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An Experimentally Designed Wooden/Metal Table at LIXIL Institute of Human Science
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Outline

Producing a Table That Helps Us Sense the Things Surrounding Us

The Institute of Human Sciences, Technology Research Headquarters of LIXIL Co., Ltd., a major housing equipment company, is conducting research on human-to-human interaction. As part of the project, the team ordered creating a table at Hidakuma that can check the sensibility that people feel from the things they use in everyday lives. Produced by Loftwork, the production was carried out in collaboration with Hidakuma, metal artist Tsuyoshi Ueda, and Hida furniture craftsman Hisatoshi Katada.
While combining functionality and beauty as furniture, we created this experimental table made by mixing various materials, and in this article we share the process and outcome of this project.

Project Overview

  • The Support we offered
    ・Production of two types of tables
  • Duration
    ・February through March 2020
  • Who is involved
    ・Client: LIXIL Technology Research Co. Ltd., Headquarter, Human Science Research Institute
    ・Production: Kazuya Ohara, Ryo Matsumoto, and Yui Kaneko (Loftwork)
    ・Furniture design/Furniture manufacturing directing: Kotaro Iwaoka, Chikako Kadoi, Teruyo Iiyama (Hidakuma)
    ・Casting metal production: Tsuyoshi Ueda
    ・Top Plate Production: Hisatoshi Katada (Hida Shokunin Seikatsu)

◯ Related Article
In September 2019, the project team held a training camp in Hida as part of a project to be underway at LIXIL Co., Ltd. and Loftwork Co., Ltd.
Two Day Hida Camp with LIXIL Project Team – A Chance to Reflect on How Human Live With Trees

 

Outputs

All tables were set up in research spaces (laboratories) where various people went in and out for experiments. The two types of tables are created full of ideas based on an assumption of close contact between people and things happening on the tables.

Stardust Table

It is an “expressive” table with various trees and metal scattered like small stardust.
The top plate, which is made by combining six young hardwood trees, is filled with small metal rods like 4 types of nails made by metal artist Ueda. Various materials are in harmony as a whole while exposing their individual characters.

 <Specifications>
 Tree Species: Chestnut, cherry birch, amur cork, maple, oak, monarch birch
 Nail-shaped metal rod: SUS(Stainless Steel)/Brass/Copper/Bronze
 Size: W900×D900×H730 (mm)
 Finish: Oil paint

LIXIL Clamp Low Table

It is a single-plate table with a playful addition to the clamp used to prevent cracking. Clamp is a U-shaped nail that is used to connect two pieces of timber. In the crack of the single plate of the cherry tree, Ueda uses bronze clamps in the shape of the character of “LIXIL”.
By keeping the ends of the table unfinished, the straight line of the clamps is enhanced in the organic form, giving a high-quality impression. The finish has been oil painted with a darker color to match the color tone of the space. This not only blends well into the space, but also makes the contrast between wood and the clamps clear, making the presence of each material of a table even more outstanding.

 <Specifications>
 Tree Species: Cherry
 Clamp: Bronze
 Size: W1200×D470×H370 (mm)
 Finish: Oil paint
 Legs: Urethane spray coating on the steel

Process

Finding the Compatibility Between Materials, through Experiment of Different Materials

A scene of the first meeting at Ueda's house. We looked at the several hardwood trees brought from the Hidakuma and explored what kind of approach to take.

“Let’s create a table that values a sense of unity enhanced by one another while drawing out each other’s potential, rather than both hardwood and metal exposing their characters too strongly each”. Just like that, the plan was made at the first meeting held at Ueda’s workshop/home in Takaoka City, Toyama Prefecture.

How does the appearance by the combination of materials change with various combination of the tree species and metallic quality? We compared various typed brass and copper in the wood and checked the compatibility.

A tree with brass (gold) and copper (pink) nailed in

Copper piece In the middle of a stage being oxidized and green-blue colored verdigris forms

The two pictures above show a sample of brass and copper metal bars nailed into a tree.
When nailed into a tree, the matal lets out the light reflecting the sun. The small area that the metal shows is just the right amount, and a small yet hard material wrapped in soft tree pieces looks delicate. It offers a very charming and refreshing impression.

We also checked the look of rust in the green-blue color produced by oxidizing copper. The photo shows green-blue colors in the process, and the copper with strong dark color resembles tree knot. The colors of both materials would blend perfectly well as the time goes. When wood and metal were combined at the natural state as they can be, what they offered together was a far more natural and softer impression than we had imagined.

Create A Variety of Combination to Observe the Difference in Change

The team has decided to make a top plate as an experiment to combine multiple trees and metals, making use of the hardwood of various tree species in Hida.

The larger the number of options to cross, the more different expressions and discoveries there are.

