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