POETRY OF WOOD
One of the defining characteristics of the best of solid wood furniture that has been around for 50 to 100 years — think Shaker, Scandinavian, Windsor Chairs, anything by George Nakashima or the furniture you might find in a great old country inn — is the way the craft is embedded in the design language. It comes from an honouring of the material and a passion for bringing out the best of it, preserving the touch and the unique grain patterns and colours of each plank, using only as much machining as is required to make the form, and employing joinery that is as beautiful as it is strong. The furniture that endures is that which lets the wood do the talking. That allows it to breathe and change and adapt and tell the story of the world it inhabits and all its interactions with the people and elements of that world. It is this legacy that De La Espada continues, this wisdom our designers and craftspeople tap into.
Solid wood has a unique touch, almost like skin; the feeling of life, of depth. Far from homogenous, the surface of wood dances with the grain and colours born from the growth of an individual tree and the weather it experienced, the origins of its life. When it gets scratched, dented, worn, its beauty only increases — it charts our life experiences, our conversations, our connections with one another. It is alive, an ever breathing, ever changing member of the family. It is always reacting to its environment, taking in and expelling moisture to align with the humidity around it, just as we adapt to our surroundings, and acclimatise to the weather in each place we live.
The bonds that bring together planks of wood to form furniture are just as beautiful as the furniture itself. The joints are like small sculptures embedded in the product, with a time-tested locking system that employs water-based wood glue to create an unbreakable bond. Infinitely repairable, wood responds to our interventions – a steam iron can tease out a dent, a damp cloth across the surface can coax a shrunken plank to restore its dimensions, a light sanding can not only erase fine scratches but release a pleasant aroma brought by nature.
Wood brings an undeniable warmth to an interior, providing a relaxed, familiar feeling, transforming spaces that might otherwise feel cold and unwelcoming. The unique personality of this ever-breathing, living material allows the products to become members of the family, carrying our memories across generations.
HUMIDITY AND WOOD MOVEMENT
Solid wood has been our area of expertise for over 25 years. At our workshop, now one of the largest in the world dedicated to solid wood furniture craft, we have produced a broad range of designs and continually push the boundaries of our knowledge, ever deepening our expertise.
The vast majority of “wood” furniture made today, even in the luxury realm, is not made from solid wood but rather veneers and wood composites, so the particular beauty, tactility, and performance qualities of solid wood are something of which most have little personal experience. With an understanding of wood, our enjoyment of it only increases.
Solid wood is sustainable and enduring — our solid wood furniture is built to last in excess of 100 years, twice the length of time it takes to regrow the tree, and the modest amount of energy it takes to convert planks into furniture is provided by our solar panels — each plank is unique, it has great beauty and tactility, it can be repaired, it lends itself to the use of time-tested unbreakable joinery, it ages beautifully, and it represents an excellent balance between weight and strength making it ideal for furniture. Solid wood is also hygroscopic, meaning it will absorb and expel moisture in response to its environment, swelling or contracting with fluctuations in humidity, throughout its life. This behaviour is part of the ever-changing beauty and character of the material.
While some level of movement can be managed through seasoning and finishes, there is nothing that prevents movement as the wood will always seek to be in equilibrium with the level of humidity in the air around it. Good design takes this movement into consideration, ensuring the integrity of the structure endures even with swelling caused by higher humidity and shrinkage caused by lower humidity.
Moisture in the wood is necessary for creating the unbreakable bond that wood glue provides, as it acts as a catalyst for the chemical reaction essential to this bond, and is one of the reasons why our furniture can survive and perform for 100 years. The moisture that woodworkers leave in wood is in equilibrium with the average relative humidity on an average spring day in a home, at 50%. This is the right level of humidity to cover the vast majority of interior environments and the end user should make an effort to keep the wood furniture close to this level. Though maintaining a constant level of humidity can be challenging, a hygrometer — an easily available device that takes measurements of the humidity in a room — can help, and a humidifier can easily add moisture when the relative humidity falls.
Maintaining a constant level of humidity can be particularly challenging in winter, when cold, dry air from outside seeps into the home, driving down the relative humidity often to as low as 20% or lower. Over the lifetime of a piece of furniture, and this could happen right at the start or many years into its life, a sudden drop in the relative humidity of the air around it can lead to sudden shrinkage, something that can easily happen overnight, and at that point some form of crack may appear, usually at the end of a board where the end grain is present. The cracks can be several centimetres long and one or two mm wide, although many will be smaller, and are most likely to appear on planar elements such as tabletops or cabinet tops. This is a mark of the environment around the wood and is something that will become part of a much loved, long lasting and valued piece of furniture. With increased humidity, the plank may swell, decreasing the appearance of any cracks.
We recommend that, prior to delivery, the room where the product will be unpackaged and kept is brought to the optimal 50% relative humidity. This is important because a key driver of movement is the change of seasons, and since De La Espada furniture is made in Portugal and transport to many parts of the world can take two or three months, the piece will arrive in a different season to when it departed the factory.
We have engineered our solid wood furniture so it will perform well and stand the test of time, even with cracks and other signs of wood movement. When the timber moves in this way, we view it as a badge of honour, the mark of a material that is superior to all others when it comes to furniture making, one that protects the world around us while bringing human beings pleasure and utility for three if not more generations.
To care for your solid wood furniture in varying humidity, we offer some simple guidelines:
1/ Buy a hygrometer and know your environment at home.
2/ Aim for 50% relative humidity in the room where the solid wood product is kept. Humidifiers can restore humidity as needed.
3/ If the ideal level of relative humidity falls for even a day, embrace the end checks and cracks that may appear.
4/ There are ways to repair end checks, if desired, with the help of wax of different densities, as well as wood glue and sawdust. Any such repairs should be carried out by an experienced woodworker. We recommend that you give your product time to settle before considering this option, as the cracks may close with increased humidity.
5/ For our oiled timber, maintain the wood using approved oils and waxes as found in our care kit. This repairable seal reduces the movement of moisture in and out of the wood but does not prevent it completely. Even a damp cloth wiped across the timber will increase the level of humidity locked within it, but ensure that the cloth is never soaked or dripping.
De La Espada Care Guide