The positive characteristics of the wood known as “Zirbe”, Austrian stone pine, Arolla pine or just stone pine, have been valued and used in Tirol for centuries. Three Tirol-based companies enable the traditionally rustic high Alpine timber to make the move into today’s modern interiors—in the form of translucent lampshades, wooden ventilation systems and award-winning furniture.
Benedikt Handler, Co-Founder and Managing Director of zirb
The ‘Stube’, a stone-pine panelled room, was the epitome of cosy living in Tirol for centuries. The Fugger Stube in Alpbachtal Valley, for example, dates back to the 15th century. Are you trying to put a modern spin on a typical rustic experience with your zirb products?
“Well, yes, I think we are definitely a good option of bringing the beneficial effects of the Austrian stone pine to modern-day interiors. Many of our customers tell us that they love the pleasant resinous aroma and fragrance and the atmosphere that pinewood adds to a room – yet they don’t want a rustic-feel knotted pine living room. Our wooden ventilation system reinterprets the rustic Arolla pine with a more urban environment in mind.”
How did the idea for zirb get started? Where you inspired on a walk through the woods, breathing in deeply? Did you want to bring the forest into the home?
“Yes, that’s somehow the idea behind it. The more time we started to spend working on our desks, the more we developed the urge to go outside again. Nowadays, in our modern world, we spend 95% of our time indoors, sitting in front of screens. So we thought if it was possible to bring the outdoor experience inside—and what better way doing so than using the health fostering effects of the Austrian stone pine?”
Would you say the Austrian stone pine is a wonder tree?
“Wonders are relative to people’s opinions, but yes, the stone pine has many wondrous features. The plant resists destructive natural forces that rage in high mountains. It is adapted to the harsh, mountain climate. Its stress resistance is remarkable. It exudes a tangible energy. Using this precious wood for interiors brings the Alps and nature into your home, a welcome reprieve from being constantly on the move.”
Stone pine wood is much in demand these days: Where do you source your wood? Does one of you owe a secret stone pine forest?
“Now that would be something! In fact, we do have a secret source. It is original Tirol-grown stone pine, growing high up on Glungezer Mountain. Some of our trees we can trace right back to where it comes from, where it grew.
In our beginnings, it was really difficult to find slowly air-dried pinewood. We contacted many sawmills and foresters and that’s how we discovered our secret source.”
Why is it important for the wood to be air-dried?
“We focus on quality. The quality of the final product is directly related to the quality of care given the lumber for drying. The resins and the ethereal oil the wood contains are the reason for the intense scent of the stone pine—and these precious resins are only preserved if the pinewood is slowly air-dried. If lumber is not properly dried, the wood will shrink or swell and cause causing cracking and splitting in the final product.
Best quality stone pine wood is slowly air-dried for one or two years. To fasten the process of getting the wood to market, the timber industry uses chamber drying to get the wood into service as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, stone pine is a wood that suffers when kiln dried. The wood loses tremendous character when it is dried in kilns, which destroys its resins, ethereal oils and scent. For the most part all of the wood you purchase is kiln dried, especially products that are not made from your local carpenter. When it comes to stone pine wood, this means that most beneficial features have already been destroyed.”
How long was the development process?
“Well, in fact we are still going through development. I think you should never stop improving and trying to get better. Actually, our product is really good and we are the leading stone pine ventilation system on the market when it comes to value for money. Yet, there are so many ideas and plans to even better serve our customers. We are continuously adapting, refining and evolving.”
Zirb (www.zirb.at) is a classical start-up. Benedikt, Carl and Niko all met at University and developed the idea of bringing nature into homes. They produce ventilation systems made of stone pine with inaudible fans, water bowls and fragrant stone pine curls. The system filters the air, enhances the quality of air in your home and helps to improve your sleep. None of the three founders is a skilled craftsman, but they run their business with a young entrepreneurial spirit, managed by lots of guts, creativity and love for design, proven in the eye catching appearance of their products and their innovative zero-waste packaging concept.
Andreas Wolsegger, Managing Director of Forcher Carpentry
The extraordinary powers of stone pine have been valued and used in Tirol for many centuries. Andreas Wolsegger, managing director of the East Tirol-based Forcher Carpentry, which is deeply rooted in tradition, has a simple explanation for that: “The stone pine is a special wood, it’s a wood of character and maybe that’s why it fits so well with Tiroleans and Tirolean carpenters. The tree is capable of growing at elevations where other trees are unable to grow because of inappropriate environmental conditions. In order to survive in these adverse conditions, the tree has to possess great powers of resilience.”
