Dessein's Pieman - a collection of furniture from underwater wood

Touched upon in last weeks post about new Australian products launched at Denfair, Dessein Furniture have launched their second major collection since there inception in 2013. The Pieman collection is named after the lake from which all the timber is sourced. "Lake" you ask? "How can wood come from a lake? Don't you mean forest"? Well here's the story: In 1986 the Tasmanian government completed the building of the Reece dam project that would hold back waters from the Pieman River for use in four power stations for Tasmania's hydro-electric scheme. 222 hectares of natural bushland on Tasmania's west coast were flooded resulting in the death of thousands of trees.

 A view of Lake Pieman, inland from Granville Harbour on Tasmania's remote west coast. The flooding resulted in thousands of dead trees that are now being salvaged by Hydrowood and milled for fine furniture. Photo: Chris Crerar.

A view of Lake Pieman, inland from Granville Harbour on Tasmania's remote west coast. The flooding resulted in thousands of dead trees that are now being salvaged by Hydrowood and milled for fine furniture. Photo: Chris Crerar.

Lying dormant for nearly 30 years under as much as 70 metres of water, it took David Wise and Andrew Morgan to set up Hydrowood, a timber salvaging company capable of retrieving submerged timbers and drying them slowly to turn what was a watery grave for 80,000 tonnes of prime old growth timber into something of real value. It then took Michele Chow, the founder of Dessein Furniture to see the possibility in commissioning a group of great designers to produce a collection of furniture and lighting made purely from the salvaged timber.

 The designers and MIchele Chow of Dessein learn about the origins and processors of the Lake Pieman timbers from Hydrowood staff. Photo: Chris Crerar.

The designers and MIchele Chow of Dessein learn about the origins and processors of the Lake Pieman timbers from Hydrowood staff. Photo: Chris Crerar.

Each log is tagged and can be traced back through GPS to the precise point in the lake where the timber originated. While the full inventory of what lies beneath the tannin-brown waters of Lake Pieman remains unknown, there is reasonable evidence to predict that the species will include eucalyptus, huon pine, celery-top pine, blackwood, leatherwood, sassafras and western beech.

 Three of four designers selected by MIchele Chow to create Dessein's new 'Pieman' collection. L to R: Tom Fereday (Sydney, NSW), Nathan Day (Dunsborough, WA) and Simon Ancher (Launceston, Tas).

Three of four designers selected by MIchele Chow to create Dessein's new 'Pieman' collection. L to R: Tom Fereday (Sydney, NSW), Nathan Day (Dunsborough, WA) and Simon Ancher (Launceston, Tas).

As in the previous collection, Chow has brought together design talents from different states of Australia: Simon Ancher from Tasmania, Nathan Day from Western Australia, Tom Fereday from New South Wales and Marcus Piper from Victoria. Although the designers all knew one another by reputation and in some cases through previous projects, bringing them together in one place at the one time resulted in a special camaraderie and sharing of knowledge.

 Simon Ancher talks through the finer points of his shelving design with Marcus Piper (left), Nathan Day & Michele Chow (right). Photo: Chris Crerar.

Simon Ancher talks through the finer points of his shelving design with Marcus Piper (left), Nathan Day & Michele Chow (right). Photo: Chris Crerar.

“The collaborative development of the collection saw the designers become acquainted with the material, and begin to develop design concepts in tandem. During this process each designer brought uniquely different skills, perspectives, ideas and experiences to the table. It was particularly apparent during our intensive ‘design incubator’ workshops that different aspects of the designers’ practices informed processes and decisions, and really shaped the final collection.”

Michele Chow, founder, Dessein Furniture.

 Tools of the trade mingle with product parts and wood samples from Day's desk and table and Ancher's shelving.

Tools of the trade mingle with product parts and wood samples from Day's desk and table and Ancher's shelving.

Day and Ancher are serious woodworkers who totally understand the strengths and limitations of their preferred material - no prizes for guessing this is wood! Fereday is the youngest of the group and a highly technical designer who brings with him a wealth of CAD experience and a wide knowledge of materials. Piper by contrast is currently working as editor of the Australian design magazine Mezzanine but has previously been a creative director, graphic designer and typographer in Australia and in the UK.

 Fereday considering the seating options for his 'Pieman' chair.

Fereday considering the seating options for his 'Pieman' chair.

This mix of talents allowed for the collection to develop from rough concepts into early prototypes at a fast pace. Many Skype conferences later, the designers were able to meet again and finalise their designs before the collection was finally launched at Denfair in Melbourne in early June.

"We have locally manufactured this collection using regionally sourced sustainable materials, allowing us to pass on all the benefits of environmentally conscious and affordable design to our customers, and continuing to stay true to the Dessein story and vision”.

