Burn, baby, burn: the dark side of the room

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that’s treated to make it as durable as a hard­wood; with the char­ring it be­comes ex­tra-en­dur­ing and main­te­nance-free.

The burnt sur­face has a fragility to its ap­pear­ance, but the re­al­ity is that it’s the op­po­site, which is per­haps why ar­chi­tects like it. “There’s a whole range of dif­fer­ent fin­ishes you can get just by treat­ing and burn­ing,” says Stan­ley. “We went for a fully burnt one – it’s very dark, look­ing like cracked earth.”

He has also cre­ated max­i­mum con­trast be­tween in­side and out, with an in­te­rior of pale end­grain-ply­wood that brings out the black­ness of the ex­te­rior. The crisp, sharp an­gles of the ex­ten­sion are also in con­trast to the rus­tic build­ings with which the old Ja­panese tech­nique is more com­monly as­so­ci­ated: this is shou sugi ban rein­vented for an ur­ban set­ting.

Tim­ber floor­ing com­pany Ted Todd has also used burnt tim­ber to more re­fined ends. It re­cently in­tro­duced a range of charred-elm floor­ing called “Car­bonised”: the checker­board and par­quet-de-Ver­sailles pat­terns bring a bril­liant sense of move­ment to the floor, be­cause the light re­flects across the sur­face dif­fer­ently ac­cord­ing to which way the grain is laid.

“We use an­tique elm. The tex­ture of it is al­ready in­ter­est­ing be­cause of all that nat­u­ral weath­er­ing,” says Robert Walsh, Ted Todd’s manag­ing di­rec­tor. The process is labour-in­ten­sive, with the old boards be­ing care­fully re­paired, dried, sanded and pol­ished, be­fore the char­ring hap­pens. It’s then pol­ished again and sealed with hard­wax oil. “We’re not aim­ing for a rough and ready re­claimed floor; it’s much more el­e­gant look­ing,” says Walsh. The depth of the black colour is one of the best qual­i­ties of charred tim­ber, he adds. “A stain or dye doesn’t even go a mil­lime­tre deep, it’s su­per­fi­cial. Heat-treat­ing is a phys­i­cal change, not just adding a colour on top.”

Walsh thinks that the de­mand for charred sur­faces is part of a wider trend for any­thing nat­u­ral – and there­fore “authen­tic” – but not done in a crude, un­fin­ished way. “It’s real, but re­fined. Peo­ple want to in­tro­duce ma­te­ri­als that have soul.”

De­sign­ers are also ex­plor­ing charred tim­ber as a ma­te­rial for fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories. Jim Par­tridge and Liz Walm­s­ley’s pieces def­i­nitely pos­sess that “soul” that Walsh men­tions. Their sculpted oak seat­ing and bowls have a mono­lithic look, with the fis­sures of the dried oak cre­at­ing pat­terns that ra­di­ate and rip­ple across the sur­face.

Fur­ni­ture-maker Gareth Neal worked with the same ma­te­rial for his Hack Chair, com­mis­sioned by the Sarah My­er­scough Gallery for this year’s Mas­ter­piece art fair. Carved in a sin­gle piece by a CNC ma­chine, the seat is a solid block, topped by a sin­u­ous Ge­or­gian-style back, all with a deeply charred fin­ish.

Fur­ni­ture and ac­ces­sories com­pany Tim­o­thy Oul­ton, which has just opened a flag­ship store at Chelsea’s Blue­bird

Left, De­salto Clay ta­ble, £5,845, Heal’s; Car­bonised Jet floor­ing, POA, Ted Todd, be­low; main, ar­chi­tects David Stan­ley and Romy Gra­bosch, who used charred Ke­bony cladding for their ex­ten­sion

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