The Gathering Hand: Interview with Studio Corkinho Sept 12, 2022
Antwerp-based Studio Corkinho are known for their sublime work with cork. Through a combination of modern innovations and traditional Portuguese techniques, the studio elevates the humble natural material into a thing of real beauty and functionality. Studio Corkinho are deeply passionate about their namesake material and strive to express it honestly in all design forms. These values—and their exceptional expertise—are what drew GRAS to collaborate with Studio Corkinho on their first product collection, titled The Gathering Hand. The furniture and objects presented in The Gathering Hand each celebrate their given material and the artisanal skill behind them. In the following interview with Studio Corkinho’s designer Charlotte Anne Declercq, we hear about the making of the cork surfaces of The Carpenter’s Tables.
Q: How did this collaboration come about and what attracted you to it?
Charlotte Anne Declercq: We could see from the beginning that Alistair, GRAS’s product designer, appreciated what our studio was trying to do, and that this project would allow us to further explore our own material. We essentially shared the same goals to investigate material and make something beautiful. GRAS also understood the fact that history is embedded in the work and materials already contained in a building (embedded energy). Our studio is constantly researching contemplative atmospheres to guarantee personal wellbeing, sustainable living, and inner stillness in people’s lives. The theory of embedded energy is an extension of our own principles, and we could see GRAS shared these views.
Q: Describe the creative process behind the tables.
A: The idea was to go all the way back to the source with these cork tabletops; to nature itself. Most of us are living in concrete cities, and our need for natural environments grows by the day. We wanted people to experience a material that not only reminds them of nature, but really is nature. Design-wise, we always need to educate our collaborators about our material (raw burnt cork). It’s amazing but it does have limitations, like density or maximum measurements, for example. The goal is for our collaborators to see these limitations as a design-challenge, this way you can honour the material in its purest form. Working with the material instead of against it—this idea is at the core of our studio. We felt GRAS really took these challenges on, and could completely honour the material in this project.
This was a collaboration with great mutual trust in each other’s expertise. We never had the feeling we had to find or give up control, neither did we feel our freedom was bound. GRAS was open to all input from our side, and we towards theirs.The process was really intuitive and things just clicked. Alistair and I were always willing to find solutions, bounce back and forth and guide each other. It was a very organic, collaborative process and there was also a good amount of time to do things properly, which is a luxury in our industry! We explored a lot of cork finishing options and in the end, decided to use fire because it gave us exactly what we were searching for in terms of aesthetics, functionality, and tactility. We experimented with a combination of natural varnishes and fire, and with how fire reacts to the cork after its been exposed to a natural varnish. The results were different compared to using fire on raw, unvarnished cork. The outcome was a suede-like, tangible texture that gave us the sensual awareness we were all looking for.
Q: Were there any challenges or discoveries along the way?
A: If you are making tables, you must take into account that they are going to be used. A lot of things happen on tabletops! People spill drinks, crumbs fall, the surface needs to be cleaned regularly, etc. The first few finishes that were in consideration didn’t meet these demands. We did a lot of tests to make sure the final finish would withstand daily use to ensure we could deliver the best possible product and experience to the end user.
Q: How would you describe the final pieces—their sensorial, functional and conceptual values?
A: The tabletops have a tender and understated tactility, yet they are created by an immense and brutal power; a delightful contradictio in terminis. The final form of circular disks with a soft edge has a strong archetypal character reminding us of ancient Minoan civilisations. As a material, cork is the extraordinary result of air, water and minerals. With a finishing technique like fire, we are using a classical element to enhance an ancient material. Thus, unconsciously, this combination of form, material and finish reminds us of our own past and ancestors.
Studio Corkinho’s work on The Carpenter’s Tables was showcased for the first time at Blue Mountain School during London Design Week 2022. The tables represent one of three product typologies within GRAS’s exhibition and forthcoming collection, The Gathering Hand. Process photography by Eline Willaert.
Studio Corkinho is a multidisciplinary design practice aiming to elevate stillness in contemplative atmospheres, based in Antwerp, Belgium. The studio designs limited editions within the fields of objects and furniture, as well as interiors and micro-architecture. Their architectural surfaces are created from burnt cork bark for calming, sensorial atmospheres strongly connected to Mother Earth and nourished by the benefits of cork’s versatility, tactility and performance.