Michele Chow, founder Dessein Furniture.

 The 'Pieman' collection in its entirety. Bookshelves by Simon Ancher, 'Float' mirrors, trays and lights by Marcus Piper, 'Pieman' chair by Tom Fereday and 'Pieman' dining table by Nathan Day. There is also a 'Pieman' desk by Day (shown later below).

The 'Pieman' collection in its entirety. Bookshelves by Simon Ancher, 'Float' mirrors, trays and lights by Marcus Piper, 'Pieman' chair by Tom Fereday and 'Pieman' dining table by Nathan Day. There is also a 'Pieman' desk by Day (shown later below).

The 'Float' range by Marcus Piper plays with the concept of reflectivity versus density. The series of small functional objects – pendant lamps, table trays and wall-mounted mirrors, combine a warm tactile timber element with a reflective surface either in laminate or mirror.

 'Float' by Marcus Piper is a range of small objects and lights that utilise the same timber form in several different ways. Shown here is the tray with integrated tealight holder.

'Float' by Marcus Piper is a range of small objects and lights that utilise the same timber form in several different ways. Shown here is the tray with integrated tealight holder.

 The 'Float' mirrors share the same concept as the 'Float' trays but replace laminate with mirror and add a turned component.

The 'Float' mirrors share the same concept as the 'Float' trays but replace laminate with mirror and add a turned component.

“The idea of reflection is brought to life through mirroring objects around the room,” says Piper. “From the table, to the wall and to the ceiling with the lamps, that visual language repeats and reflects on itself through different materials and uses”, he says.

 Marcus Piper's 'Float' trays with built in areas to house tealights.

Marcus Piper's 'Float' trays with built in areas to house tealights.

“I had a moment when we were out on the lake in Tasmania, and I realised that it wasn’t just a shallow lake containing a few fallen trees. It was a body of water, over 70 metres deep, a fully submerged forest.” Western Australian designer Nathan Day used the opportunity offered by the Pieman project to showcase both the beauty of solid timber and traditional joinery techniques. His 'Pieman' table and desk do this through “beautiful, simple, quiet” expanses locked together by precisely cut 'finger joints'. It’s super strong but also visually striking,” says Day.

 Tom Fereday's 'Pieman' chair in black leather behind the 'Pieman' desk by Nathan Day. Both are in Tasmanian Blackwood.

Tom Fereday's 'Pieman' chair in black leather behind the 'Pieman' desk by Nathan Day. Both are in Tasmanian Blackwood.

 The drawer detail from Nathan Day's 'Pieman' desk. Solid Tasmanian blackwood with a contrasting black lining.

The drawer detail from Nathan Day's 'Pieman' desk. Solid Tasmanian blackwood with a contrasting black lining.

Sydney based designer Tom Fereday is a firm believer in design honesty. “My practice is based around being true to materials and process. Every product I work on, whether it’s in cast metal or machined in wood, follows this approach.”

As a consequence of this firmly held belief, Fereday's 'Pieman' chair revels in it's construction methods and materials - through exposed joints and by the use of a leather sling rather than an upholstered seat. The back legs flow into the short arm rests and back rail with a visual lightness achieved through minimal material usage. It is as strong as it needs to be and no more.

 “This is the first range for which I’ve worked with a product from the complete raw material through to finished product, so it was all about being as respectful as possible to the timber,” says Fereday.

Simon Ancher’s 'Pieman' shelves might seem angular from a distance but on closer inspection it is clear that each and every surface has a smooth rounded edge. Inspired by Lake Pieman’s tranquil watery landscape, the design encapsulates flat, reflective planes of water, pierced by spear-like tree trunks. “The landscape, the water and these great trees piercing the surface – that ‘conjuring from the deep’ – was quite breathtaking,” says Ancher.

While Ancher's shelving is an abstraction of this evocative image, simplicity remains paramount to his design. An intelligent joining system allows up to 12 shelving variations while the design is manufactured as a flat-pack and designed for easy assembly. 

 Simon Ancher's 'Pieman' shelving design for Dessein. Shown in celery-top pine.

Simon Ancher's 'Pieman' shelving design for Dessein. Shown in celery-top pine.

Dessein collection one - called 'Tap' - utilised rubberwood, a sustainable plantation grown hardwood that is a bi-product of the latex industry. Michele Chow was able to set up supply and quality manufacturing in Thailand and aimed that collection at a broad global market. Dessein's second collection takes a different but equally valid tack where exceptionally fine Australian woods are able to be used instead of importing American timbers like maple, oak, ash and walnut. The costs are higher but the new designs are conceived differently, emphasizing the collections unique, quality materials and using a fine joinery approach.