Jacinda Rogers (JR): How did the inspiration behind Milford Desk come about?
Melany Jayne Davies (MJD): the design idea it had been on Andrew’s mind for a long time. He was interested in the book written by Paul Jackson called Folding techniques for designers.
Equally, you have always been intrigued by the changing shapes, forms and patterns of light thatmountains create when you see them from a distance.
We had been playing with theseconcepts of a folded metal leg in the design studio: creation of several simulated leg prototypes with the intention of creating a new piece of the Tréology collection.
A client approached us to create a suitable desk for his new studio in Wānaka. For the client, wood was a critical element of the design and, knowing the location of the house (nestled in native bush with views of Monte Alta), we wanted to design something that was in harmony with the mountainside setting. The Milford Desk was the chosen design solution.
(JR): And I take it that Milford Sound was another influence on the design?
(MJD): The Milford Sound is such a special and unique place in New Zealand. It is difficult to put into words how to describe the area: the colors, the stillness, the flora and fauna are impressive.
The leg design is our abstract interpretation of the way light casts shadows on the ridges and valleys of mighty Miter Peak as it plunges into Milford Sounds.
(JR): What is your typical approach to designing a piece of furniture?
(MJD): When we are designing a new Tréology piece, the ideas always come after we havehe spent time out of the office getting out into the natural environment. We seek to infer land design references and, in many cases, source the material locally as well.
We take photos, then put pen to paper, create a quick sketch or words to describe the idea, create concept drawings that can then go to the prototyping stage (if needed) and then we work out the final design solution.
For this specific design, we started by creating quick paper models and then developed some initial CAD drawings before moving on to creating a cardboard scale model.
The design challenge was trying to get the inverted folds right, which is why we contacted Dr. Emerson, a professor at the University of Canterbury who teaches Engineering Design and Analysis. Using the mathematical formula he provided, we created a 1:10 scale prototype mockup of the desk legs from an acrylic sheet.
(JR): Tell me more about the design challenge you had to overcome for the leg design.
(MJD): Sometimes the designs that seem the simplest can be the most difficult to make. The desk legs required a mathematical formula to create the folded pattern that is unique to the desk design (and now includes a dining table, sideboard, and nightstand).
The legs of the desk needed to finish as a rectangular profile flush with the floor. The design challenge was understanding what dimensional shape we needed to start with before bending the steel plate.
It was amazing to be able to work with Dr. Emerson as an expert in his field from the School of Product Design and share in finding the solution to a design challenge like this.
The easiest thing would have been to create just one fold, however we wanted multiple folds to cast the shadows of the design narrative. By increasing the number of folds, the complexity of the design increased.
(JR): You describe your furniture as “functional art”, what is your main source of creative inspiration and how does it manifest in your designs?
(MJD): In our opinion, good furniture design should be functional and an art form.
Our goal is for people to be able to engage emotionally with a Tréology piece and for it to spark their imagination. Each piece should stand on its own in a room and be beautiful to look at as a 3D sculptural art form.
As lovers of the outdoors, our main source of creative inspiration is the natural environment of New Zealand. Our design challenge is to allow our clients to absorb what we have experienced and wonder what nature’s narrative was when they look at one of our designs.
(JR): Tell us about the materials chosen for this project. Why were they selected?
(MJD): The Milford desk is made from an ancient matai tree that fell naturally into a river and was preserved for hundreds of years under layers of sediment before natural water erosion exposed it. Some of the wood found where we got the matai has a carbon date of 1500 years.
We want our clients to know where the trees were recovered and connect them metaphorically through design references. When logs are excavated from the river, their GPS location is recorded and tagged on the specific log. This travels with the material through the manufacturing process and when complete, we insert a stainless steel tag with GPS coordinates into the finished piece of furniture. Entering these coordinates into Google Earth will take you to the exact location where the tree was recovered.
The matai wood top is finished with hand-rubbed natural vegetable oils to bring out the grain, and the Milford desk’s bent legs are made from aged and blackened steel. The steel was chosen for its color and patina, and the way it cast shadows.
The contrast of wood and steel worked well together for the built environment where the finished piece would sit.
The Origins of Tréology by Andrew Davies – Tréology on Vimeo.
(JR): Andrew’s ancestors have a long history of making furniture in New Zealand. Have these traditional carpentry skills influenced the way he makes furniture?
(MJD): Andrew’s great-great-grandfather, Robert Norrie, was a craftsman who created furniture for Sir George Grey. Andrew’s father was a master craftsman, owning a furniture manufacturing business for over 50 years. During school and university vacations, he worked in the family workshop, which greatly influenced his understanding of the furniture design and manufacturing processes.
These traditional woodworking skills have definitely influenced the way we continue to make furniture today. The attention to detail, excellence and working with exceptionally talented craftsmen has not changed over the generations. We include the details of traditional craftsmanship in our contemporary designs, like dovetail drawers, and the back of our cabinets is considered as carefully as the front.
Like Andrew’s ancestors, our pieces are meant to be heirlooms: well-designed, well-made, and built to stand the test of time and be passed down from generation to generation. Each piece is created to express the essence of the landscape in a way that is not attributed to a defined design trend. We are designing and manufacturing products that will be in use longer than we ourselves will be.
(JR): Considering the longevity of your pieces, how do you address sustainability and environmental concerns through your practice?
(MJD): Our furniture is designed and manufactured with the preservation, conservation and celebration of nature at the forefront of everything we do. We are committed to protecting our planet’s natural resources and working with artisans who support these values.
We love using salvaged wood as wood is a renewable resource. Likewise, when we consider other materials that we use such as steel, this material is also recyclable if it reaches the end of its useful life.
Having sustainable manufacturing practices is just as important as using sustainable materials. We use water-based adhesives and low VOC natural vegetable oils to finish our furniture, limiting its environmental impact.
However, we are on a journey and we still have work to do, but we are very conscious of sustainability in all of our daily practices. We look at what we do, what we use as a business, and how we dispose of things. We recently purchased our first electric car, which feels like a step in the right direction.
(JR): Lastly, how long did it take to develop Milford Desk from concept to completion?
In the case of this specific design, the creative idea began in 2017, but was first made for the client in 2021. The Milford Collection developed from there, with each piece featuring the same bent leg as a key element of the design. . They say good things take time!
See below a video detailing the unique product and design ethos of Tréology:
Tréology Design Inspiration by Andrew Davies – Tréology on Vimeo.
To view the Milford furniture range or to find out more about Tréology, visit www.treology.co.nz.
See more of the Behind the Object series here.