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Sapele Brut – Coffee Table + Chair

‘Beton Brut’ = ‘Raw Concrete’ = the idea that materials are used in their unfinished or raw state. This concept was used heavily in the 1960s and 70s architecture which became known as Brutalism and is the inspiration for the Sapele Brut pieces.

In this piece I explored what a table in the modern day does – really, there is no need to have just one plane/surface and, in fact, multiple surfaces may provide a more useful function.

I used ideas of abstraction to deconstruct the traditional ‘chair’ to it’s necessary parts and in-so-doing produced a chair that has only three parts – a back, a front, and a seat.

I like the idea that the user is involved in the piece and so the table can be rearranged as seen fit and deconstructed from it’s original layout as much as the user desires. This concept was used by Mies Van der Rohe in the Barcelona Pavilion (a deconstruction of the Parthenon).

Because this table is essentially 3 separate tables that nest inside one and other, the dimensions had to be perfect. I had drawn up the designs by hand but then worked through them in a CAD program to make sure they would fit without problem.

The table’s layout is scaled to the layout of Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon’s Brutalist Barbican Estate.

The design for the chair evolved from an idea of making a chair without the conventional 4 legs. Instead, the chair developed ‘sides’ (a front and back) with the seat suspended between the two.

All the components of the chair, including the seat, are made from 75mm square section Sapele lengths.

Materials + Process

The wood I chose for the pieces is called Sapele. This is from the Mahogany family which was once one of the most revered woods for fine furniture but is now rarely used for that purpose. The wood is sometimes considered to be of secondary grade and is often used primarily in joinery and not furniture. Considering the principles of Brutalism and Sapele’s beauty in its raw, unpainted, unstained state, I felt it was the perfect wood for the pieces.

In Victorian England ‘endgrain’ (the part of the tree that would show if you cut horizontally through a tree) was considered vulgar in furniture and so all joinery on show would be designed and made in such a way as to hide the endgrain. I feel that the contrasting colours that endgrain provides can look beautiful and I chose to show it off on these pieces – you can see it in the below image as the dark squares that accentuate the chair’s components.

I poured the concrete in three stages to create an interesting tonal effect. I was interested in experimenting with concrete as a material that could create its own identity and uniqueness. This way, the process is controlled by me at the time each piece is poured and results in every piece being totally individual.

The Sapele is very thick stock at 3” x 3” dimensions. From the lumber yard, the wood begins as a very large rough sawn log that has been dried at the yard for a period of a few years. I then start mapping out the parts and cutting the log down to rough sized components to begin working the wood.

Firstly, the milling process begins with planing – I have to make one surface perfectly flat and then can begin to create an adjacent face perfectly square to the first. These sides are then used as reference sides for the other two sides to be planed parallel and the piece becomes perfectly square.

The joinery I used for these pieces are slot mortises. I cut all the parts square to size and then create two opposing mortise ‘holes’. These then house a floating tenon which, when glued into place, creates one of the strongest joints (for long grain to long grain wooden parts) possible.