Samples of bronze, brass, copper and stainless steel to nail into the wooden table

Gold rods before nailing

During the verification of the size and shape of the metal, we found that the wood around the metal may burn by friction of the polishing depending on material property and thermal conductivity. So we had to search for the optimal shape and combination. Hidakuma uses 3D software to verify the number and location of metals based on its size. At the same time, Ueda also produced more than 200 original nail-like metal rods to nail into a 900mm square table.

The Fusion of Wood and Metal - Created in Collaboration Between Wood Craftsmen and Metal Artists

After positioning, a pilot hole is made then the gold rod is installed.

Mr. Katata, a furniture craftsman who made hardwood strips, came to take a peek at the time when we were nailing knots into the top plate. We proceeded with the production while getting advice from him on the nature and characteristics of the hardwood in use as well as the wood processing tools.

Katada (left) and Ueda (right) working together

Left: Maple and Right: Oak. Maple is a diffuse porous wood with narrow yet hard vessels. There is a comfort feel of perfect fitting when typing the hardware. Amur cork, on the other hand, is a ring-porous wood with its vessels being soft and thick.

A table with sunlight through the trees

There are various textures for each type of tree species and metal, as well as a lot of materials options and combinations. Therefore the process does not go smoothly and straightforward. So we needed a good understanding of the characteristics of each material, and learned to discover the compatibility among the materials.
The top plate, which is filled with all four kinds of metal, shows a delicate expression like a stardust when the gold bar hits the light. When a shadow hits, on the other hand, the contrast reverses to enhance the color of the tree.

Make the Characteristics of Ever-Changing Tree an Attraction of the Furniture

Even after the trees have been cut, the cells contract and expand. During the process, moisture evaporates from the cells, which causes cracks, warping and other changes. This is a natural phenomenon, and it is an attraction of wood materials that reveals the dynamics of a tree.

Nailing in the clamp that is specially made for this design

There is a technique to prevent further the cracks of the tree by putting butterfly keys and clamps. In the production of the low tables, the team took a playful approach to draw “L” “I” and “X”  with clamps, while serving its purpose of crack prevention. The negative characteristics of wood, cracks, has been turned into “attraction”, by using the clamps as part of attractive furniture design.

The clamps specially made for “LIXIL” letters, which Ueda-san casted, will be arranged while matching the crack.

Solid cherry wood

Oil-painted cherry wood

The solid cherry tree material has a soft pink expression and goes well with the bronze color of the clamps. As the final product, oil painting of color close to black was added since the interior of the installation space was based on walnut color. The contrast between wood and clamps is well highlighted, which brings out the vintage feel. For the paint, non-color type is used instead of pigment one so that the original cherry wood color will be well preserved.

By combining wood and metal, the top plates have unique characteristics from each material. The complete table offers a good “relationship” between people and things through daily use.

Members

Shuhei Kobayashi
LIXIL Inc., Ltd,
Technology and Research Headquarter,
Human Science Research Institute
Born in Kyoto in 1987. Kobayashi completed the graduate school of Ritsumeikan University, then joined LIXIL Corporation in 2011. Engages in research aiming to improve the customer’s value of housing equipment and building materials through the interaction between people and things.

Kazuya Ohara
Loftwork Inc.,
FabCafe MTRL ProducerOhara joined Loftwork in 2015. Involved in the operation as a startup member of the platform “MTRL” aiming to upgrade the new value of materials. Currently, as a producer, he is involved in planning materials, materials-based companies, projects, and creating new businesses. The motto is “life is a mismatch”. He is a co-author of the book “Meeting for ‘Can Fashion Be Updated?’ dreaming of processing innovation of people, clothes and society” (Film Art, 2015). He is known by the nickname “Benkei”.

Ryo Matsumoto
Loftwork Inc.,
Creative DirectorGraduated from the Department of Information Design, Faculty of Arts at Kyoto University of Art and Design. During his college days, he actively worked as a designer and received the UNIQLO CREATIVE AWARD and Kashiwa Sato Award in 2007. After school, he worked at a design office and moved on to become a freelancer. He participated in the advertising production of Kyoto Fukujuen, and the public relations strategy team of the “Let’s Dance” signature promotion committee, which collected 100,000 signatures.
Matsumoto joined Loftwork in 2017. His goal is to aim not only to design in an authentic way, but to engage deeply in creative projects from the upstream of the project.

Yui Kaneko
Loftwork Inc.,
Creative Drector
After graduating from Nihon University College of Art, studying at the Department of Photography, Kaneko worked as a studio photographer in Tokyo and then became a freelance photographer. Seeing her own work out in the public as part of advertisements and magazines, she realized the importance of co-relations between photography and design. That led her to study graphic design. Through her own experiences, at Loftwork, she as a director aims to take perspectives of both clients and creators into account, and to manage the right command in the right place. Still takes an active role as a photographer, still photographer, and designer. Her hobbies include listening to stories of “dreams” that people see in their sleep, and watching ballet.

