French timber, a source of inspiration for design

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French timber a source of inspiration for design

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FrenchTimber : Promoting French Lumbers and wood products FrenchTimber, an association founded in 2001 by the National Timber Federation (Fédération Nationale du Bois), is supported by the joint-trade organisation France Bois Forêt. With this support from the trade, FrenchTimber is in charge of promoting French Lumbers and wood products on international markets. By attending trade fairs, giving out technical information leaflets, taking part in conferences and talking to journalists FrenchTimber provides commercial and technical information on the French wood industry and its products. This free and comprehensive source of information is designed to enable buyers to better understand the range of available products.

French forests: a rich and diverse source of wood

Wood, an eminently eco-friendly material • Wood is a natural, organic and renewable material. With good forestry management the supply is inexhaustible. • Growing forests recycle CO2 into oxygen. Forests are the earth’s lungs. Using timber encourages good forestry management, and increases the forested area, and thus increases the volume of this greenhouse gas that is recycled. • The gases are then locked for decades inside products of the timber industry, such as building timber, floorboards and furniture. • As a source of industrial innovation, timber inspires the production of new and efficient wooden products and timber-based composite materials. • Wood is a pleasing and attractive material that can be worked into any shape, comes in many hues, and combines elegantly with many other materials. • As it is a good insulator, the use of wood helps to improve the thermal efficiency of housing while ensuring a clean and healthy atmosphere.

The French timber industry has for decades managed and marketed forests that are diverse, highly productive and constantly expanding. French forests, at the forefront of the industry at the European level, with their great variety of both hardwood and softwood species, have contributed to the worldwide reputation of French lumber and timber products. With two billion cubic metres of standing timber and some 128 different species (about thirty of which are commonly used in sawmills), French forestry production is still growing at the rate of 88 million m3 of timber a year. Half of this volume is harvested every year by the primary processing industry. This gives some idea of the biodiversity of French forests.

Ever since 1827, France has implemented controlled management of its forests. With this long experience behind it France initiated the eco-certification scheme called PEFC (Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification Schemes), which guarantees renewal of the resource. This controlled management has increased the forested area by 35 % in the last fifty years. PEFC accounts for over 4 million hectares of certified forests in France.

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Source:CEI bois

Sustainable forestry The carbon cycle of timber products Wood, a high-tech yet time honoured traditional material, enables architects and designers to express their creative imaginations. Produced by the work of foresters, timber meets many of the new needs of our society and for sustainable development.

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Stéphane Plassier expresses his artistic tastes and love of good lifestyle through his fashion and furniture designs.

The Rink Group carries on and builds on the know-how of five generations of master cabinetmakers and designers. Its workshops design and build unique pieces in partnership with interior designers and draughtsmen. This institution was born in 2003 when the firm of Rink, founded in 1841 in Paris, joined forces with the Thierry Roux workshop, named after the group’s current president. 90 % of its work is commissioned abroad, like the interior design of the Buddakan restaurant in New York (USA) in 2006. Bruno Sachet, manager of the furniture department, Meubles Rink, explains:

“ I have always loved nature, trees, foliage and grafting. In Brittany, where I grew up as a child, they call beech “faou”, and now I live with beech trees again at the edge of the Vosges mountains where I have my country cottage. I used beech wood for the collection of chairs and settees that I designed for Henryot. Beech is an exceptionally fine wood, very solid, and with a grain that makes fine and intricate carving possible. The wood is very even, without knots or other unpleasant surprises. Its natural colour is pale, almost diaphanous. As it absorbs dies very well it can be made to imitate other kinds of wood.

“ The team of interior designers had decided on oak for the panelling of a vast room with 9 m high walls. This top of the range work combined ( a neoclassical design inspired by the French Regency style with contemporary features. The wood used had to lend itself to ornamental carving, such as the spectacular dragons on the chandeliers, and oak suited the purpose perfectly. “

When I designed the meridienne called Sirène, I combined the traditional function of a chaise-longue, on which a person lies, with another seat on which a friend might sit upright, a bit like an observation post! The carvings in the beech wood frame are touched up here and there with silver, to create a light, unfinished look. French beech production is managed sustainably, and it also has a use in manufacturing textiles such as fibranne and viscose, not to mention that the offcuts make excellent firewood!“

Méridienne Sirène – Produced by Stéphane Plassier - Edition Henryot & Cie - © D.R

Beech is the second most important commercial timber in France in terms of volume, and has a long history here. Easily available and inexpensive, beech timber is also easy to process.

