Whereas demand for European oak has long outstripped supply, maple, cherry and red oak grow abundant in American hardwood forests and remain underused. Curated by Sara Martinsen, The Home of Hans Bølling at 3daysofdesign in Copenhagen
Brdr Krüger – a history of craftsmanship passed down through generations
We talked to Jonas Krüger, creative director and fifth-generation owner of Brdr Krüger, while visiting the factory in Copenhagen. «We work with wood since 1886, and we still do all of our production. Only for some metal parts that we are not good at we rely on subcontractors. However most of what we do is here».
Brdr Krüger produces for different companies but has also its own furniture production. «I mainly work with external architects and designers to develop furniture that fit what we are good at and that taps into our general design philosophy. You can see a sort of familiarity in most of our furniture but what we try to do is to give a little extra twist, so it doesn’t feel retrospective but that has relevance in modern times», states Jonas Krüger.
Jonas explains how this is expressed in the vision of the architects but also in the method and how they produce their furniture. «Today with modern tools we are able to do constructions that are slightly thinner or more delicate in certain areas that previously, seventy years ago, was not possible».
The beginning of the collaboration between Bølling and the Krüger family
Speaking of evolvement, the Krüger family has worked with Danish architect and designer Hans Bølling for many years. Jonas recounts: «He knocked on my grand fathers door many years ago, when we still had a small workshop in Copenhagen, with some little figurines that he wanted to produce. My grandfather worked with him and they launched the products. This was actually the start of his career doing wooden toys».
Hans Bølling worked with them for three generations. With the grandfather, Helge who produced the first wooden duck in 1957; then Jonas’ father Niels who took over production of the ‘Tray’ in 1990 when Bølling wasn’t satisfied with the quality of production by another manufacturer. Finally Jonas, who played a key role in the recent revival of Bølling’s design output, working closely with Bølling to revisit and refine unrealized prototypes as well as devising new work.
The Tray coffee table and its design
«We produce Hans’ classic Tray table, a danish icon. We then talked with Hans about producing new items that we launched few years back. A series of table that we call ‘Trio’ tables. But the dialogue has continued on how to evolve this work. The designs combine a disciplined, architectural mindset», affirms Jonas.
Produced by Brdr Krüger since 1990, the ‘Tray’ comprises two circular, reversible trays, supported by a collapsible four-legged frame on wheels. Each cylindrical leg is gently indented at the top, where the user can place a finger and easily pull the frame in their direction. «It’s a clever construction – strict in its appearance, but with details that make it playful and appealing», says Jonas.
AHEC x Brdr Krüger partnership
While demand for European oak has long exceeded supply (made worse with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, which put pressure on European supply chains), maple, cherry, and red oak grow abundantly in American hardwood forests and remain underutilized. The Bølling collection pieces stand out for these different types of woods and these options reflect the partnership with American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC).
Jonas explains: «In our dialogue with Hans, AHEC and David came into the mix with a proposal to collaborate. So we collected the dots between our ongoing processes and AHEC’s inspiration drove us to do something in American hardwood. That let to the evolvement of the new furniture: the lounge chair, the stool and the wider and lower coffe table».
About the design of the new furniture
The new coffee table is the most direct translation of the ‘Tray’, made wider and lower and with its wheels removed. Meanwhile, the stool and lounge chair derive their four-leg structures from it. The stool has an additional pair of horizontal bars at the top to support the canvas seating surface. The chair likewise has a canvas seat, gently bowing canvas armrests, and an adjustable back cushion to slid up and down with a counterweight.
«Three pieces in line with Hans’ thinking. If I had to put it into words it would be ‘architectural, strict, functional, very honest with still that human touch that makes it more than just a practical piece. This is the same for the Tray table, almost like a scaffolding but loose trays on but with playfulness in very little details. There’s a thin line between something that is emotional but super minimal. What you see is what you get», states Jonas.
How to make sense to ship all the hardwood from the U.S to Denmark
David Venables, AHEC’s European director, explains that the council’s intention was not to replace European wood with American alternatives, but to expand the choices available at the disposal of designers and customers: «We want them to say, ‘We need to change our dependence on one source of wood and expand our options».
«Trying to inspire through examples to show that we can actually do something else than just in white European oak. Showing in a different and new context, re-discover some wood source that have been out for some time because stigmatized such as cherry wood (at least in a danish and Scandinavian context) but that is actually a great piece of wood. If you oil it instead of lacquering it, it has a more subtle hue. Re introducing it into modern context has a huge potential», states Jonas
According to David Venables, the issue that occurs with costumers when they don’t want to buy cherry or maple, it is partly because they are not shown the range of what is really available. «What’s missing is the narrative. The consumer wants to know a little more about what’s behind: how you source your materials. Nowadays we have to be more sustainable and conscious of how we consume. A new trend has to be what is practical, sustainable, workable. There is a lot of supply stress. Particularly within the oak».
