Rosewood: a noble wood for exceptional furniture

Rosewood, commonly called “rosewood”, is by definition a noble tropical wood from the forests of Brazil, America, India and Madagascar. Its robustness, distinguished appearance and softness made it a much sought-after material, initially for making musical instruments, then for designing furniture.

With its obvious aesthetic qualities, a purple brown with beautiful black veins, designers and furniture makers have made it a must for creating aristocratic-looking pieces of furniture, with undiminished success. Two regions of the world with a strong tradition of fine cabinet making have produced some of the finest rosewood pieces in modern and contemporary design. Firstly, Brazil, the country of tropical wood par excellence, where rosewood is known as Jacaranda de Bahia , and Scandinavia, particularly Denmark, where people like to work with natural wood.

Sergio Rodrigues (1927) is one of the great tutelary figures of Brazilian design. Trained in the modern criteria formulated by the Bauhaus School, he naturally includes the warmth of tropical woods in his work. Instead of steel, he prefers the softness of wood to create furniture that combines beautiful wood and leather. From then on, as a lover of the precious species of wood of his country, Sergio Rodrigues designed some of the most beautiful furniture of his country in rosewood.

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Kilin armchair in rosewood, design Sergio Rodrigues, circa 1975, published by Orca. When rosewood blends harmoniously with a thick, stretched raw leather skin. A timeless classic!

Before Sergio Rodrigues and the recognition of Brazilian know-how beyond its borders, there has always been a long tradition of cabinetmaking in Brazil, and this since the beginning of the 20th century. Joaquim Tenreiro (1906-1992) was born in Portugal and emigrated to Brazil in the 1920s, where he later founded his own furniture manufacturing company. Using the noble grain of the Jacaranda wood, Tenreiro created furniture with a noble and graceful appearance.

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Joaquim Tenreiro, chaise longue, circa 1947. The graceful combination of Jacaranda wood and cane.

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Joaquim Tenreiro, set of 2 side tables in rosewood, 1970.

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Side table in rosewood, design Joaquim Tenreiro, 1970. Detail of the wood grain, an aesthetic pleasure for the eyes.

But perhaps the most beautiful piece of Brazilian design, at least one that makes full use of the beauty of Jacaranda wood, is by the Polish-born Auriverde designer Jorge Zalszupin (1922). His pair of Presidencial armchairs, made in the early 1960s, feature a seat and backrest made entirely of thermoformed rosewood.

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Pair of Presidencial armchairs, design by Jorge Zalszupin, Edition l’Atelier, 1962. The seat, made of thermoformed jacaranda, reveals all the beauty and nobility of this exceptional wood.

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Pair of Presidencial armchairs, back view, design Jorge Zalszupin, Edition l’Atelier, 1962

The “enveloping” look of the Presidencial armchair is reminiscent of the comfort of another of the most legendary pieces of modern design, which its creators wanted to create from Jacaranda wood. In the 1950s, the American designers Charles & Ray Eames wondered how they could give the traditional English club chair a new lease of life This question gave rise to the famous Lounge Chair , whose seat and backrest are made of Rio or Santos rosewood, a lighter wood than Jacaranda.

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Lounge Chair, design Charles & Ray Eames, 1956, publisher Vitra. Solid and comfortable, the Lounge Chair is highly prized by collectors, especially the versions prior to 1992 since it is forbidden to use Rio rosewood for furniture.

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The Lounge Chair with its Ottoman also originally made of rosewood.

Brazil of course to evoke rosewood, but Scandinavia too! Close to nature, which constitutes their natural environment, Scandinavian designers are fond of working with natural woods. In the mid-1950s, Scandinavian designers, particularly Danes, made extensive use of tropical woods such as teak and rosewood to make sideboards, round tables and chairs.

One of these designers was Ole Wanscher (1903-1985), whose furniture is published today by J.P. Jeppesen and Fritz Hansen, and whose creations reflect delicacy, elegance and order. Another Danish designer: Niels O. Møller (1920-1982) who founded his own furniture factory, JL Møllers Mobelfabrik, in 1944 and which still exists today! Møller was a specialist in rosewood and teak furniture, renowned for the finesse of his work. Finally, let’s mention Arne Vodder (1926-2002), who studied under Finn Juhl (1912-1989), one of the most famous Danish designers of the 20th century. Arne Vodder’s rosewood and teak cabinets and desks are highly sought after today.

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Scandinavian sideboard in rosewood, design Ole Wanscher, 1960, publisher: J.P. Jeppesen.

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Lounge chairs Model 78 in rosewood and leather by Niels Møller for J.L. Møllers Mobelfabrik, 1960s. The Model 78 is very popular with collectors for its lightness and purity of form.

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Extending table in rosewood with black lacquered leg ends. Design Niels O. Møller, 1960, for JL Møllers Mobelfabrik.

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Rosewood sideboard model 37, design Arne Vodder, 1950.

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Rosewood sideboard model 37, detail, design Arne Vodder, 1950.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Dutch furniture manufacturers began to make a name for themselves: Pastoe, Artifort, Gispen & Fristho stood out and also offered rosewood furniture with their designers. In 1960, the Dutch designer Kho Liang Ie (1927-1975) used Santos rosewood slats for his sublime F416 armchair, a success!

Of course, Artifort is synonymous with Pierre Paulin, the great French designer who also incorporated the nobility of rosewood into his creations.

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The F416 armchair by Kho Liang for Artifort. The Santos rosewood slats harmoniously complement the brushed steel and metal elements and give the room a fine, elegant structure

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Vintage rosewood coffee table by Pierre Paulin for Altifort, 1960s

Although rosewood was very popular with designers at the beginning of the last century and up until the 1950s and 1960s, its use is now strictly controlled in order to protect this precious wood species. The sale of Rio rosewood is prohibited for all trees that were cut after 1992. In 2013, the legislator also decided to protect the Madagascar rosewood (dalbergia from the island of Madagascar). Good reasons for lovers of pieces made from this exceptional wood to buy authentic models!

François Boutard.