Into the Woods – Bringing Natural Textures Into Your Home

Natural, solid woods all have characteristics that are uniquely their own. Riva 1920 is an Italian company that uses such extraordinary woods that these features become an integral part of the design itself.


Since 1400, the lagoon of Venice has been dotted with large posts rising from the water in groups of three to mark the sections of the canal that are navigable even when the tide is low. These Briccole could almost be seen as symbols of the city of Venice itself – they are the oak mooring posts that stand in the lagoon, guiding boats and gondolas as well as indicating the rise and fall of the tides. They are periodically replaced after being carved by ‘little artists,’ the molluscs, which have left perfectly round shaped holes on the surface.

A post sunk into the lagoon lasts approximately five to ten years after which the water-beaten area of the posts, which is also the one most affected by the movement of the tides and the presence of micro organisms, is deemed damaged and then replaced with a new post.

Riva 1920’s concern with ecology and the environment inspired them to give this wood a new life. They began by initiating a project with the support of thirty- four contemporary designers, sculptors and architects who all wished to draw attention to Venice with its combination of beauty and vulnerability – ravaged by time and nature. The outcome was a collection of furniture that reused the Briccole so as to create new objects that had no reference to their original purpose or Venetian origins.

‘Venice’ as pictured, is Claudio Bellini’s console table from the collection – the posts are left intact, surrounded by reflective metal.

Cedar is another wood used by Riva 1920 for it’s distinctive properties, in this case its scent. Logs of scented cedarwood, either fallen due to natural causes or cut down within a programmed schedule, are shaped using CNC machinery with a five and six axis. This innovative technology transforms the raw log into a design object with a distinctively fresh aroma that permeates its surroundings. As with most Riva 1920 solid wood furniture, it is then sanded and finished by hand.

Kauri also features amongst the precious wood collection at Riva 1920. Trees that grew during the Jurassic period have fallen due to large scale natural disasters more than 50,000 years ago and have remained buried under metres of swamp and mud, undisturbed until the present. Logs up to seventy metres long and nine metres across, true natural sculptures, are brought to the surface ready to be prepared for everyone to enjoy and appreciate.

Larchwood, one of the most long lasting and resistant of woods, is used by the company in a different way – it forms the exterior of the company’s head office building in Como. On the top floor of this building is their ‘Museum of Wood’ which exhibits over two thousand historic woodworking machines and tools. The company maintains this space, with free access to the public, as well as design exhibition areas to show their commitment to wood for nearly a century.

Alan Bertenshaw of Matisse International Design.

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