Tsuyoshi Ueda
Metal Artist
Born in Nara Prefecture in 1986. Graduated from Kanazawa College of Art, Department of Crafts in 2010. Completed graduate school of the Arts and Crafts at Tokyo University of the Arts in 2012. Part-time lecturer at Kanazawa College of Art since 2019.

Chikako Kadoi
Hidakuma Inc.,
Creative Director of Forest
Studied Advanced Art and Expressions at Tokyo University of Fine Arts.
Has various work experiences at a space design company including event design, space design of shop interior, and communication design.
Inspired by the idea of relation between human and forest, including the community development and value creation within the time axis based communication, Kadoi joined Hidakuma in 2020, aiming for an enriched forest where “even bears would start dancing”. One of her dreams is to dance with bears.

Member’s Voice

LIXIL has an in-house studio for research, and we created a commonly used item, a table, for the purpose of research so we can find out what material offers in terms of sense. We decided to ask Hidakuma, who was in charge of another project for us in the past, to create the table, and we requested along the theme of “material and human interaction”. Since we worked together on another project once, it was easy asking for detailed requests to them, and we were grateful for all of them who accepted all our requests, and finally finished the product as a “playful” wonderful desk. Even though I could not visit the site, during the process they kindly shared the idea sketches, samples under consideration for trial production, and the production process, which left me feel like I was a member of the production. As the future project, we will proceed with research on human-object interaction from various perspectives.

Shuhei Kobayashi
LIXIL Inc., Ltd,
Technology and Research Headquarter,
Human Science Research Institute

In the research project, we are exploring the value formation pattern in the interaction between things (materials) and people, and the value itself of changes in materials. With this project, we made a huge big step forward – what we used to only validate on paper has been transformed into actual products that people can use. Also, this time, not only wood but also metal materials handled by Mr. Ueda was added to the product, so a different approach has been added to the possibility of interaction between trees and people, which Hidakuma were exploring, and I am very pleased about that. I am looking forward to the future projects to come.

Kazuya Ohara
Loftwork Inc.,
FabCafe MTRL Producer

I feel a great sense of accomplishment as the trial that started as a project to explore materials and the ideas of the products has turned into a real “material” with high quality.
This product incorporates ideas and inspiration that I had been discussing over time with our project team members, Hidakuma Tsuyoshi Ueda. It turned out to be not just an ordered product, but one that strongly represents the value of thinking that we developed together.

Ryo Matsumoto
Loftwork Inc.,
Creative Director

This project started from the perspective of exploring the relationship between wood and metal and how they interact with each other in terms of creating a table.
When considering the relationship of metal to wood, we think of the form of metal fittings, such as nails and hail that have been used since ancient times. The wood exhibits its softness and flexibility, while the metal retains the wood with its hardness. You can also find examples in which the relationship between wood and metal is so well integrated that it is no longer just a “function” and “design” as metal fittings. The organic contingency (distortion and cracking) of wood and the inevitability of the metal fittings sometimes interact with each other to create unexpected forms.
On this table project, we attempted to explore the possibility of the relationship between wood and metal by “disassembling” and “reconstructing” the roles of “function” and “design” as metal fittings. I’m looking forward to seeing what kind of sensibilities this wood/metal table will give to people.

Tsuyoshi Ueda
Metal Artist

Mr. Katada and Mr. Ueda worked very fast during the trial, and we were able to complete a high quality table in a short period of production time.
At the courtyard of FabCafe Hida, Katada and Ueda were very reliable in the sense that they were willing to give on-site trial and error performance, using new processing methods and tools, reflecting the characteristics of trees. I would like to continue to make more experimental production beyond tables.
I found that people walking by the courtyard were drawn to the table to touch it as the table had been created with metal rods. I thought that was very impressive.
Wood is processed with saws, hammers, drills, planes and various metals. Wood furniture cannot be made from wood alone. The two materials that are closely related in the production process were able to present a new appearance that coexists even at the completion stage. I am very pleased that people will be able to use the table at the LIXIL laboratory.

Chikako Kadoi
Hidakuma Inc.,
Creative Director of Forest

LIXIL Inc., Ltd, Technology and Research Headquarter, Human Science Research Institute
LIXIL is a comprehensive housing company for living. Systematically elucidating the characteristics of human behavior and emotions, the Institute aims to promote research and development that leads to the discovery and creation of new value.

Interested in Developing Prototype and Products Making the Most of Various Hardwood Materials?

Hidakuma is happy to work and support closely with you upon your request to develop experimental prototype products and materials, as well as to conduct research.
For enquiries see here.