The stone pine furniture produced by his joinery business has won the interior innovation award in 2014 and was a nominee for the German Design Award in 2015. Is it possible to reinterpret the rustic stone pine wood with a more urban environment in mind?
The company is based on an entrepreneurial innovation spirit without losing its roots: “There’s no need to be modern just for the sake of it. It all has to be balanced. Of course, stone pine furniture has a rustic feel to it.” Single pine stone items can be used to create an aesthetically pleasing environment and to improve the atmosphere of the space.
The simple wooden bed is Forcher’s most popular piece of furniture and top-seller. But can a stone pine bed really aid sleep? Andreas Wolsegger has customers who slept in a Forcher stone pine bed while on vacation in Tirol—and who were so enthralled that they bought one for their home. Cupboards and chests can be ordered entirely made of pinewood or with white fronts. A matter of balance, once again.
How would Wolsegger explain the rising demand for stone pine wood? In today’s fast paced world, the ability to achieve work life balance is becoming more and more important, says the managing director: “Urban city-dwellers want to be green.” And the fragrant stone pine helps to bring nature into today’s modern urban interiors. In a study conducted by the Joanneum Research Institute in Graz, it was even scientifically proven that the quality of sleep in a stone pine bed was noticeably better, which has further increased the popularity of the stone pine. To get the most out of the wood’s beneficial and health-inducing effects, it is important to air-dry the timber very slowly, adds Wolsegger.
Forcher Carpentry is proud on its sustainable production process – all of their furniture is manufactured on site, enabling them to offer a truly ‘Made in Tirol’ product. This has won the company the Tirol Regional Award in 2014. “These awards are interesting. What are the impacts of such prizes? Who will recognize it? The Forcher brand clearly reaps benefits from awards,” says Wolsegger. The carpentry works with numerous noted designers, including Nina Mair, turning ideas into products. The award-winning Forcher stone pine furniture is only available from specialists – and patience is needed if you want a stone pine piece for yourself: It takes 15 weeks to manufacture a stone pine bed.
Tischlerei Forcher GmbH (www.forcher.at) is a Tirol-based carpentry that is deeply rooted in tradition: Forcher furniture has been manufactured on site in Lienz for 85 years and in the third generation. The company prides itself on meeting the demands of modern furniture manufacturing techniques, whilst retaining key traditional values. Their quality craftsmanship is rewarded with a satisfied clientele and international design awards.
Harald Hofer, Almleuchten
You have to keep your ears open – and you have to know the right people to “save” lumber when an old stone pine barn is being taken down, in order to produce these one-of-a-kind lamps. It’s mostly local farmers who provide Harald Hofer and Felix Fehr this valuable information. The reclaimed beams are crafted into Almleuchten, literally ‘Alpine Pasture Lamps’.
Native woods, from fir and spruce to stone pine are carefully manufactured into statement pieces to lighten up homes. In crafting their sleek and modern design lamps, they let the wood tell a tale about itself. All wood comes from old barns, Alpine pasture huts and farmsteads all across Tirol. A special label on the products allows customers to trace the lineage of “their” lamps right back to the place it comes from – a truly transparent and local ‘sourcing campaign’ indeed.
The used timber beams are up to 300 years old. Wood is a very hardy and resilient material. The wood is cut into thin slices of seven to eight millimetres. “What happens then is astonishing”, says Harald Hofer with much enthusiasm in his voice, “the wood looks like new.”
The stone pine is an especially hardy species – after all, the Alpine pasture huts that were built using stone pine timber are the highest-lying. But, wait a minute: Barns and huts made of precious stone pine? “Yes,” says Harald Hofer, “that was very common in earlier times. It’s only natural as the stone pine grows at elevations where only the most rugged trees survive—and where other trees are unable to grow.”
The wood glows in distinctive red light when the lamp is switched on. No coloured bulbs are used, but the specially cut wood is transparent to red, long-wave light. It’s like an ‘X-ray of wood’. Special features such as saw marks and resin pockets are left to tell a tale and to allow the beauty of the wood to be fully appreciated. The warmth of the lamp additionally enhances the scent of the stone pine wood. An experience for all senses, so to speak.
Innovative design is the passion of Harald Hofer: As a member of les cigales design he has experimented with everyday items such as coat hangers and curlers and created lamps and wall installations made of drinking straws. Architecture student Felix Fehr and Harald Hofer are the masterminds behind the wooden lamps named “Almleuchten” (www.almleuchten.com).