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Organic Furniture And Why We Are Drawn To It

In a past life many, many years ago when I was twenty/twenty-one I started a company that made furniture. The genesis for the business was a brief sojourn in Santa Cruz, California, where I came across a group of people who retrieved old redwood stumps from the surrounding mountains and converted them into organic furniture in multiple forms and shapes.

The entire process was fairly laborious. Usually the stumps were on property that was being cleared for new homes. Given the resilience and durability of redwood some of these stumps were decades old and part of the stump was above ground but a larger part including the root ball generally had to be dug out with heavy equipment.

I befriended a gentleman who had a battery of 6’ chain saws and he and I would then carefully slice these stumps or trunks into slabs. From there I would haul them across country to Virginia and would start the process of analyzing each piece to determine what it would end up being – anything from a clock to a conference table.  Some of these pieces were indeed significant in scope and just the maneuvering/manipulation process were engineering feats….the largest piece I worked on was an 8’ diameter coffee table that a couple in NY built an entire extension of their home around.

The manufacturing process was partially artisanal and partially labor intense…..cutting, planing, sanding and finishing these pieces could often take a month but there was a real sense of satisfaction in taking a product that basically was scrap wood and turning it into a piece of functional sculpture. We were being sustainable and green before the notion of recycling really hit the furniture industry.

I stopped making these tables to pursue new adventures that started with a year of traveling around the world and led to the opening of LaDiff when I was 28 but I was left with an inherent respect for the amount of effort that went into making things by hand and attraction for all things `organic’.

LaDiff morphed over the years into a resource for contemporary design. My travels and our search for great modern furnishings has taken us all over the world visiting some of the most advanced factories that feature things such as 5 Axis CNC routers and robots. We see factories that are so automated that they operate in virtual darkness and the only place that one sees human activity is in control booths and in packing areas. And, we love the freedom that technology has provided for making super-sophisticated products.

But….we also love the juxtaposition between technology and handwork, between the old and the new, between human endeavor and machines. It is kind of the Yin and Yang of being human – parts of us are rooted in age old craftsmanship using our sweat and basic hand tools and parts of us love harnessing and employing technology.

At LaDiff, we seek out and find `organic furniture’ from many sources. One of our favorite displays at European shows in Koln, Germany and Milan, Italy is by a company called Riva1920 from Cantu, Italy. Riva somehow managed to get a virtual monopoly on Kauri wood from New Zealand. The sheer logistics of unearthing these 40,000 year old trees that weigh up to 50 tons and measure 60’ or more in length are mind boggling. The largest table that we have seen from Riva is 40’ long and 6’ wide – all in one slab. The length of the table is limited not by the size of the original slab but by the container that it has to fit into to be transported to Italy. The sheer mass and extraordinary beauty of the finished pieces is hard to put into words.

Other organic pieces that are more of a scale that we can realistically showcase and sell at LaDiff include `live-edge’ tables from sources like Lyndon in Vermont who make beautiful solid cherry or walnut pieces from glued up planks with the exterior boards showing the free-form edge. New to our showroom is a superb piece from Italian supplier Cattelan who combines technology and natural materials so effectively that the end result is simultaneously coarse and sophisticated. (Spyder Table)

We also are enamored with a company from Latin America who hand-work wonderful Milpa burls that are dug out of the cornfields of Southern Mexico. These unique pieces are all hand cut with huge two-man hand saws.  The resulting pieces are functional works of art.

LaDiff also imports containers directly from Surabaya, Indonesia, of reclaimed aged teak and suarina wood. These lovely pieces include solid slab dining table tops of impressive size, root ball console tables, exotic turned teak balls that are carefully hand-worked and combined with glass tops to make intriguing coffee tables (I still haven’t figured out how they do these) and lovely benches.

I am not sure how much of our/my seeking these organic pieces from all over the world is reminiscence on my part or something ingrained in my psyche that loves the contrast between old and new. For us,  they work so well at LaDiff especially when juxtaposed with more very modern pieces. We truly feel these organic pieces add a warmth and another dimension to our scope of bringing International Furnishings to Richmond and to Virginia.


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