David Colwell Furniture Design

"Sustainable design - is it possible and what would it look like?"

Sustainable DesignI started this series of chairs and tables over 30 years ago when it was obvious that we would need to take a radical look at the way we live, to take account of the finite nature of the planet. Initially I was more interested in a platform to explore a fresh visual language, creativity thrives on a crisis.

Now climate change is very much for real, and we have done depressingly little to alleviate the inevitable outcome, (we have actually become far more profligate and probably less satisfied) I still feel that an alternative future is possible and potentially much more fun.

On the principal that an interesting answer is most likely to come from an interesting question, I designed this furniture with sustainability high on the agenda. Really good design makes the challenges of tomorrow feasible and exciting.

There is a noble tradition which includes Windsor chairs, the Shakers, the Mini, where appearance is born of utter pragmatism, style comes as a by-product of its context, its use and its making. Now context must include the many facets of sustainability:

For an object to be truly sustainable it must be sound from the raw material, through production, to life long use. Perhaps the most important aspect of a sustainable object is peoples wish to sustain it. So, as well as looking great even as fashion changes it must also work exceptionally well for a long time. In a chair's case this means that comfort and user convenience have to be taken seriously.


Making a chair comfortable is central to all my designs. Comfort and good posture are much the same thing. Generous lumbar support and very little contact for the lower back prove remarkably effective and provide solutions for users with a range of seating requirements.
All my designs have flexible structures, essential as flexible chairs make for flexible people! Not only do they yield to your body, but also encourage your movement, which in turn reduces pressure points and again leads to greater comfort.

Being able to get your feet back under the seat makes getting in and out of a chair much easier, as well as making for a comfortable forward sitting posture. To this end they all avoid the need for a front rail.
Lightweight chairs make it much easier to move towards or away from a table as well as using less material.


StructureA chair has to support a dynamic load many times its own weight. These chairs are designed as fully triangulated structures where all the joints can be pivots; the strength is in the geometry, not in a massive structure. However to overcome the stiffness of triangulation, one or more sides of the triangles are curved and thus allow flexibility which in turn makes the structure stronger, lighter and more comfortable.


MaterialWhen looking for appropriate materials, wood stands head and shoulders above other structural materials. Merely growing it has environmental benefits. Of hardwoods, Ash stands out above all others. It is the toughest, and remarkably, is strongest when fast grown. It is self seeding. It has no sap wood so less wastage in conversion. It, together with Douglas Fir, absorbs more atmospheric carbons than any other tree. It grows particularly well in UK. It is excellent for steam bending. It is plentiful and not too expensive. The best fast grown material usually comes from young trees, this is particularly useful to timber growers as they are frequently forest thinnings, giving a return in a shorter time than the traditional main crop.

Production technique

ProductionSteam bending is one of those activities where fast work is better than slow, it is very efficient and enjoyable but not fool proof, making it a very good use of a craftsman's time. It also seasons the wood at the same time as it is bent, using a fraction of the energy required in conventional kiln drying.
Because the timber is worked "green" (unseasoned) it can be sourced directly from the forester who can select the right pieces, which frequently would have no other market.
These are studio pieces, a developing train of thought. They are made in a local workshop run by Simon Moorhouse. Simon originally learnt to craft the Trannon range in my employment, he now runs his own successful fine furniture business.

About David Colwell

David Colwell

David is one of the UK's most respected designers. Trained in Furniture Design at the Royal College of Art, his designs are timeless and his passion is to create furniture that addresses real issues for the future.

His furniture has won many awards and appears in permanent and private collections across Europe including London's V&A Museum and the Vitra Design Museum in Germany.


British, born in London 1944, lives in mid Wales.
Master of Design, Royal College of Art 1968


Silver Medal & 3D Design Award, Royal College of Art
Public Seating Award, Sit 94: National Museum of Wales (Museum of the Year 1995)
FX Green Seating Award: C3 Stacking Chair
4 Guild Mark, Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers:
C1 Upholstered Recliner and Footstool,
C3 Stacking Chair, Ash Round Tables,
T2 Extending Table.


