The London Plane Project

The London Plane Project is a comprehensive exploration of one material - the timber of the London Plane tree. Restricting my palate to this one tree species, I have designed and made ‘Drift,’ a small collection of wild craft furniture with modernist stylings.

In the last two years I have become fascinated by this ubiquitous London tree, sucking up our pollution and dulling the noise – doing everything for us when alive but as a furniture timber it remains underused.  Between the commission furniture that accounts for the majority of my practice, I have taken the opportunity to comprehensively explore this specific tree species to discover its versatilities and possibilities and have a lot of fun doing it.

My first major work using London Plane was a timber re-use commission for a large residential developer in 2016, making furniture pieces from timber felled on site.  Since then I have explored the material; the young pale tones and the old tea orange brown and everything in between, applying different techniques to produce a variety of tones, textures and forms.  I have steam-bent it, laminated it, burnt it, ebonised it, bleached it, carved it, gouged it, scraped it, wire-brushed it, made dovetail joints, fox tenons, finger joints and lap joints and dowels.

Along with an illustration of the processes and techniques, the final collection of tables, seating and objects will be displayed at the London Design Fair in September 2019.

The furniture Design - Wild Craft with a Modernist Context

After many experiments and prototypes, the final designs have a modernist styling with very simple lines and jointing to illustrate the visual versatility of London Plane and power of the Lacewood grain figure. After making reproductions and reinterpretations of early 20th century furniture including Gerard Rietveld’s Red Blue Chair along with research on the American Arts & Crafts Movement and European Modernism, I realised that designing furniture with stylistic restriction was the appropriate way to showcase both traditional hand tool methods and the visual qualities of London Plane, and Lacewood in particular.

Occasional Table - Lacewood & ebonised Lacewood frame with hand gouged & ebonised London Plane tabletop.

The top of this table is initially ebonised with an iron and vingar solution, which colours the London Plane timber a dark grey colour. The surface is then hand carved with a gouge chisel, which takes most of a day and is undertaken in one session, producing a spontaneous and unique pattern. The process reveals the original grain figure of the timber, which contrasts beautifully with the ebonised colouration.

The frame and legs are constructed with half-joints and strengthened with dowels. The choice of materials highlighting the contrast between the grey ebonisation and the wilder Lacewood figure of quarter-sawn London Plane.

Plant Stand - Ebonised London Plane frame with hand gouged & ebonised London Plane tabletop.

This tall slender table is fully ebonised, the top gouge carved to reveal the London Plane figure. The front and back rails are also gouged to provide a visual balance to the piece.

Occasional Stool - Lacewood & ebonised Lacewood frame with hand gouged & ebonised London Plane seat.

The seat of this stool is ebonised with an iron and vinegar solution, colouring the London Plane timber a silvery grey colour. The front of the seat’s surface is then gouge carved to match the straight rear of the seat.

The frame and legs are constructed with half-joints and strengthened with dowels. The choice of materials highlighting the contrast between the grey ebonisation and the wilder Lacewood figure of quarter-sawn London Plane.

 

The London Plane Tree (Platanus × acerifolia)

The Queen in winter

The London Plane tree was formally described in the botanical literature by the Scottish botanist William Aiton in his 1789 work Hortus Kewensis as a variety of P. orientalis.

The London plane is one of 50 Great British Trees The Tree Council selected in 2002 in honour of Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee.[15] The list specifically mentions Britain's first London plane being in the city of Ely, Cambridgeshire.

The London plane is the perfect city tree, dealing with the street pollution by absorbing it into it's bark, which it then sheds like battered pieces of armour. This is what gives it it's mottled camouflage look.

Planted in great numbers in the mid 19th century to help soak up the soot and dust of the gathering industrial revolution, the London Plane remains invaluable. Bizarrely  it may be their very ubiquity that renders them invisible to most people. Spot one and give it thanks for making your city a little more breathing space.

The oldest London planes date from first plantings around 1660-80. The oldest living examples are at Buckden, Robert Sanderson, (Bishop of Lincoln 1660-1663), is said to have been presented with two London planes; both are still growing healthily. At Ely, Peter Gunning, (Bishop of Ely 1675-1684), also planted gifts of trees, including a London plane which is now colossal.