Buddakan Restaurant (New York) – Design Liaigre, Gilles & Boissier for Stephen Starr. Produced by Groupe Rinck - © D.R.

The oldest living oak tree in France (at Allouville-Bellefosse in Normandy) dates back to the 9th century, an exceptionally long life even for the King of the Forest. This majestic species takes a long time to mature, and trees are harvested when they are 150 years old. An oak can grow to a height of 40 metres, and its trunk reach a diameter of one metre. For centuries oak was the preferred wood used in the interiors of Europe’s great houses, including royal palaces. Oak is still a favourite with customers as well as with those who work with it, because it is easily worked and assembled, and its grain lends itself to all kinds of finishes, including wax polish, varnishes, lasure, paint, sanding, etc..

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The large diameter of the trunks provides wide planks.

beech oak

This relatively soft wood is easy to work, whether it comes to sawing, planing or carving. It lends itself to various finishes, including lasure and paint.

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Bruno Houssin

Saleem Bhatri

A product and environmental designer, Bruno Houssin is involved in the EcoDesign Bois Bourgogne operation, the aim of which is to make the most of the commercial tree species of this pat of central France. With vast plantations now having reached maturity, Douglas fir is one of the available species. “ Douglas fir is commonly used as glued laminated timber in carpentry, but using it for furniture is something of a novelty. For Piz, a bookcase sold in flat packs for assembly at home, is in the form of carrelet squares, which allows optimal use of the material. The sliced timber is assembled with waterbased glue (i.e. requiring no solvent). The resulting planks have the advantage of being of a large size and mechanically very stable. Moreover this method breaks up the graining of Douglas fir wood, giving it a more contemporary look. Its salmon pink colour is rather unusual, the heartwood becoming almost red. This central part of the trunk is not only very hard-wearing, but is also rot-proof even when untreated. These advantages have also made me decide to design outdoor tables made of Douglas fir.“

This industrial architect and designer was born and lives in Bombay, India. “ I like to work with all kinds of materials, but it’s true that I have a special fondness for wood. When undertaking any project, it’s important to understand the context, which determines the design, and also the characteristics of the kind of wood one’s going to use. For the Right in-tension table and bench I used ash for the first time. I chose ash for its mechanical properties; it stands up well to planing, drilling and slicing. Ash has few knots, it’s hard-wearing, has fibre, and finally a nice appearance which does not require any particular surface treatment for a satisfactory finish.

Although it is a hard wood, ash lends itself to slight bending, which matters when one wants to use tension. In this case the planks were split in the middle, the resulting partial division creating tension effects at specific spots. This Right in-tension series is an experiment both with the object and with wood. The principle used increases the resistance of the material with a view to reducing the amount of material used. The result is something quite new in furniture design. “ Piz (registered design) bookcase – Design by Bruno Houssin Manufactured by Jean Roblot-Noël – © D.R.

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This naturally hard-wearing timber is listed as class 3 (weather-resistant), which makes it suitable for outdoor uses such as weatherboarding, gratings and duckboards, footbridges and landing stages. Its great mechanical stability as well as availability in very long sections also make it useful as building timber.

Right in-tension table and bench Design: Saleem Bhatri VIA 2004 © VIA/Fillioux & Fillioux project tender



Ash wood has a creamy white colour. It has a straight grain and fine silver grain. Ash is a hard, dense wood that is flexible and not brittle. Well suited to polishing,it has a warm, smooth feel. For the wood to be hard-wearing it should be treated, after which it can be used as a class three timber (in damp conditions).

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François Azambourg An environmental and interior designer and teacher, François Azambourg has received repeated VIA awards (awards for innovation in furniture), winning a Carte Blanche in 2005 and project grants in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2003.

This company based in the south of France is specialised in building staircases. “ Our approach is not to build and market standardised staircases, but on the contrary to provide a made-tomeasure service using our research department,” explains Valérie Cabau, spokeswoman for EBA. “We use traditional artisanal methods, with wood mortice and tenon joints and dowels. Of the various woods we use, beech combines many fine qualities. It is hard-wearing, and so long-lasting.

