max lamb applies 9,000-year-old japanese lacquer technique to roughly hewn furniture

max lamb applies 9,000-year-old japanese lacquer technique to roughly hewn furniture

british designer max lamb unveils a new collection of furniture during london design festival 2019. exhibited at FUMI gallery in mayfair, the works on display are the culmination of a six-year love affair between lamb and the traditional japanese craft of urushi lacquer.

max lamb applies 9,000-year-old japanese lacquer technique to roughly hewn furniture

images courtesy of FUMI / max lamb



the urushi lacquer process involves taking the resinous sap from the lacquer tree ‘toxicodendron vernicifluum’ and using it to slowly coat wooden objects layer by layer. its a process that can take up to months to complete, with each layer of urushi drying in real-time.

max lamb applies 9,000-year-old japanese lacquer technique to roughly hewn furniture



on several occasions since 2010, lamb has journeyed to the northern tip of the noto peninsula. whilst there, in a city called wajima in the ishikawa prefecture in japan, he has developed his understanding of the 9,000-year-old craft.

max lamb applies 9,000-year-old japanese lacquer technique to roughly hewn furniture



its a collaborative process, which begins with a woodworker bringing a wooden bowl, cabinet, table or stool to his neighbour who applies the first urushi undercoat. the product is then taken to a series of other craftspeople who in turn cover the previous artisans’ work in additional coats of lacquer. finally, the last layer of urushi is perfected by one of the only two remaining polishers in wajima who gives the inimitable shine of urushi by polishing the object with his printless fingertips.



lamb decided to celebrate this communality of the working process during london design week. exhibited at the FUMI gallery in mayfair, he has selected artworks designed and made by his many collaborators to exhibit alongside his own.

max lamb applies 9,000-year-old japanese lacquer technique to roughly hewn furniture



in japan, the tradition is to lacquer wooden objects because of the porosity of the material, which allows the liquid lacquer to penetrate into the grain structure and form a very durable homogenous bond. typically the wood is processed to such an extent that the material becomes unidentifiable once lacquered and the naturally irregular grain pattern inherent to wood is lost.



instead, lamb attempts to celebrate these qualities by adopting primitive green-woodworking techniques to transform a tree into stool. he split open a log by axe and froe, exposing the natural structure of the wood, which he described as a ‘testament to its life as a tree.’



most of the collection features roughly split wooden planks that are joined together. lamb uses a local noto-hiba — a kind of japanese cypress similar to hinoki. in addition to the irregular looking, split-wood pieces, he has also created the more colorful ‘pillow’ tables, which features soft rounded corners. he also produced a series of mugs with akira sugimura, replicating an old spun-steel enamelled army mug in hand-turned wood and black lacquer.



included in the collection of pieces on display are tables, cabinets, shelves, stools, benches and chairs, each one the result of lamb uniting and colliding with the skills and minds of more than 22 craftspeople. the exhibition, titled ‘urushi wajima’, is on view from 14 september – 26 october at the FUMI gallery in mayfair.



project info


designer: max lamb

gallery: FUMI

event: london design week 2019

dates:  14 september – 26 october

address: gallery fumi, 2 hay hill, london w1

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