Crafts Council Index, Southern Arts, AXIS, Commissions East, SW Arts, Public arts


Modelo Museum of Science and Industry, Toluca, Mexico: C3 Stacking Chair
Rhode Island School of Design Collection, USA: Contour Chair
Philadelphia Museum of Art, USA: Contour Chair
Vitra Design Museum, Germany: Contour Chair
Victoria and Albert Museum, London: C1 Recliner & Footstool, C3 Stacking Chair, Contour Chair
Victor Papanek's private collection, USA: C2 Director's Chair
Design Museum, London: Contour Chair
Crafts Council Collection, London: C3 Stacking Chairs
John Makepeace OBE private collection, UK: C1 Rattan Recliner & Footstool
Temple Newsam House, Leeds City Museum: C1 Rattan Recliner & Footstool
Design Centre Index, London: C1 Reclining Chair, C2 Director's Chair, C3 Stacking Chair
The Science Museum, London: C3 Stacking Chair


'Collect' Crafts Council Exhibition at the V&A Museum 2004
'Classics' Brussels 2003
'100% Design' 1995-2003
'To Have and To Hold' Ferrers Gallery 2003
'Art In Action' Oxford 1998, 99, 2003
'International Festival of Gardens' Westonbirt Arboretum 2003
'House & Garden' 1997, 98, 2002-03
'Take A Seat' Bluecoat Display Center 2003
'Table Wares' Beatrice Royal Gallery 2003
'Sustainable Designs' Johannesburg World Summit 2002
'Artisan' Edinburgh Festival 1997, 98, 2002
'Take a Seat' Grace Barrand Design Studio 2002
'In Praise or Trees' with English Nature, Salisbury Festival 2002
'Wood x 10' Scottish Gallery 2002
'Homelodge Show House', Ideal Home Exhibition 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003
'Ergonomic Chairs' Science Museum Touring Exhibition, London 1999, Manchester 2000, Portugal 2002
'Solo' Artifex Gallery 2002
'Rufford Gallery' Nottingham 2001-2
'Brewery Arts' Cirencester 2001-2
'Chelsea Crafts Fair' 1990-2001
'Designer's Block' London 2001
'MODE' 1999, 2000-01
'Green Design' Bledffa 2001
'Spectrum' 1994-96, 2001
'Wind & Wave' Beatrice Royal Gallery 2000
'Guild Mark Exhibition' Pallant House Gallery 2000
'Country Living Spring Fair' 1994-96, 98-99, 2000
'Guild Mark Exhibition' 1998
'A Celebration of Craftsmanship' Betty Norbury 1995, 96, 99
'International Contemporary Furniture Fair' New York 1995
'Decorative Arts Today' Bonhams 1992-96
'Greenwood' Contemporary Applied Arts 1995
'Conservation by Design' RISD Museum of Modern Art, USA 1994
'Christmas Show' Oriel Moystn 1992
'Living Room' Oxford Gallery 1992
'Having Made It' Oriel 1992
'IDI' 1992
'Exempla 92' Munich 1992
'Chair Gallery' Design Museum 1992
'Beyond The Dovetail' Crafts Council 1991-92
'In the First Place' Aberystwyth Arts Centre 1990
'Furniture Focus' Northern Centre for Contemporary Art 1988
'Recent Work' Leeds Craft Centre and Design Gallery 1983
'Recent Work' (Solo) Prescote Gallery 1983
'The Maker's Eye' Crafts Council 1982
'The Wood Exhibition' Northern Arts 1981
'Prescote in London' Warwick Arts Trust 1981
'Furniture Projects' Crafts Council 1980
'Crafts Council 80' 1980
'Furniture Makers' Prescote Gallery 1978-84
'Chairs' Victoria and Albert Museum 1971
'Whitechapel Chairs 70' 1970
'Perspex 67' Royal College of Art 1967

Michelle Obama uses one of Davids chairs during a visit to London