“ In designing the Very Nice chair I was not inspired by the material, but by my childhood dreams of model airplanes. To build the first prototype I used balsa wood - the lightest wood in the world – stiffened with canvas, a solution that provides both rigidity and light weigh. The structure of the chair is based on an assembly of struts in triangles. Industrial feasibility finally led me to use birch plywood for the final version. The wood had to be of a kind that could be cut in any direction, fine-grained, even and strong. Apart from these technical considerations, the chosen material has aesthetic advantages, as the whitish colour and the streaks of the wood complement the alignment of the struts. Later I adapted the technique and material used for the Very Nice to make trestles. “

Very Nice chair Design: François Azambourg VIA 2003 – project grant Edition Domeau & Pérès © VIA/Domeau & Pérès

Birch wood is light and e ven-grained, which makes it suitable for veneers and cabinetwork. Its mechanical properties make it useful for bent work; when the wood is bent with steam it retains its new shape. Birch is also used for rotary cutting, a technique used in the manufacture of all kinds of rods and struts.

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If it has been properly steamed it remains stable. It has a pleasant silky feel, a slightly pinkish tinge and a very even grain. This is a major advantage, as it saves having to sort batches as is sometimes necessary with pale tropical hardwoods, and therefore saves a lot of time. The uniform colour of beech ensures that all steps are the same colour. It also takes dies easily, so can be stained to achieve different effects. Beech also an ecofriendly wood, as it comes from sustainably managed French forests, and avoids the cost of importing foreign woods “


EBA staircases © Jacques Vieussens

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Loïc Kerisel

Philippe Million

A scientist by training, Loïc Kerisel soon turned his love wood to good account by following an apprenticeship and then opening his own workshop, where he restores antiques and now designs his own furniture, especially using walnut.

This quiet and unassuming designer produces one-off or small series of pieces rather than industrial designs intended for large-scale production. It is mainly in galleries that collectors are able to acquire his works, such as this two-drawer table.

“ This piece, designed as a kitchen table at which to eat, is built like an exhibition case in which cutlery and kitchen implements are on view. It questions traditional ideas about storage space, and alters the status of the kitchen from service area to living space. I chose maple because of this wood’s almost archetypal nature. It is a light and warm wood, neither a noble wood nor a poor one,

“ In France fine carved furniture was mainly made of European walnut or tropical ebony until the end of the 17th century, when cabinetmakers developed veneers under which other woods were used. In my view walnut is a semi-precious wood with colours that vary from the top to bottom of the trunk and according to the age of the tree. Its veins may be honey-coloured or vary from green to dark brown. These colours can be used to great effect, especially as I like to use curves and sinuous shapes. Because the pores are very tight, walnut is a dense wood that lends itself to carving as well as to inserts of other woods. In the Triskel desk, which is three quarters walnut, I was able to make use of this potential, but it took over 600 hours of work to complete this major piece! “

with veins but not so strong as would interfere with the impression of the piece’s form or volume. Although this wood is solid, it does not feel hard to the touch, and unadorned is both simple and elegant. That’s exactly what I needed for this project. “

Bureau Triskel – Dessign: Loïc Kerisel © Loran Dherines - Loïc Kerisel production - © D.R.

Two-drawer Table – Design: Philippe Million - © DR

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Walnut used for furniture is a guarantee of quality. Walnut is a rare and very refined wood that is easy to work and is particularly well suited to turning and takes a wide range of finishes, such as varnish, lasure or paint. French walnut differs from American walnut by being usually darker in colour.



Maple trees reach a height of 30 metres and grow at a rate that allows them to be felled when they are 80 years old. The wood is almost white or very pale yellow. As it is easy to work and takes a variety of different finishes, maple is valued for interior decoration and cabinetmaking. It can be treated easily, so can be used for outdoor furniture as a class 4 wood after waterproofing.

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Marc Aurel

Emmanuel Hellot

The designer Marc Aurel is the founder M.A Studio, a firm specialising in urban furniture. They take an innovative approach to this sector thanks to a team that combines many different skills, including architecture and design, but also contemporary art, engineering, lighting design and town planning. “S’asseoir en ville” (“sitting in the city”) was M.A. Studio’s answer to an invitation to tender made by Paris town council.

