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The Friday profile

A tree-hugging furniture designer goes heavy metal

Recent Holon graduate Hilla Shamia mixes nature and metal to cast new forms

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

Wood casting by Hilla Shamia (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
Wood casting by Hilla Shamia (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
A table (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
A table (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)

It was the end of Hilla Shamia’s four years at the Holon Institute of Technology and she had to choose a final project. It was intended to be a thesis of sorts for her degree in industrial design, but an even better outcome for her would be the creation of a masterpiece that could lead her out of academia and into the real world.

“I kept on thinking about how I find joy in nature,” said Shamia, sitting in a bustling cafe in Jaffa’s Shuk Hapishpushim quarter. “Nature has paths and things get stuck along the way. I wanted to do the same with wood, to take it and do something to it that’s never been done.”

What Shamia ended up designing was furniture created by wood casting. She took entire tree trunks of cypress and eucalyptus — purchased at a lumber yard up north — and poured molten aluminum directly into their wooden surface. The exterior was burned by the process, and the entire plank of wood was then cut lengthwise and inserted into a metal frame to create the final structure.

Pouring in molten metal (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
Pouring in molten metal (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)

It took time to find a metalsmith who would experiment with Shamia on the complex process, but she finally found someone who was intrigued enough to take on the project, a labor-intensive task that can last up to two weeks.

Working the wood casting (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
Working the wood casting (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)

The molten metal works its way into the nicks and niches inside the trunk of the wood, explained Shamia. She called it “a leakage of the aluminum into the carbonized wood,” leaving the aluminum “frozen into that moment of melting,” a process that is similar to what can happen in nature, when trees and branches fall and meld into the forest floor, becoming part of the natural process around them.

Where wood catches metal (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
Where wood catches metal (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)

No two pieces are alike in wood casting, and Shamia found the molten tree trunks worked best as side tables and stools, a collection that she took with her to the recent furniture trade show in Milan.

A selection of pieces (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)
A selection of pieces (Courtesy Hilla Shamia)

“The response was amazing,” said Shamia. “People felt it was very different.”

With prices ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 euros for a piece (although cheaper in shekels), Shamia is taking orders through her website and currently working on a larger collection.

“You never know where something like this is going to go,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas and this is just the start.”

Hilla Shamia (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hilla Shamia (photo credit: Courtesy)
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