Beautifully Blemished: The Appeal Of Live Edge Furnishings

Warm tones, sinuous lines and the beautiful imperfections of nature – these are some of the qualities that draw people to live edge furniture. The pieces play up the natural grain and irregular edges of the tree from which the wood was cut. Both modern interiors as well as more rustic room designs can work with live edge furniture.

SentientColoradoTableLongView in gallery

At ICFF in May, a good number of designers exhibited live edge pieces. Whether it marks a resurgence of the trend or just a renewed appreciation for the natural beauty of wood and its unique knots and bumps, it’s a beautiful thing!

IndoArtifacts ICFFView in gallery

Indo Artifacts displayed this uniquely colored slab table, accented with graceful, curved legs.

Martin Vendryes Vitae TableView in gallery

Martin C. Vendryes created this Vitae table.  His designs “blend late nineteenth and early twentieth century arts & crafts designs with modern aesthetic influences, highlighting the organic beauty of live edge, wormy, and spalted slab surfaces.”

Storyboard Furniture consoleView in gallery

Vendryes creates unique pieces like this custom console table on display at ICFF 2015.

Tod von Mertens blond tableView in gallery

Tod Von Mertens displayed one of the very few blonde wood live edge pieces at ICFF. The light color easily lends itself to modern interiors.

We followed up with several designers after the show about their collections of live-edge pieces, why they are drawn to this type of wood, and what they think is at the root of its appeal.

Cherrywood Studio

Cherrywood Studio is located near Ontario, Canada, and specializes in hand-crafted tables and accessories made from live edge and regular wood.

Cherrywood ICFF table2View in gallery

What led you to go into/sparked your interest in woodworking?

Steve Meschino has always been interested in the creative nature of live edge woodworking. Ten years ago, he gave up the corporate world in favor of pursuing this interest. Designing and creating one-of-a-kind signature pieces for his clients has become his passion.

Why did you decide to create live-edge pieces?

There is something very appealing about the organic look of full slab furniture. You are able to see the grain that the tree has developed over its lifetime and the live edge of the tree tells some of the stories of the experiences of that tree.

How do you source and choose your wood?

We work with a number of arborists in southern Ontario that understand the value in preserving an old growth tree. When they are taking down a tree for reasons of safety, disease or permit, they call Cherrywood Studio into the project to salvage the trunk. We do not cut trees to create furniture but salvage trees from a fate of firewood or landfill.

What do you think contributes to the appeal of live edge furnishings?

Wood brings warmth to any room, whether that is through a signature dining table or a live edge mirror over the mantel. The interest in live edge furnishings can be incorporated into many design styles.

What’s the most unusual way you have incorporated a live edge into a design?

We recently created an 11-foot black walnut dining table for a client that has both live edge along the sides of the table and also in the middle where the two slabs meet. This results in the slabs appearing as mirror images of each other. It is a striking detail of the signature table.

Cherrywood ICFF table closeupView in gallery

Cherrywood Studio ICFF TableView in gallery

In addition to the warm, natural wood top, the sculptural base of this table attracted a lot of attention at ICFF. More than just a support, the base adds to the artistic nature of the piece.

cherrywood black walnut studioCherrywood Walnut tableView in gallery

A little less complex, but no less dramatic, this simple base is still architecturally appealing.

Cherrywood Walnut Curved Base 1View in gallery

This double slab table highlights the curved lines and color of the edge of the wood by mirroring the edges down the middle and creating a large, dramatic piece.

Cherrywood table longviewView in gallery

Talented craftspeople can turn natural imperfections in wood into design elements that elevate a table from beautiful to stunning.

Sentient Furniture

Brooklyn-based Sentient was founded by an attorney, a physician and an industrial designer, all three of whom share “the strongest passion for thoughtful, creative and original design.”

Sentient ICFFView in gallery

Your founders have eclectic backgrounds…how did they come together and decide to produce such special furnishings?

Well, Nersi Nasseri started designing and making furniture first. He has been making furniture for about 30 years in Greenpoint and before that was a student and teacher at Pratt. Michael Lamont met him when he was starting our sister brand about 10 years ago, called Shimna. They worked together to make pieces through the Shimna brand and eventually that lead to Sentient. Ali Yavari is a family friend of Nersi’s and he moved to NYC from Tehran. He is a brand marketing guru and has helped garner exposure for the brand.

How many people work in the studio?

In the studio are myself and Michael. He basically runs the business from here and I do a lot of the computer renderings and other design tasks.

How do you source and choose your wood?

All of our wood is sourced in Pennsylvania from family-owned lumber mills. Typically we select the wood based on the size of the tables.

Do you search for wood for a particular design, or does the wood determine what you will make from it?

The above sort of applies to this answer as well. One of our greatest challenges is convincing clients to sign off on a table without seeing the finished product. All our pieces are made to order, so generally the dimensions the client wants for their table would dictate the slabs that we can use. We have to find a slab that meets their size requirements, but also has whatever unique features they are interested in. Some people want a lot of character in their table, and others want a very subtle live edge curve.

What do you think contributes to the appeal of live edge furnishings?

People love nature, and especially in cities they can be nature-starved. The live edge is appealing because it’s an organic form that can really warm up and add some life to a modern, geometric space.

What’s the most unusual way you have incorporated a live edge into a design?

I guess the most unusual would be our ‘Friends’ bookcase concept.

SentientColoradoTableLongView in gallery

SentientColoradoTableView in gallery

This dining table incorporates the live edge in a dramatic way, while still creating a traditional rectangular table.  By flipping the live edges to the middle of the table and then suspending a glass panel over the gap, the designers have created a unique piece that is very functional.