The urge for a change in attitudes towards wood materials
«We are in a moment of transition now. Keeping consumers excited about real wood, opposed to something printed of fabricated as to imitate it. Industries have spent millions of dollars to make products look like real wood. While we the wood industry spent a lot of time and money trying to make our wood look like plastic. We are at a turning point, certainly within the European market. We have far more opportunities now that things have changed», affirms David.
Talking about current society, David goes on explaining how the biggest concern for us is changing attitude towards wood material; trying to communicate more about where something comes from, working together with steel, concrete and different industries. «It has been challenging to position ourselves not as part of the problem with climate change and deforestation but as part of the solution. Reforestation is happening, every product you make stores carbon, a language that ten year ago people didn’t know about».
Maple, cherry and red oak growing abundant in American hardwood forests
The red oak can be difficult to distinguish from European oak (‘red’ refers to the color of its leaves in autumn, rather than the color of the timber), but red oak is grown over a wider region and there are more subspecies, which makes its usage more sustainable.
Venables also highlights that bringing timber from the other side of the world does not necessarily mean a larger carbon footprint, as long as the timber is transported by boat. Sustainability is front of mind for AHEC and for Brdr Krüger, which collects excess sawdust to heat its workshops. «If you make a product that can last for generations, that is well made and with the right materials then transportation time is a drop in the ocean», says Jonas.
Longevity is the key
Venables concludes by stating that: «6000 kilometers by sea has the same or similar carbon impact to 600 kilometers by road. Talking about the narrative within Europe, we know a lot of the oak came from Croatia, Ukraine some from russia. We are looking at short term issues so if you got products that last for years that is also good because longevity is key. In scientific numbers we look at the fuels used for shipping. Talking to companies in UK or Spain, european oak has much more carbon footprint because is coming by road across Europe».
Ultimately, Bølling, Krüger and Venables all hope to emphasize the virtues of wood, as a material that can cater to diverse aesthetic preferences but also serve as a carbon bank. «If you maintain a wooden chair for decades, and pass it on to the next generation, you are actually storing carbon. During this time new trees will grow, which takes your carbon footprint to zero and beyond. Which is why it’s important to build to last», Krüger explains.
AHEC and American hardwood varieties also at Milano Design week
AHEC proposed the use of American hardwood also at Milano Design Week held from 3 until 12 June 2022 with the exhibition Forest Tales, curated and designed by Studio Swine, bringing together twenty-two selected designs from the American Hardwood Export Council’s (AHEC) recent projects.
On display at the Milan Triennale, Forest Tales is the result of AHEC’s innovative work over the past two years. Studio Swine curated the pieces for four projects united, despite the diversity of their production, by their material: each piece is made from one (or more) of three underutilized American hardwood varieties: maple, cherry and red oak.
«Forest Tales brings together a love for timber and a call for balance. Balance in the way we use natural materials with particular emphasis on renewable ones, such as wood. The same balance on which today’s designers, as well as the entire sector, are called upon to reflect in order to address the social and economic issue of our time: climate change; and the need to put an end to the current throwaway culture. Covid has shown that the world can react very quickly to a major global crisis, hopefully this experience will enable us to quickly make the changes in the way we consume, build and live», states David Venables, Director, AHEC Europe
American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC)
For over 30 years the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) has been at the forefront of wood promotion in Europe. AHEC has pioneered the modeling of environmental Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) for hardwoods, an approach that has since been adopted by other industries. LCA measures a number of impacts: primary energy demand (from renewable and non-renewable resources); global-warming potential; acidification potential; eutrophication potential; and photochemical ozone-creation potential.
Founded as a woodturning workshop in 1886 by brothers Theodor and Ferdinand Krüger, today Brdr Krüger is a self-producing design company, whose furniture is exclusively produced in Denmark. The commitment to craftsmanship has been nurtured by the Krüger family for five generations, ensuring the same high quality in every piece that leaves the workshop.
One of the greats of mid-century design, Hans Bølling was born in 1931 and graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts’ School of Architecture in 1960. Alongside a body of work encompassing everything from town halls and private residences to playful wooden figures; Bølling’s most famous contribution to the golden era of Danish furniture from the mid-20th century is the iconic Tray Table from 1963, continuously produced at Brdr. Krüger’s wood workshop ever since.
Danish designer and artist working with natural materials such as wood and plant fiber. She believes that our knowledge of materials become diluted over time as we have become distanced from the source of the materials we consume.