On the outskirts of Paris Emmanuel Hellot set up a cabinetmaking, carpentry and joinery workshop where he works to make his customers’ dreams come true, but also sometimes on projects of his own. “… like this cradle which I made for my daughter Louise. I chose ash for its mechanical qualities. This piece of timber came from a naturally curved trunk. Ash is a pliable wood that can be made to do what one likes; its fine veining gives it a very attractive finish. I used chair maker’s tools to make this piece over which I took particular care. Ash is a long-lasting wood which stands up to wear and tear. It is also, like all French timber, healthy to work with. This is an important point for those of us who come into direct contact with the material. I also take care to only use the least polluting products, such as water or natural oil-based lacquers and varnishes.” “

“ The aim was to design a range of comfortable, hard-wearing contemporary public seating that would fit in with existing historic public benches in the city. We chose tradition materials: cast iron for the frames and wood for the seats and backrests, in this case pine. The hard-wearing lasure gives the wood a pleasing finish and good surface rigidity. Pine is rot-proof, an essential quality for this outdoor furniture that is made to last a long time. Our suppliers of pine are highly professional dealers who sell slats that have been dried and stored in good conditions.“

Louise cradle Producedd by Emmanuel Hellot © Philippe Lhomel

“S’asseoir en ville” Paris public benches – Design: M.A Studio - © M.A Studio

Plantations of Scots pine are found all over the northern half of France. Yearly production is 700 000 m3 of lumber. Pine is easy to dry, and easy to work and finish. After treatment in an autoclave the wood can be used for outdoor furniture.

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scot pine


France has 360 000 hectares of standing ash and produces 39 000 m3 of lumber every year. Trees are felled when they are 80 years old, by which time the trunks may reach a diameter of one metre, which shows that ash is a fast growing tree. The wood is hard, dense and flexible without being brittle. Working with ash (planing, turning, etc.) is quite easy, and it takes various finishes such as paint and varnish well.

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Jérôme Gauthier

Nicolas Autric Le designer explique :

Nicolas Autric, a cabinetmaker and designer, enjoys working with all kinds of timber. “ The customer in this case wanted a large, majestic table, but one that would suit the style of his apartment. I decided on a simple, refined design enhanced by large sections and a rather raw side to it in a light coloured wood. Chestnut was the obvious choice. It’s a wood I like; in the past it was often used by poorer people who made their own furniture. Chestnut is used by coopers, as it is easy to carve into staves and bound by hoops. It is also used for the stakes in vineyards, as it is hard-wearing and fairly rot-proof. It also has the advantage of being inexpensive, and its thin layer of sapwood means that there is little waste. For this table I made a 3 metre long top of a single piece. For the breadth I joined together ten centimetre bands in alternating directions of grain. This increases stability while at the same time creating a pleasing appearance. This work is pure joinery, without any use of metal. “

As the designer himself explains: “ This collection is the result of my first experience of working with oak. It started with a meeting with an industrial producer who knows all about oak. Without even researching the subject, I had found a production tool that taught me about its potential. What happened is that working with their in-house R&D team we developed a technique that had not been used before by the company. The wood used for Collection 45° was subjected by a local subcontractor to a new heat process called retification whereby water is evaporated right from the heartwood, which makes the tannins seep to the surface, in effect an accelerated ageing process. Apart from the novel appearance, this process increases the stability of assemblages, which in this case involve fairly intricate joinery. To cut costs I decided to use as little timber as possible while still ensuring maximum stability. After this first experiment with retified oak I am now tempted to use it for its weatherproof qualities by making outdoor furniture.“

Chestnut table Design: Nicolas Autric Produced by La Fabrique © Gaël Monrozier Collection 45° - Produced by Jérôme Gauthier - Edition Belloubet Design- © D.R.

Chestnut timber is widely available but is little used, despite its many advantages such as a thick trunk, which makes it possible to saw broad planks, and natural resistance to damp: without any treatment this wood covers risk classes 1, 2, 3 and 4. It is also fairly easy to plane and takes varnish and other finishes well.

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Oak is naturally hard-wearing and can be used untreated as a class three wood outdoors. As with all timber, drying is essential to ensure stability, because with a moisture content in excess of 15 % the wood is liable to move. Only a professional can do a proper job of drying. Drying time and temperatures vary according to the thickness and species of timber. The drying process lowers the moisture content to 10 %. After it has been properly dried the wood is stable and of a paler colour than wood that has been dried in the open air and is free of sticker stains. Such wood complies with NF standards and can be used as soon as it is delivered.

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Jean-Charles Vautrin

Christophe Tollemer

At the heart of Champagne country, Jean-Charles Vautrin is the third generation of his family to work with wood. Although he works alone, or sometimes with an apprentice, this cabinetmaker is frequently called upon to use his know-how abroad.