Sentient Dining DetailView in gallery

Sentient Table DetailView in gallery

Sentient Live Edge TopView in gallery

Live edge tables may highlight natural imperfections in wood, but their surfaces are buffed to spectacular smoothness.  The butterfly joinery pieces, which preserve slab pieces by stabilizing natural splits, become part art, part architecture in talented hands.

Sentient Single Slab TableView in gallery

Sentient Live Edge in RoomView in gallery

Sentient WorkshopView in gallery

SentientZoraCoffeeView in gallery

Sometimes an unusual cut can create a statement piece by highlighting not just the cross grain top, but also the vertical grain that is visible on this thicker tabletop.

Sentient Live Edge BedView in gallery

sentientfurniture-bedroom-furnitureView in gallery

Slab construction is most certainly not limited to tables and accessories, as this headboard shows. The juxtaposition with the modern bed demonstrates the design versatility of live edge pieces. A headboard like this is the only statement your bedroom will need.

Sentient Luxor CredenzaView in gallery

Sentietn Luxor FrontView in gallery

sentientfurniture-chestView in gallery

Another example of rustic wood combined with a modern element is this Luxor chest.  The minimalist shape and dark glass, highlighted by the live edge wood sides would be at home in just about any decor style.

SentientFriendsBookcaseView in gallery

Sentient Bookcase OutdoorsView in gallery

Definitely modern and unusual, these custom “Friends” bookcases are functional statement forms that are definitely different from the average slab table.

Steven Henderson Projetcs

Applewood is generally not used for woodworking except for the smallest pieces. Steven Henderson has found a way to take the characteristics that make this wood difficult work with and turn them into assets with the creation of his Applewood Sconce.

Henderson apple sconceView in gallery

What led you to go into/sparked your interest in woodworking?

As a young child I watched my father build our cottage.  It’s one of my strongest memories of being young.  At the cottage there was wood everywhere…As I grew up, I was always comfortable and interested in wood and amazed/absorbed by furniture…I remember seeing Nakashima’s book “The Soul of a Tree.” I think that moment changed my life. Following my studies, I worked as an industrial cabinetmaker/furniture maker, then in Interior Design and then back to Woodworking.  Working with my hands and seeing things take shape in the process of ‘the real’ is very important to me…You don’t understand that when you work only on paper or a computer.  Mistakes have been both the greatest teachers and places where creative opportunities present themselves.

Why did you decide to create live-edge sconces?

I am really lucky to work in this amazing building in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  It is full of creative people.  My neighbor, collegue and friend Mike Sharpe, who runs a company called Storyboard Furniture, was doing a Crowd Funding Campaign to give his business a kick start.  He invited me and some other artists, designers and craftspeople to make works out of apple wood to be gifted to patrons who made donations to support the cause.  The ‘Apple Wood Salvage Initiative’ repurposed the wood (destined for the land fill) from an old historic apple orchard into kitchenware and furniture objects…

While helping cut down some of the trees in the orchard, I was amazed by these apple trees.  I noticed they were not very big, their form was twisty, shifty, wild and the bark very gnarly.  I could only imagine what was going on inside with the grain. To a woodworker, apple wood is useful typically for only small things.  It has a lot of personality, warps easily and checks (splits/cracks) frequently.  Perfect! I thought.  Let it be…How can I encourage this wood to be more like itself?  Slice it thin….let it warp…encourage it to warp.  Celebrate this by adding light that will profile the edge and show off its cracks/ imperfections.  And situate the wood as close to eye level as possible so that one may investigate the grain of the wood in the same way one might stand in front of a painting and study it….Thus became the apple wood sconce.

How do you source and choose your wood?

At this point I have access to enough apple wood to continue for a good while.  In the future should I need more, I will locate an apple orchard somewhere in Canada that intends to discard its non-fruit-bearing trees.  Once I have the wood, I study the profile of the wood as well as imagine/anticipate what kind of visual activity the grain will have…There is no clear logic, yet there is ‘wholeness’ or ‘energy’ that has to feel right for the right piece to become an Apple Wood Sconce.

What do you think contributes to the appeal of live edge furnishings and accessories?

Typical construction typologies situate us within environments that have flat surfaces and straight lines.  Live edge work is such a strong contrast to this. Its presence within these spaces is dramatic.  Something about the live edge form – its unpredictable shape and pattern.  It’s the opposite of a straight line/square/box and so upon catching one small glimpse of it, we are easily drawn toward it to investigate.  This experience almost creates a curiosity much like that a child would have.

It also creates an experience as though nature or a living tree is among us; closer to us than we could imagine, because we are within our dwelling where most of us don’t have a generous-sized living tree!  I think on a subtle/subconscious level this both stimulates the mind in a way that we admire and soothes the mind.  Nature has a strong calming effect.  If you have ever been very stressed and followed this with an immersion in nature, you know well that without effort calmness comes over you.  I personally feel strongly that “live edge” work has a similar effect.

Henderson scone angle viewView in gallery

Henderson Sconce closeupView in gallery

Henderson takes full advantage of the splits and gnarly nature of the edges to make pieces that warmly reflect warm light in different ways.

Henderson Sconce 2View in gallery

Henderson Live Edge sconce2 ICFFView in gallery

Henderson live edge sconce ICFFView in gallery

Henderson Light SconceView in gallery

Henderson closeup 3View in gallery

Henderson closeupView in gallery

These one-of-a-kind sconces are equally at home on white wall in a minimalist interior as they are in a more traditional setting. Besides being a statement lighting piece, they are also the ultimate in salvaging wood that would have been destined for the fire pit.