Nov 23

Community design initiative takes top prize with volunteer-built furniture project

Mentsen, together with The Exchange – an Erith-based community group – has taken out the top prize in the ‘Production’ category of the Wood Awards with their project ‘The Exchange table and chairs’.

In a true achievement of sustainable, skilful community-led design and production, these collapsible and stackable oak tables and chairs were made by local volunteers and staff at The Exchange, with the guiding hand of Mentsen – a two-time winner in the Production category for the Wood Awards.

The Exchange is a community-owned organisation that uses the heritage of Erith’s beautiful old Carnegie Library – a space that was designed and built by local people – to inspire new community-led programmes and activities, including volunteer craft workshops, classes, concerts and performances, history tours, and more.

As the items were to be made at The Exchange workshop by local people, the design consideration responded to the capability of the equipment and space to hand. With the space used for workshops and events during the day, they also had to be collapsible to be able to be stored away.

After an intensive four days of skill sharing, the wood workshop team went on to produce twenty-six tables and over a hundred oak frame chairs with linen webbing seats. This brilliant and brave approach addresses true sustainable practice: giving people the skills to make beautiful furniture using quality materials and be able to fix it when broken.

Mentsen is a London-based design practice established in 2011 by two Japanese designers, Yasuyuki Sakurai and Risa Sano. They offer product design and art direction for businesses and cultural organisations. In 2022, they won top prize at the Wood Awards for their project Furniture For 2 Bessborough Street.

Lead judge of Furniture and Product Design for the Wood Awards, Corrine Julius said:

“This project is an exciting demonstration of how working with wood can build community as well as physical products. Producing over 100 chairs with only 4-days of skill sharing, this community action process sets an inspiring example. We were especially impressed by the finish and rationalism of the two variations of the chairs, which are light-weight and comfortable.”

The Wood Awards furniture and product panel is led by design critic, curator and journalist Corinne Julius. The panel includes Oliver Stratford, editor of Disegno magazine; Sculptor in Wood, Eleanor Lakelin, Sebastian Cox RDI, and Yael Mer, founder of Raw Edges.

The Exchange Table and Chairs were selected from more than 200 entries, before being assessed in person at the Wood Awards exhibition at the OXO Gallery during London Design Festival.

The furniture and product design pieces that won in other categories were Serenade from John Makepeace OBE who was awarded in the Bespoke category, and Rocaille Morphosis from Joanne Grogan of City & Guilds of London Art School, who won the student prize. This year’s best new timber building was announced as New Temple Complex, designed by James Gorst Architects.

As a not-for-profit competition, the Wood Awards can only happen with collaborative industry sponsorship. A huge thank you for continued support from Carpenters CompanyAmerican Hardwood Export Council and Timber Development UK.