Jesús Llinares, CEO of Andreu World, joins us to discuss the Forest Club Collection, a collection of modular seats built from plywood designed for the brand by Philippe Starck. The collection’s unique joint style – clavet – mimics that of cabinetmaking, allowing the disassembling of the entire piece at the end of its useful life, facilitating its reuse and recycling. The design received a special Sustainability award at NeoCon Chicago for its innovative and environmentally friendly design.
Raymond Schneider: When did you first start to develop this new collection?
Jesús Llinares: This project is the story of two visionaries coming together! We at Andreu World have been working with wood for 65 years; it is our passion and the most sustainable and noble of all the natural materials. We have been developing ways of sustainable manufacturing to have an understanding and technological knowledge of the development of wood furniture that is both deep and far reaching. Philippe Starck, the world-famous industrial designer, was in the position where he wanted to create a new collection made from wood – plywood, to be specific, as this has the most minimal environmental impact. This was a new material for Philippe, and we were lucky enough to be approached by him. He explained his idea to us and inspected our installations, we chatted and learned about each other and mutually decided we wanted to launch this collection together. And that is how Forest Club was born.
Raymond: What was the overall timeline from conception to achieving the final design?
Jesús: Bearing in mind this was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the timeline is a little unusual. I would say that from the first meetings in the preliminary stage to the launch of the final product, we are talking about two years. This is a pretty standard amount of time for a project of this length, and I was happy with the progress in all aspects of the project. We certainly worked hard, and Philippe was incredibly accommodating and flexible in terms of getting together with us as much as possible, either interactively or, regulations permitting, he visited the factory.
Raymond: What was your initial inspiration, and where did the idea(s) come from?
Jesús: This is a tricky question! For us the idea of working with a designer like Philippe Starck was something we had always aspired to do. From Philippe’s point of view, I would say that for him the most important factor was being able to work with plywood. He is passionate about the material as it is more environmentally friendly than solid wood and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint on our planet. We both were fully aligned on the principle of getting the maximum from the minimum, developing a comfortable lounge chair that wasn’t wasteful or irresponsible in terms of the materials used. The key to the success of these types of projects is a shared vision between the designer and the manufacturer, and that was certainly the case with Forest Club. In fact, Stark himself has commented that for these types of ventures to work the relationship must be like a marriage, with both parties equally committed. It is a very good analogy and has certainly contributed to the success of the Forest Club collection.
Raymond: Please describe your overall creative and design process.
Jesús: Like most projects, there is a specific order that we follow, from brainstorming to sketches, to development of a prototype, more investigation, changes, improvements, testing and the final, final product. At the beginning of the process, the end result seems a very long way off. However, I will have to comment that one of the unusual things about this project is that if you were to see the original sketches and the final product, the similarities were striking. Therefore, being able to stay so close to the original idea of the designer was fantastic; we worked very closely to bring the ideas to life. At the beginning Philippe shared the rendering pictures that he had drawn up by hand and he explained the main features of the development of his ideas. He was very clear on the materials that he wanted to use, the development was easier because he was so clear, for example the curvature of the backrest or the shape of the armrest. However, during the design process certain changes had to be made for ergonomic reasons. This is always the case, and the key is flexibility.
Raymond: Did you have a specific audience or theme that you had in mind?
Jesús: The collection is a multipurpose seating range therefore we certainly didn’t pigeonhole a certain profile of person or industrial sector. The great thing about the collection is that it works in a multitude of spaces, from lobbies and waiting areas to corporate spaces and offices. The comfort and depth of the sofa, along with the striking aesthetic means it is as at home in private residences as well as public spaces. It really is a unique piece.
Raymond: Please describe the methods, tools, and materials you used to develop and prototype this design?
Jesús: The idea of using plywood was something that, although we have used it before, presented the need for certain methods to be employed. The plywood is made up of layers of veneers glued together and pressed. In this case we used between eight and ten veneers of 8mm thickness, and the glue reacted to the heat of the press, and the boards were made. We then had to make the molds to bend the boards. To dramatically change the shape of the boards the process needs to be done in phases, so it is a delicate and time-consuming process. But the beauty of it is the freedom. It is such a wonderful material that the only limit is your imagination.
Raymond: Did you utilize a new technique or technology to conceptualize this product?
Jesús: I can’t talk about The Forest Club collection without talking about “the clavet.” It is a French word, roughly translated as a key. It is a medieval method for making joints which avoids the need for glues or nails, which are less environmentally friendly. It is a unique method which we have brought back to life!
Raymond: Please describe any challenges that affected the design and perhaps steered you to an entirely new final design?
Jesús: As I mentioned earlier, staying as close to the original design is always our objective, and on this project, we achieved this to a very high extent. But the methods we employ are not infallible. In producing a chair of plywood, we were not in a position to make the prototypes from plywood due to the expense, so it is really only when we introduce the product to the public and it is sat on and enjoyed again and again that we get the crucial feedback that we need and, most importantly, respond to. This was the case with Forest Club, certain changes to make the chair ergonomically perfect were made quite late in the day. This is what, in my opinion, sets us apart from the competition and makes us stand out; we absolutely refuse to stop until the product is perfect, and if molds need to be adjusted or even scrapped and remade, well, so be it. We are in pursuit of perfection.
Raymond: Describe your overall brand DNA and Ethos
Jesús: Well, our ethos is contemporary design made within a sustainable manufacturing culture. We are constantly pushing for an intelligent use of resources. Precision and quality are one and the same, and accordingly we refine to the maximum all and every one of the processes, from the origin of the materials to the production system and manufacturing of each piece. We minimize errors through systematic quality control and offer a 10-year warranty for all our products against defects in workmanship and materials.
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