Product designer Hilla Shamia specialises in taking materials to their limits and with her Wood Casting™ furniture pieces she has perfected the art of highlighting the imperfect. Using technology that has never been done before, she casts aluminium into wood to create stunningly dramatic but highly functional items such as tables, chairs and benches. The process of pouring hot metal into trunks of trees causes the wood to burn and highlights any defects already in the wood – ‘its cracks, wounds, scars’. The aluminium then ‘freezes’ into shape and, you could say, a totally new material is born.
Please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about your background and how you’ve ended up where you are today.
I’m a designer based in Tel Aviv, Israel. I grew up in a home where love for design and aesthetics was very present as my father is an architect and my mother is a ceramic artist. I was mostly mesmerised by specific objects and so I decided to study industrial design. The Wood Casting™ was actually my final project for my B.A. in Industrial Design at HIT (Holon Institute of Technology). During these studies, I realised that my true love was the preoccupation with materials and the attempt to take them to their limits. The project was first introduced in Milan in 2011 and ever since has gained international success, which was pretty overwhelming at first.
Combining wood and aluminum into furniture design is such a unique mix. Tell us how you came to work with these two materials and how you use them to push the boundaries of design.
I was always very intrigued with connections made between two materials, without any mediating factor, and the way different materials affect one another through various manipulations. In one of my experiments I used heath, which in the case of the Wood Casting™ was a one-sided correspondence and came only from the aluminum. I choose to work with these two materials because they hold a contrast: the aluminum is very cold and industrial, as opposed to the organic, warm natural wood. I like combining contrasting natural materials. The warm wood is perfect for offering the meeting point with the body, and the durable aluminum offers the construction. I also chose the aluminum because of its weight, both from technical and aesthetic reasons, as the tree trunks are very heavy. As I mentioned, interesting design, for me, uses the materials’ natural characters and inherent qualities, and tries to take them to their limits. This was my motivation with the Wood Casting™.
Tell us about your creative process – how do you like to work, who or what inspires you?
During the conceptualising stages, I usually work alone, in my studio. Later on I take this out into the real world, and encounter it’s limitation and challenges, which of course greatly influence the design process. As I like to work with natural materials, I mostly find inspiration in nature, and especially in the natural transformations that a material may go through, the changes that may damage and annihilate it, like rust, for example. Specifically, the Wood Casting™ project was influenced by the Buddhist Wabi Sabi philosophy, which finds beauty in the imperfect. In the Wood Casting™ pieces this can be seen in the coal, the burnt wood, where a negative element becomes productive. In my designs, I try to use the ‘damaged’, so to speak, as an integral part of the object’s essence.
What is or has been the hardest or most challenging part of what you do and setting up and growing your business?
I think that the development stages of the Wood Casting™ process were one of my biggest challenges. It required a lot of trials, which were of course accompanied by a lot of errors. Since this kind of technology that combines these two materials was never present before, I had to teach myself from scratch. I couldn’t consult any specialists and get straightforward answers. It took me a long time to find a specialist that would agree to come out of their safe zone and experiment. It is still a challenging process, as it is very unexpected.
What would be your dream project? Or have you already done it?
Wow… tough questions. I am not sure. But I am certain that this dream project will affect me strongly, and hopefully will also affect others in the same manner. Perhaps it will be some kind of an interesting collaboration. The most important thing in this kind of project for me would be to learn new things.
I’m currently working on …
Currently I am working on different variations for the Wood Casting™ pieces, such as working with brass, or adjusting the technology to produce larger and round dining tables. Lately, I am drawn to making smaller objects. Recently I released a series of minimal wall pendulum clocks, made of natural wood, of course, and am currently working on small jewellery wooden boxes with casted covers. For a long time I’ve been planning to work with glass, so this will be my next big project.
It’s not very cool, but I really like …
Hmmm … It’s not very cool, but I really like to mess up things.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment?
I usually have this feeling towards other people’s designs. I often see special objects and get the goose bumps, and I guess it’s that feeling of ‘who’d have thought’…
Thanks so much Hilla!