Steven, what is your history with wood?
Wood has always been a part of my story. My father was directing the Museum of Agricultural Machinery in Breteuil, Brittany, and one of the oldest mills in France was part of that museum. I was cutting and working wood at a very young age; as a result, I have a deep respect for that material. I feel a visceral fascination for wood in my gut, even in my genes, I would say. As a matter of fact, my grandfather, who was a carpenter, trained my father in metal and woodworking. My great-grandfather was a clog maker. Overall, a lot of people in my family are in the woodworking business.
How did you become a cabinetmaker?
At first, I trained to restore furniture. Growing up I was surrounded by a lot of ancient objects. It developed my sensitivity for that line of work. Afterward, I studied almost every discipline related to woodworking: carpentry, wood arrangement, cabinetmaking… When I was about 16, one of my teachers instilled in me a taste for drawing and design, inspiring a desire to develop my creativity. So, I registered to École Boulle, a renowned school for applied Arts, where I studied for 2 years.
When I graduated, I partnered with Erick Demeyer – who attended university with me – and we created our workshop, ARCA Ébénisterie.
What did you accomplish together?
Erick had begun developing the AirWood technology – inflatable wooden marquetry – for his diploma. Together, we made it viable. This new technology gave us a lot of visibility, and it earned us several wins in various national and private contests. After 5 years of collaboration, I bought out Erick’s share, and I now manage ARCA Ébénisterie alone, in between teaching at the École Boulle.
Why did you choose to be a teacher?
The legacy of wooden furniture is important to me. they are long lasting and hopefully, they will subsist long after us. All the same, even more precious to me is transmitting my knowledge. The experiences I’ve amassed throughout the years must be shared, so that my students may continue to evolve the craft and perpetuate this skillset! Every student that interns with us learns all the techniques that we developed: we teach them the whole process. If they desire to use these technologies for themselves, I am open to their doing so, as long as they produce something different.
“I am fascinated by the idea of pushing wood to its limits.”
Innovation is at the heart of your practice. Can you tell us about the materials you have invented?
We’ve developed a technique that allows the integration of metal or plastic into the wood, making the material far more resistant. We then made it bendable. We’ve also developed ThermoFormable wood, a new type of material malleable to heat. Expensive molds are then no longer necessary. Finally, we mastered the AirWood technology and developed the WooWood, a technique that gives the impression that wood is fabric.
What motivates you to keep on innovating?
I am fascinated by the idea of pushing wood to its limits. I enjoy experimenting with new materials. Wood is a living material that allows that kind of experiments. At the studio, we bond wood to different components in order to mimic those components’ properties. ThermoFormable wood is glued on plastic, the AirWood and WooWood are glued on rubber. The most important part of the research lies in finding the right chemistry, the perfect alchemy between the wood, the glues and the added material. The hardest part is finding the appropriate functions of these combinations so that we can create a truly innovative object.
I spend a lot of time in material libraries to ensure that we avoid producing pre-existing technology, and out of respect for my fellow woodworkers.
You have won the prestigious Prix Bettencourt 2017 thanks to the WooWood tech. What was the impact for you?
It allowed us to buy our current workshop. We put on a beautiful exhibition in Venice, Italy. We enjoyed a lot of press afterward. New prestigious collaborations are in the making as well… I would say that it sealed our reputation.
What are your plans for 2019?
Lots of projects to come! Amongst others, we work on inflatable wood panels for the CNRS (National Scientific Research Center). With the Mines TechParis (national scientific university), we work on bonding wood with new materials. We are also getting ready for the Revelations 2019 craftsmanship fair. We are thinking of building a massive piece for it – a giant copal that is both a lamp and a desk, a hybrid piece between object and sculpture…