny loves using teak, a tropical dark wood largely found in
South and South-East Asia, although he admits that due to its exorbitant price
tag, teak is not regularly chosen by clients.

Kenny
has also seen a rising demand in ipe, a wood from Central and South America
that has grown in popularity in Cayman. The durability of ipe has meant it is
commonly used in outdoor decking and furniture.

“I
love to work with teak, but it’s so expensive,” he says. “Ipe is a beautiful
wood and we’re using it a lot in exteriors. Teak is actually a nicer wood, but
it is triple the price.”

Much
of the appeal of wood lies in the durability and diversity of the product. Wood
can be used inside and out, in kitchens, bathrooms, bedrooms, wine cellars,
offices; in fixtures, furniture and accessories.

In
traditional woodworking, the most popular types of wood are oak, walnut, maple,
mahogany and pine. This has changed in recent years as more woods have come on
to the market. The focus on eco-conscious materials has also had an impact on
the types of woods available, as many customers are now searching for products
that are sustainably grown and friendly to the environment.

Randy
Stafford, owner of Stafford Flooring, has seen this rise in new woods and
believes it is having a positive impact on the market, as there are more
options available to consumers.

“There
are so many varied species of wood becoming available,” explains Randy, who
began his business nearly 25 years ago in his native Bermuda. “[In flooring] it
used to be just oak, pine, cherry and walnut, but there is wood from all over
the world.”

Randy
believes that where customers once choose a standard wood floor that would last
for a lifetime, now wood floors have become “an experience”.

“Wood
floors are usually driving the look of the home,” Randy says. “There are many
different styles and custom finishes coming on to the market. There is wood
that looks like tile, which is strong and just clips together. There is wood
that looks like leather, which is more resilient than normal leather.

“Wood
floors are not taking a back seat to the rest of the room anymore.”

Randy,
a hardwood floor inspector, loves the uniqueness of working with wood, as no
two pieces are ever the same.

“Each
piece of wood is different, which can be a challenge,” Randy says. “As wood is
a natural product, no two pieces are the same. But some people come and see a
wood sample and find one they like. Then when I turn up with the wood, they
don’t know why the colour is so different. That’s why we try to use as big a
wood sample a possible.”

Randy
has noticed that respective clients are now more aware of where the wood is
sourced from, and are asking for wood that has been grown sustainably in
regulated forests. Both Kenny and Randy only use wood from suppliers that
belong to the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an independent organisation
established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests.

“With
so much information available, people can now do their research and become much
more aware of what they put into their homes,” Randy says. “I use FSC woods,
which have a very stringent standard managing the replenishment of the forests.
I find a lot of people ask for bamboo now, but there are lots of other
sustainable products on the market.”

Tara
Parker, owner of Beyond the Horizon, has also noticed the increasing demand for
eco-conscious wood. As a result, she primarily stocks Sheesham, a fast-growing,
richly-hued hardwood native to India. Tara says the Sheesham forests are
monitored by government bodies, ensuring immature trees are not cut down and
deforestation is not carried out. Sheesham is then handcrafted into stunning
furnishings, by skilled craftsmen in Rajasthan, one of India’s most
impoverished regions.

“Sheesham
wood is all from renewable sources,” explains Tara, who has travelled to India
to visit the furniture suppliers. “[The furniture] is all handmade. It’s not
mass produced. And I only work with Fair Trade manufacturers, because they
ensure that the artisans are taken care of and everything is above board.

“Sustainability
has become the big buzz word,” Tara admits. “But it is the only way to help
reduce poverty throughout the world.”

Tara
now provides information to her customers on the origins of each piece of
furniture, including where the wood was sourced from and how many craftsmen
worked on the project. This level of education helps customers to discern
between the quality and background of different woods, and guarantees that
their money is helping both the craftsmen and the environment.

For
Tara, the beauty of wood furniture lies in its timelessness.

“Wood
furniture never goes out of style,” she says. “If you buy the right piece, and
take care of it, it won’t lose its value. It will last a lifetime.”

Kenny
agrees, saying that when it comes to wood, the options are endless.

“(Mario
and Son Woodwork) create mostly cabinets, but we also do doors, gazebos, garden
features, closets, anything made from wood,” Kenny says. “There is always
something new and always new things to learn. It’s never exactly the same.”

Thousands of years after its discovery, wood remains
the backbone of our developed civilisation. In versatility and durability, wood
cannot be matched. Despite technological advances, society continues to depend
on this relationship with wood. The secret life of wood has been revealed, yet
so much still remains unknown about this ubiquitous material. As we move into the
future, the only hope is that our appetite for this natural wonder can be
satisfied. 
 

 

When
it comes to constructing his unique works of art, Kenny says different woods
serve different purposes, depending on their individual characteristics.
 

  

Randy, a hardwood floor
inspector, loves the uniqueness of working with wood, as no two pieces are ever
the same
 

Secret Life of Wood

India Lloyd