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The potency of good design and its ability to shape and improve our everyday lives is nothing new, but 2020 has been a year which has tested the design industry. It has challenged designers to look afresh at the way people live, interact and work. 

Made together apart

As part of the London Design Festival, an experiment into how designers and craftspeople adapted their working practices during lockdown was launched by the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC)Benchmark Furniture and the Design Museum.

They challenged nine international designers to create a table and seating, that is personal to them, for home living and working. Designed for their personal use, each designer’s creation was made to suit their new ways of living and working from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Image: AHEC Europe

Championing solid wood as a sustainable resource, each design was made from a choice of three sustainable American hardwoods: red oak, maple or cherry and according to AHEC, the resulting collection of objects removed more carbon from the atmosphere than they generated.

The exhibition aimed to explore how designers and craftspeople have adapted their working methods during lockdown and the resulting pieces were shown at the Design Museum throughout September 2020, celebrating the act of physically coming back together – reconnecting – after lockdown.

9 designers – 3 hardwoods – 1 workshop

We take a closer look at a selection of the designs that caught our eye, each drawing inspiration from difference walks of life while celebrating its solid wood construction, distinct aesthetic and practical purpose...

Nordic Pioneer by Maria Bruun

Image: Maria Bruun

Made entirely in American maple, Nordic Pioneer, is an intentionally pared-back design which lets the materials and construction do the talking.

An elegant wooden hinge runs the length of the tabletop to lift and drop the leaf; components for this hinge are turned and drilled within a fraction of a millimetre to ensure a smoothness of movement. Turned rounded feet intersect with the square profile of the table leg, and subtle tracks for the gate legs are integrated on the underside of the leaf.

Arco by Maria Jeglinska-Adamczewska


The Arco seat and table draw inspiration from sculptural forms, Shaker furniture and the works of Dom Hans van der Laan. 

With a focus on a prominent curve to celebrate the beauty of the hardwood, the table uses prime American cherry with planks carefully grain matched and machined. The table’s angled legs are an unusual quarter-moon shape and create tension through the top by use of inset metal plates.

The chair has been designed to be sculptural and mimic the curves of the body. The side panels of the chair are coopered – a technique drawn from barrel-making and while appearing structurally simple, the construction choices (such as frame matching) showcase the degree of manufacturing proficiency needed to create the piece. 

The Humble Administrator by Studio Swine

Image: Studio Swine

Inspired by traditional Chinese gardens and the archetype of the Ming chair, The Humble Administrator pieces celebrate timber in its purest form. 

The table is formed of a smooth, clean piece of American cherry (chosen for its warmth and caramel tones) with the straight leg profile visible through the top as end grain; an inset laptop shelf acts as a tensioning brace for the table.

American cherry was also chosen for the solid seat and back leg of the chairs alongside a continuous piece of steam bent American red oak to form the legs and backrest. The steam bend for the arms was ambitious and complex to fabricate, in that it bends across two axes – requiring a team of six craftspeople and a specially constructed jig to create its unusual form.


The exhibition, which was also digitally scanned by V21 Artspace, is permanently available to view online as a virtual exhibition.

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