5 THOUGHTS WHEN
DESIGNING WITH WOOD
When the 4th century Greek philosopher Aristotle set out to create a vocabulary around the idea of matter, he looked to the forest. Contemplating a tree — whose organic materiality had long been hewn by human hands — he adapted the Ancient Greek word for "wood" to develop the concept of "hyle," or that which is shaped to receive form or definiteness.
When working with wood, we honor vestiges of a former existence, and create life anew. Knots and striations tell of a lifetime long since passed, one begun beneath the earth's surface and spent rising ever upward. Felled and shaped by tools and hands, a tree is imbued with new purpose, living on through use by generations. With each passing year and through utility and exposure, the material is subtly transformed — a vessel imprinted with perpetual narrative.
Through the ages, trees have united us with our own physicality — we burn its wood in religious offerings, or simply "touch wood" to avoid tempting fate. In it we find a familiar life form — time embodied in nature.
At ORCA, we design with this perpetual narrative in mind. Below we share our philosophy when designing with wood as a natural material.
5 thoughts when designing with wood
1. Wood's narrative is perpetual and thus lies the poetry of working with a natural material. Accept the different seasons and chapters the wood presents, from checking, to graying, and yes even staining. Cracks are okay!
2. Shades of wood are a design element we love to be playful with. The tannins in wood are what give it its natural color. When sealed with a low to no VOC finish such as Penofin Verde, the color is preserved. When left bare, the wood will silver out. Using both finishes in a garden is a wonderful way to warm up certain elements of the landscape, such as furniture, but letting other elements fade away, such as fencing.
3. Water and wood don't mix. Make sure any steps, furniture, or posts are protected from damp soil or water pooling. We always use gravel under our beams so there is proper drainage to get the longest life out of the wood. Make sure wood is protected and on a permeable surface.
4. Water loves to sit on top of fences and this over time, warps the wood. Simpler is always better. Skip the fence cap.
5. We specify local woods such as Eucalyptus, Pine, Oak, Redwood and Cedar (preferably upcycled), or engineered performance woods such as Kebony and Thermory Ash for their fire rating and long lasting performance. Our friends Angel City Lumber are leading the charge in renewable wood fabrication and we love partnering with folks like this that are using materials and reconnecting communities to the native trees.