Tréology is a Christchurch company with a clear vision: taking inspiration from the outdoors to create furniture that connects people to nature

Story by Naomi Arnold, Photography by Nancy Zhou

During the winter of 2013, there was a moment on the West Coast when Tréology design director Richard Simpson and owner Andrew Davies began to realise a shared vision for the future of the luxury furniture company. Back then, UK-born Simpson had not long arrived in New Zealand from Australia. The pair had started with a blank sheet of paper for their creations, and Davies spirited his new designer away on a three-day road trip to the West Coast so they could immerse themselves in its wild environments, from Punakaiki’s striking limestone rock formations in the north to the glaciers of the south.

Sadly, Simpson passed away in June this year, so the trip is a special memory for Davies. He recalls that, as they drove and explored, Simpson began to focus his camera lens at the macro level, seeing intricate patterns in leaves and the smallest stones. Both were struck by the power and beauty of the natural forms they discovered: cliffs of ice and clay, the layers of history embedded in rock, the power of water to shape a landscape. They began to think how this could translate to fine furniture. Driving home through the Mackenzie Basin, Simpson drew a few sketches. These would become the basis for three of their core design families, which would go on to become handcrafted furniture destined for high-end wineries, hotels, private homes and boutique companies such as Louis Vuitton. “We could have done the designs here in the city, but just going over there, slowing down, observing, and having that whole interaction with the wilderness made all the difference,” Davies says.

Today, Davies is passionate about enjoying New Zealand’s wild spaces with his family. Tréology’s focus is on taking its clients on a metaphorical journey to the source of the timber with every piece. While on the West Coast, Davies and Simpson also visited the raw material for some of their work: fallen matai and rimu trees, many of which are more than a thousand years old. After being toppled by natural events, the massive trees spend years lying submerged in rivers and fiords, and Tréology brings them to life again. After the trees have been rescued from the water, the timber takes two to four years to air dry naturally before it’s reworked into a Tréology piece. With nature as a guiding principle, Davies is concerned to never take more than he needs; even wooden offcuts are recycled for play at childcare centres.

Davies is carrying family furniture craftsmanship into a fifth generation. The intricate forms of fallen timber are both the inspiration and the source for Tréology’s creations

It’s a heritage and environmental responsibility that he takes very seriously. The products are finished with natural, non-toxic plant oils and water-based adhesives. Their origins are quite literally embedded into them, too; so central is the New Zealand landscape to the work that every piece of the furniture includes the GPS coordinates of the river where the native timber was rescued. Entering the coordinates into Google Earth will take the buyer on a flyby from their home to the tree’s last resting place. The Tréology collection includes finely crafted consoles, dining tables, side tables, chairs, stools, and credenzas, as well as special commissions. The Haast range draws its inspiration from the intersecting angles of stylised topographical maps. The Odyssey dining table’s polished nickel base retains the impressive volume of the Punakaiki rocks’ famous layers but, in playing with positive and negative space, swaps density for a sense of lightness. And the award-winning Umber chair, made of sustainably-sourced American oak and walnut for colour and grain, was inspired by the contrasting angles of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

“The work starts with hand-drawn sketches, finessed using computer-assisted design, and sometimes forms are 3D-printed to better understand proportions”

“We’re in the art market,” Davies says. “Our furniture has to be functional, but it should bring pleasure from looking at it. The key thing for us is connecting people to nature – not just the timber, but in our designs themselves.” All the pieces are made locally at Tréology’s Christchurch workshop by expert craftsmen using a mixture of contemporary and traditional techniques. The work starts with hand-drawn sketches, finessed using computer-assisted design if necessary, and sometimes forms are 3D-printed to better understand proportions. In the workshop, a computerised router is used for more intricate designs, but much is still made by hand with traditional cabinet-making techniques like dovetail and mortise-and-tenon joints.

Davies enjoys visualising a home for their products before they are even created. “Picturing where it’s going to be is a big thing for us,” he says. For the Umber chair, he said to Simpson: “I want a chair for a contemporary house, polished concrete floor, floor-to-ceiling windows, looking over the lake up to the snowcapped Remarkables. The sun is going down, turning the snow pink, and I’m sitting beside a roaring fire with a glass of Central Otago pinot in my hand.” The result is a confident, commanding, yet graceful contemporary chair that still echoes the classic lines of mid-century modern. In its name, Tréology recalls the genealogy of trees, but also of families. Though Davies and his wife Melany-Jayne founded the company in 2011 – following the devastating Canterbury earthquakes – he was already part of a legacy of New Zealand timber that began with his great-great grandfather. Now, the fifth-generation furniture maker feels that, although Simpson is gone, his designs live on. Davies’ favourite items are large family dining tables – the heart of any home. For him, it’s a privilege to know that every piece will last much longer than a single generation.

MAZDA’S TREEMENDOUS PROGRAMME

Like Tréology, Mazda takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously and, since 2007, has partnered with Project Crimson in the TREEmendous programme, an initiative which helps children connect with nature. Each year four schools across the country win a TREEmendous prize worth $10,000 to transform an area of their grounds into a native outdoor learning space. Six runners-up are also given $500 towards their own projects.