French designer Noe Duchaufour-Lawrance’s furniture line uses discarded burnt cork that features interesting textures and flowing lines. Duchaufour-Lawrance’s Portugal studio Made in Situ created this collection of chairs and tables by carving blocks of cork. This is a product similar to what can be used as building insulation, but here it creates a fascinating interplay of surfaces and textures. It showcases the idea that sustainable materials can be used just about anywhere.
This uniquely carved form creates furniture that is formed in one piece, whether a table, an ottoman or a chair. The designer created his own process to incorporate the rough texture of burnt cork, an industrial waste product. Duchaufour-Lawrance moved to Portugal in 2017 and drove three days from France to get there, encountering forest fires in the hills of Pedrogao Grande along the way.
“It was a shock to drive into these hills ablaze, the inferno consuming the landscape and leaving behind a world of visible entropy,” said Duchaufour-Lawrance in a blog post about the experience. “The power of fire struck me, one of the five elements vital to existence on earth, a keystone to the development of culture… Fire is somehow always beautiful. Part of me didn’t want to think about this, but I took photos and this experience stayed with me. It made me question my interaction with nature as a designer and as a consumer. I felt it would resurface in the work I was to do here in Portugal.”
In 2018, during a visit to family-owned cork production facility NF Cork in Faro, he learned about turning cork bark into blocks. He also discovered the waste product burnt cork, and the pieces of the puzzle connected on how to turn this waste product into a sustainable furniture line. Cork is sourced from the cork oak tree, and is one of Portugal’s biggest exports. During forest fires, the top layer of bark chars and protects the tree underneath. Cork farmers peel this layer off to promote new growth in their trees.
The traditional process of creating cork blocks requires mixing and gluing cork granules in a mold, then cooking the block for 16 hours and drying it for six weeks. Duchaufour-Lawrance used different sizes of granules to create a range of textures in his furniture line, from fine grain to a bark-like texture.
In the line’s Burnt Cork pieces, rougher gradient is used in the furniture bases that use vertically oriented shapes to highlight the texture. These supports sit below curved seats, back rests and table tops that conform to body shapes or intended use. The final product is touchable, interesting and draws the eye to various points to explore the shape of the furniture as an art piece.
“I wanted the user to have a direct connection with the cork as it is on the tree,” said Duchaufour-Lawrance. “And thus the gradient from rawness to refinement. Connecting directly with the history and process of the material itself.”
The furniture was carved by Portuguese company Granorte using a CNC machine with seven axes that can sculpt forms. The resulting products are buoyant, fire-resistant and a symbol of the resilience of cork and a sustainable ecosystem.
Images via Noe Duchaufour-Lawrance