My first exposure to the world of wood and a shop were at a very young age on family vacations at an aunt and uncle's place in Michigan. My uncle had a shop next to the house where he produced fine craft for a living. Even at five or six years old, I can remember the smell of wood, mysterious machines arrayed like statues around the room, wood parts stacked up and waiting for something, and an atmosphere that was intriguing for the seeming magic that happened there.
Some two decades later, as fate would have it, I spent about five years working in a family business doing a highly specialized form of woodworking in the field of marquetry. Largely a hand process, it required a high degree of precision, processing, and familiarity with many woods. Out of that experience eventually grew the desire to experiment with and pursue my own ideas with wood. Taking those developed skills, knowledge, and affinity for wood, and applying them to something more personal, something uniquely mine, was a natural progression.
Initially, developing ideas was largely a creative exercise and far more of the focus than developing a business out of them. One idea led to another down a path that ended with the beginning of what is now Symmetree Design.
That beginning, more than 20 years ago, involved cutting an enormous tree into slabs, some of which were over five feet wide. Each one was captivating not only for its size, but also for the picture it contained of the entire tree. Although, at the time, I had no notion of actually making any kind of furniture pieces with them, I could envision the incredibly unique tables they could become. Within about a year, as fate would have it again, the opportunity arose to turn one of those slabs into a dining table and the satisfaction from that first project set a direction that continues today.
Symmetree's body of work has reflected a continual exploration, experimentation, and collaboration of ideas.
As stated on our home page, the design tenet through which our work finds artistic expression is elemental simplicity. It is a broad term, but the interplay of these two words describes well the materials we use and how they are treated. Our materials of choice, with rare exception, are "elemental", meaning they are naturally occurring, or close to a naturally occurring state, and they are so familiar and common to the world around us as to be intrinsic to our lives. They can be innately understood. Wood and stone are quintessential elemental materials and utilized with little alteration. While steel and glass are man made, they are composed almost entirely of natural materials with glass being about 75% sand and steel being more than 95% iron as it is naturally found.
Simplicity speaks to keeping these materials close to their natural or fundamental state and allowing them their own voice. It means the natural properties of these materials should be more of a defining feature of a project than the work committed to it. Inherent in this design theme is an emphasis on preserving over processing. We showcase materials for their size, color,
shape,figuring, or other qualities, not the ability to shape, alter, or manipulate them. Also integral to the idea of elemental simplicity is the absence of complication. Leaving nothing hidden, disguised, or extraneous is integral to the design process and vital to realizing a sense of elegance and sophistication through the interplay of materials. Leonardo DaVinci may have said it best nearly five hundred years ago when he said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication."
NOTES on WOOD
Wood, as a natural resource, is remarkable for its diversity and range of uses. It is ubiquitous in our everyday lives in the form of construction materials, nearly all paper products, and many others we hardly give notice to. Without question, wood is a vital natural resource just for its commodity based uses. Along its extensive spectrum of uses, however, perhaps the greatest value of wood is at the far other end, purely as a source of beauty. The aesthetic qualities, in infinite variation, are the characteristics that move us to marvel at nature's deep creative abilities. Wood is the visual art of nature and our reverence for it is primarily for this attribute.
While exceptional color, grain, and figuring are essential qualities, they are only part of the picture. Their greater purpose is telling the story of the larger tree from which they came. The aesthetics of highly figured wood are much more compelling and meaningful
when placed within larger context of the whole tree. A large slab is a portrait, capturing the life and character of a tree that can span hundreds, or even
thousands of years. These live-edge slabs are the most holistic pure expression wood can take and define what we believe is the ideal "state of being" for wood. They have a sense of enduring permanence and our lives are improved by their presence.
Exceptional pieces of wood are not limited to slabs, however. Stumps and burls are another manifestation of nature's creative process that provides striking sculptural and organic shapes that make statements of their own when presented as pedestals, bases, and stands.
Our page has wide ranging examples.
It is a very limited number of wood species that have the potential to achieve the size, shape, and aesthetic properties that we seek. Of those that do, finding the exceptional log or tree is always a true discovery. There is genuine excitement as each resulting slab presents a new portrait of the tree and reveals . a sense of excitement for what it series and sometimes for a limited time before they can no longer be obtained. We have slabs that, from our experience, have no equivalent, and once spoken for, can't be replaced. Some species do have more of a predictable supply. Taken together, for all types, availability tends to change over time. Our most valuable asset is the ability to find sources of striking and rare pieces whether in slab form or the larger tree and mill the slabs, stumps, or burls ourselves.
Virtually all of our wood is acquired in a social and environmentally conscious manner. Every piece we offer is either reclaimed from a previous use or diverted from lesser uses. A very large or unusually figured tree intended for more commodity type of use, can sometimes be spared that fate and make its way to us, or it may come from an urban setting. We believe large, healthy forested trees are virtually always best left that way.
Below are descriptions of noteworthy woods we specialize in.
Redwood trees have an unmatched place in the natural world, inspiring a sense of awe and reverence for their grandeur. They epitomize what it means to be old-growth, rising in forests that have been evolving for over 20 million years in an environment of intense competition, changing conditions, and severe trials such as forest fires. Without rival, their longevity can span 100 human generations by possessing superior resources to endure. Many of today's trees were here during the Roman Empire, creating the tops that we now offer. These pieces have substance, significance, and story.
It is a wood for the ages not only in the literal sense, though, but also for the soul stirring beauty that lies within. Redwood is blessed with a deep redish brown color and is prone to high levels of figuring, giving it a richness and depth that is rare to find.
Our redwood inventory is 100% reclaimed, originating from the bottom 6-10 feet of trees logged over 100 years ago. This was considered stumpage and left behind.
Far on the other end of the hardness spectrum from redwood are the hardwoods that we use. While softer woods, like redwood, tend to be more stable and work well in big slab form, hardwoods can be problematic. They are more prone to splitting and warping during the drying process and may even continue to do so once in finished form. There are, however, hardwoods that grow to very large sizes and work well as big slabs. Of the woods that are domestic to the US, cherry and walnut are very desirable in larger sizes as well as for their fine grain, rich color, and other traits. We also utilize woods from other parts of the world which can reach spectacularly large sizes and are typically very hard and dense. These woods are obtained in one of two environmentally conscious ways. Either they are reclaimed from what is left behind from commercial logging or they are spared from going to much lesser, commodity type of uses. In particular, this is true of Brazil. Please inquire for current options as they may change over time.
Figured boreal is a wood that is exclusive to us. Located primarily in the Midwest, it holds a unique place in the wood world having no commercial value to speak of, yet rivals virtually any wood on earth for its extraordinary figuring. While it is a short lived tree (approximately 100 years), it grows very fast, enabling sizes of up to six feet in diameter despite its short life. It is also very stable and workable, making it ideal for large slabs. Figured boreal is a tree with no distinction but conceals within it visual treasures. It has aesthetics that place it along side the finest woods in the world.