David Trubridge

Aleni - Thermally-modified American ash

David Trubridge Ltd was formed in 1995 when David started to expand his operation from his small designer/maker business. It is comprised of two distinct yet congruous areas: production which manufactures the stock lights & furniture and the design studio.
The company is driven by a strong environmentally conscious philosophy which informs all aspects of design and production. Such motivations come before profit.  During an interview with the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Trubridge answered the fundamental question of why he designs:

“To provide cultural nourishment, to tell stories, to reach people emotionally and spiritually; the objects are a vehicle for the nourishment we so badly lack in all the pragmatic and consumer stuff we are surrounded with. And the other reason I design is to recreate that vital connection to nature that we have lost so much, living in insulated cities.”

Trubridge has had a long-standing passion for the environment, deepened by his time at sea. In 2004 he was selected for the Antarctica Arts Fellowship program, which allowed him to spend several weeks in this remote and ecologically delicate location. It was an experience that inspired Trubridge to heighten his pursuit of environmental sensitivity, both as an individual, and as the driving force behind a company that continues to expand.

This ethos is demonstrated in the company's dedication to sourcing sustainable materials. Wherever possible, all timber is from sustainably managed plantations in New Zealand, or the United States. Wood is left natural where appropriate, with natural non-toxic oils being used in place of harmful solvents. From a design point of view, the products use only the minimal amount of materials and are generated with a focus on longevity, rather than mimicking quick-moving trends. Shipping and freight is often reduced by the introduction of the Seed System. These come flat packed and ready for the customer to assemble. Larger, more complex kitsets are also shipped as flat packs, with distributors constructing them in preparation for the market.

Environmental responsibility also extends to the day-to-day operations within the Trubridge headquarters. This includes recycling all factory and studio waste, using 100% hydro electricity, and taking full responsibility for the entire process from design conception to shipping and freighting of the final product.

David Trubridge graduated from Newcastle University in England in 1972 with a degree in Naval Architecture (Boat Design). Working as a forester part-time in rural Northumberland for a short period, he taught himself to make furniture. His carefully crafted designs were shown all over the UK.

In 1981, Trubridge and his wife Linda set off to sail around the world with their two small sons. They sold all they had and bought ‘Hornpipe’, the yacht that was their home for the next ten years as they navigated their way throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific.

The family arrived in New Zealand in 1985. Deeply inspired by his impressions of the Pacific, Trubridge began to develop furniture which held close connotations with the sea.  Fortunes changed dramatically for Trubridge with his re-launch of Body Raft which was taken to the Milan Furniture Fair in 2001 and brought into production by Cappellini. This signaled the transformation of the business from a small-scale model to one that has a considerable presence on the international lighting and furniture market.



Materials I work with most…

Wood has always been my material, the only one that I really know and love.  I taught myself the craft of wood working when I began my career, and it has served me ever since.  It is an extension of my love of nature.  There was an early seminal moment when I dragged a long-fallen log out of the woods with an old forester.  As we ran it through a sawmill, still all covered in forest floor fungus and growth, it peeled in half revealing the beautiful grain inside. That was the moment I saw the connection between wild nature, where I love to hike in ancient forests, and my craft.  No other material has this innately natural and living feel. Metal is hard and recalcitrant; clay is cold, wet and floppy; textiles have no structure, and so on.

What I like about wood…

The beauty of wood comes at a price.  Unlike those other materials, it is not man-made and homogenous.  When it dries it shrinks differently in different directions, and after drying it continues to move and breathe.  So you have to learn to work with it -- you can't fight it.  Over the centuries, craftsmen have developed ways of accommodating its peculiarities and these cannot be lightly ignored, even today with all our sophisticated technologies .  My ideas and designs evolve out of my relationship with wood, rather than being imposed onto it.

My favorite pieces have been the series of 'Rafts' I made about 15 years ago. And probably the best one of these is the Body Raft, now manufactured by Cappellini.  I built them with steam-bent American white ash and hoop pine plywood from Australia. At the same time I also did a really exciting sculptural project for a client in Regensburg Germany, which took the structure of the rafts into a whole new scale.

Since I started working with wood, the world has changed and now we know that our demands on the planet are too great. We have to drastically cut our pollution and carbon emissions. Wood has hence become the perfect material: trees take carbon out of the air while growing, and lock it up in the wood; and at the end of life the wood decays back into nature without any pollution, except for the glues.  So wood is doubly beautiful.

What was the idea / inspiration behind your design for Seed to Seat? What was you approach to the brief?

Today new technologies are opening up new ways of working with wood, and I find this really exciting.  One of these is thermally-modifying (TM) the wood so that any species can become durable outdoors.  We were always being asked if our furniture could be used outdoors and we always had to say no.  So when I heard that AHEC was making TM American ash available I was very keen to use it for the Seed to Seat project.  In addition to its new durability, the TM ash is also turned a gorgeous deep red-brown.

We have worked with TM timber before and know that it is less flexible and more brittle than normal timber.  This had to influence how I designed with it.  I had to forgo my characteristic curves and design with straight lines -- well mostly!  I did manage to incorporate the cross-sectional curve of the seat, which I think is a powerful element of the design when contrasted with the other angular forms.  I think that the result is a very strong design that reflects well the material it is made from.  I thoroughly enjoyed making it.


pictures by David Trubridge

The ash used to make the Aleni recliner takes 1.06 seconds to grow in the US hardwood forest