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How Cox set a new benchmark

Sebastian Cox joins forces with Benchmark to create a new collection

In 2011, Sebastian Cox won a Wood Award for a coppiced hazel chair. Benchmark’s Sean Sutcliffe, a judge, was so impressed he invited Cox to see if they could put the chair into production. ‘I realised that re-making the chair wasn’t ambitious enough,’ recalls Cox. ‘What I wanted to do was re-think everything. That chair was fine for my production, but I wanted to do something more ambitious for them.’

Three years later, their collaboration comes to fruition as Chestnut and Ash, a series including chair, table, bench, cabinet and sideboard. Cox wanted to work from first principles, and so introduced Sutcliffe to a consistent supply of the raw material – 900 acres of chestnut coppice in Kent.

Sebastian Cox for Benchmark - Shake Sideboard (front). PHOTO: NICK LAU

The maker then spent a week sharing green wood-working techniques with six Benchmark employees. The process was informative, and the Benchmark makers took to cleaving straight away. ‘They really enjoyed it. It became a competition really. These guys had been working with wood for years, but they’d never split a piece of fresh timber, they’d only ever worked with kiln-dried stuff,’ explains Cox. The final designs bring cleaving centre-stage, highlighting the contrast between the precision-made elements and the more exuberant split-wood surface of the front.

Cox’s Benchmark series reflects his aim to bring coppicing into modern making, but he has grander ambitions: ‘I want to return all of the underused woodlands to productive use… Coppiced material is abundant and uniform, and it replenishes itself. It’s ideal for high volume production. In my dream, I’d produce a chair that’s genuinely democratic. Unlike the trees only the wealthy would have been able to cut, the average bodger would have gone into the woods to cut down a few coppiced rods. It’s the wood of the people. To keep it to the luxury market is not what I want to achieve. I haven’t even scratched the surface yet.’ Watch this space.