Christophe Tollemer, an interior designer who is frequently commissioned to work abroad, is also a trained cabinetmaker. “ I am very fond of wood, and like to use it in my projects, even in very contemporary designs. I use wood in all forms, including solid timber and veneers, and I sometimes use antique wood. For the refurbishment of the Hôtel des Airelles in Courchevel, an alpine ski resort, I used spruce. The aim was to revive this legendary place in the spirit in which it was created some fifteen years ago, suggesting the Tyrol and the mountains of central Europe. Spruce was therefore used everywhere, from the ceiling of the spa to the panelling of the restaurant – the domain of the chef, Pierre Gagnaire – and in all the rest of the hotel, where this huge job, which took two years, has just been completed. Spruce is a warm wood that can easily be stained to give it an antique looking patina, or on the contrary lasured or sanded to give it a more contemporary look. It is a soft wood which lends itself to carving parts such as cornices and mouldings. We also used antique pieces of spruce that show its long-lasting quality. “

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Oak panelling and chimney piece Produced by Jean-Charles Vautrin © D.R.

French oak forests are the most extensive in Europe. With centuries of experience in using oak, France has an exceptional know-how in the management, sawing and drying of oak timber. This tradition is in keeping with the policy of sustainable forestry begun in 1827 by the National Forest Office and the more recent PEFC eco-certification initiative.

Spa and Jardin Alpin restaurant, Hôtel Les Airelles, Courchevel Produced by Christophe Tollemer – © Studio Bergoend

Spruce is the most widely available coniferous timber in France. It is a mountain species that grows best above 800 m altitude. Every year 4 million m3 of sawn timber is produced. Planing or carving mouldings, and working the timber in general does not present any difficulty. For use as a class 3 wood in damp conditions the timber needs to be damp-proofed or autoclaved. Spruce is an ideal timber for frames and for glued lamination, as it is also for joinery, parquets and floorboards, plinths and mouldings.

“ It all began twenty years ago when I had the opportunity of a commission in England. Since then I have made panelling and floors in Ireland and Italy, in the United States (California, Nevada, New York City) and as far afield as Turkmenistan, in the presidential palace in Ashkhabad. Of course I also have customers in France, like the person who commissioned this panelling and chimney piece. This piece of work is made of oak, like almost 85 % of my work. Oak is a widely available wood which we have used for over 600 years. It is strong enough for floors and even windows, and its grain is particularly suited to white-leaded patinas. For my jobs I do all the preparatory work in my workshop, and then transport or send – in the case of distant sites – the timber to be fitted in situ. Last year I sent 60 tons of wood to the USA (in crates that I specially designed), mostly oak, including antique floorboards ready for a new lease of life. “



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Moissonnier Jean-Loup Moissonnier is the chairman and general manager of the eponymous company founded by his grandfather in 1885. He also designs the models.

To contact these designers:

“ The original cabinetmaking workshop also restored antique furniture. From 1920 on its managers found a way of adapting their machine tools to produce carved pieces in the Renaissance style, which was then fashionable. Then the firm turned to copies of furniture inspired by bourgeois domestic and rustic styles. Since 2000 we have produced simpler, more contemporary designs to fit modern lifestyles, and ones with a range of different patinas and colours. Given our expertise in copying old furniture, Moissonier had always used a lot of French cherry wood, and continues to do so. Cherry is one of the most attractive fruit woods, with a naturally pinkish tinge that is best simply was-polished. It is smooth to the touch, very fine grained and easy to work. It is such a beautiful wood that it is a pity to paint it! However a touch of added colour can give the wood a freshness that enhances its otherwise rather old-fashioned look while still displaying the beauty of cherry wood. “ Moissonnier escritoire © Moissonnier

Moissonnier Greek bookcase © Moissonnier

cherry wood

Cherry wood does not absorb damp-proof treatments, and so is for indoor use only. It is a prestigious and traditional wood. Because it is easy to work (moulding, turning, veneering) it has a wide range of uses, particularly in cabinetmaking and joinery. It is particularly attractive with a simple wax finish, but can also be painted or lasured.

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Groupe Rinck


Stéphane Plassier


Bruno Houssin


Saleem Bhatri


François Azambourg




Loïc Kerisel


Philippe Million


Marc Aurel


Emmanuel Hellot


Nicolas Autric


Jérome Gauthier




Jean-Charles Vautrin


Christophe Tollemer


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