Aesthetics of wooden furniture

Interview with furniture maker Kostis Alexiou

April 1st 2019

Short Bio: Kostis Alexiou is a furniture maker and runs his family carpentry ‘Alexiou Wood ‘n’ Technique – 1965’ in Trikala. He studied Civil Engineering in Athens and worked for 2 years as engineer. After that, he decided to go back to his home town and start learning the craft of woodworking. He worked in Copenhagen for 2 years as a carpenter in building music studios. He, also, has a Master’s Degree in Advanced Design, Technology & Management of Wooden Products.

Since you grew up in your dad’s wood shop, in the back of your mind were you considering a career in furniture design?

As child I didn’t visit that often to my dad’s carpentry. I wanted to study and get a degree rather than become a craftsman. I wanted to be a civil engineer. This was cultivated partially by my father, who would prefer me becoming a ‘scientist’ than stay in the family business. So, I studied civil engineering in Athens. When I finished my studies, I worked for a technical company in Athens and after some years I realized that this city and this job was not what I wanted. So, in the age of 25 I decided to come back in Trikala and start learning the craft of woodworking.

Wood has a tactile quality, it creates a desire to touch – touching with the hands or eyes. What do you think about its main aesthetic characteristics?

This is a very complicated question. Due to the economic crisis people can’t afford to buy good quality furniture. That’s the most common problem in every carpentry that deals with custom furniture. When I am saying good quality furniture, I mean furniture made of solid wood. It’s a bit rare now for someone to order bespoke furniture made of solid chestnut, oak, mahogany, ash or walnut, because of the cost. But solid wood is exceedingly strong, heavy and durable, with a prominent grain and resistant to fungal attack thanks to its dense constitution and long live nature. The properties of each wood such as the grain, the color, the quality, the durability combined with good design and the right techniques are making a good furniture desirable.

Is wood still the symbolic material of sustainability?  Do you work in a sustainable way?

Wood is the one of the few natural, renewable construction materials. We could say that it’s a versatile raw material. In wooden structures (from wooden houses to furniture) we can find a combination of different components that deliver the best possible load-bearing capacity, thermal, acoustic and moisture insulation, fire resistance and a long service life. Wood let us reduce, reuse and recycle. We use certified timber from forests of sustainable development in every construction. Every piece of wood, that we have in our carpentry is certified. In addition, the varnishes we use are water based, because we want to keep the environment free from chemical substances.

What influenced your design aesthetics? What would you say are your main influences when conceiving a piece of work?

I worked as a carpenter in Copenhagen for two years. So, Scandinavian Design (mostly the Danish Design) and the Japanese Woodworking are my influences. Pure solid wood with small details, simplicity combined with functionality makes what I consider good furniture design. Old-school woodworking combined with modern ideas. The most important thing in solid wooden furniture is the joinery. The Japanese carpenters are top in this field. We use traditional joinery techniques without using screws and nails. Woodworking has a lot of ways to join a piece of furniture together, you just have to think the right way. Almost like a puzzle you need to solve.

Which are the 3 most suitable adjectives to describe your works?

That’s a difficult question. I could say functional, detail oriented and durable.

What would you say are your values and ethics when it comes to designing?

Speak with your client in order to understand what he/she wants. Don’t push your ideas onto them but rather advise them.

What have you designed and created for your own needs? What did you like most about it?

First of all, I have to mention that during the last couple of months I designed and created all the furniture for my new apartment, which was a one of a kind experience. That’s because it’s only 25 square meters big, so every piece of furniture needed to be functional and multipurposed. The one that stands out is a combination of a bookcase and a vinyl/record player storage unit, where you can display your books, your 12’s and 7’s and your cassette collection and also your record player. I love it because it is functional and minimal. I made it with oak veneer and water-based varnishes (Benjamin Moore).

Do you have any tips for people when they’re buying furniture?

Always ask about the quality of the materials that are used and prefer the ‘small’ furniture makers- they give more attention to your furniture.