With an intricate timber frame and technical upholstered elements, the Wilfred sofa is one of Jardan’s most complicated pieces. It has also, in just two years, become one of its most popular. In the lead up to the Mercedes-Benz Design Award, we head in to the world behind the showroom to uncover how a piece of furniture evolves from hand sketches into a piece in the lounge room of an Australian home.
The Design Process
Wilfred began life as a mere glint in Tom Shaw’s eye. He is Jardan’s head designer and says all the company’s furniture starts as a brief, where the team of eight designers look at what’s missing from the collection.
“With the Wilfred we wanted to create a sofa that had a real softness and plushness to it,” he says. “We wanted to make something really homey and cozy that families could curl up on.”
Despite this relaxed, cushiony aesthetic, Wilfred was not an easy piece to design. It consists of more than 30 timber pieces as well as upholstered components. “Everything’s visible in the Wilfred, so it has to be perfect,” Shaw says. It really challenges both our timber and upholstery factories.”
This made the research and development stage critical, because any faults would be easily identified in the exposed, wooden frame. From the brief, Shaw sketched various 2D perspectives of the sofa, which were then transformed into a digital 3D model using a program called Inventor. A rough mock-up of the sofa was made and tested for everything from proportions and strength to the relationship between timber and upholstery. Designed almost two years ago, hundreds of Wilfreds are now manufactured each year to fulfill customer demand.
In Jardan’s timber factory, a cavernous space filled with the sound of sanding machines, electric saws and Triple M, the wood selection process for Wilfred begins. Most of Jardan’s American oak and Australian hardwood timber comes from the Gippsland area. All timber is traced by a “chain of custody” to ensure it’s ethically sourced and has a low environmental impact.
Wilfred’s timber is hand-selected based on colour, texture and pattern before it’s squared off and made ready for the Computer Numerical Control machine.
If this sounds high-tech, that’s because it is. This hulking piece of German equipment is programed to cut each of Wilfred’s 30 timber elements to size. Jardan acquired the machine a few months ago to make the manufacturing process more efficient and precise. With a price tag of $500,000, this piece of equipment is ideal for creating the joinery for intricate pieces such as Wilfred. It cuts to within 0.0001 millimetres of precision, something impossible to achieve by hand.
Wilfred’s freshly cut pieces are handed to Jardan’s 15-strong team of professional cabinetmakers, who slot and hammer the segments together with unbelievable speed. In 40 minutes Wilfred has transformed into something that actually resembles a sofa.
The frame is then passed to the finishing team, which buffs, sands and polishes the timber frame. German oil is applied, giving the wood a clean, matt finish.
The Softer Stuff
From here, Wilfred leaves the deafening timber factory and heads to the quieter confines of the upholstery workshop five minutes up the road. The timber frame is covered in soft linen or wool, giving the sofa its slouchy, relaxed form.
Cushion patterns and foam inserts are cut before they’re hand sewn and stuffed with a combination of down feathers to give Wilfred maximum puffiness.
To Market, To Market
The cushions are placed on the frame and Wilfred undergoes one final inspection from the research and development team, which gives it the all clear. It’s then wrapped and ready to be taken to its new home.
Jardan is partnering with the Mercedes-Benz Design Awards by Broadsheet to give one Australian the chance to bring a product to life with the company. Entries have now closed, however details on the Awards can be viewed here.