A plea for the poplar

Craft and craftsmanship. A knowledge of materials and a not insignificant sense of innovation. These are just a few of the characteristics of a company that aims constantly to expand its horizons. And preferably in the area of custom work.

Don’t just say ‘wood’ when you are talking to an expert like Bert Leysen, one of the production managers at Bulo. It's his passion for the warmth that wood radiates, that motivated him to entering the trade in the wake of his father. ‘Wood is a natural product’, says Bert. ‘Most people have an incorrect view of it. They demand perfection. But a tree may have been growing for a good eighty years. And every year has made its mark on it.’

'Wood is much too precious to turn into firewood'. Bert Leysen

Recycling wood

‘We have been shipping the oak woods here from the Ukraine,’ says Bert. ‘Whereas we have trees here too. It’s just that in the past they were simply sawn up for firewood. That’s a pity; after all, shouldn’t it all be a matter of the authenticity of the product?’ He mentions O Mr. President, the youngest scion of the Bulo range, created for tomorrow's managers and made entirely of recycled wood. 'This product is the best example of how things can be done differently: an attractive design locally made using waste wood. With an ecological footprint of almost zero. That is what we're aiming for.'

And he comes up with another example: the poles in the lagoon in Venice. Iconic wooden poles that have already been in the water for more than twenty years. 'In the past they all went into the hearth. Now we know better: you can think of excellent ways of using them. They are pure oak, but there are shells on them. And they may be rotten, but they have a story to tell.'

Raw materials

Bert thinks there's a very good future forward anyway. He talks about palm wood, 'with its exceptional structure', about bamboo, 'which has become ecologically accepted', about walnut and poplar, which in the past were spoken of so disparagingly, about ipe, jetty wood, which is often used for floors… 'Fortunately more and more people are realising all the things that wood can be used for.'

He admits that there is a change in the way people view wood. 'Today's clients are critical, but they want to hear the whole story. Also the fact that the defect is not a defect, but typical of real wood.' According to Bert, local production is also doing better and better. 'And why not? Any company will find woods in a radius of a hundred kilometres. There's a lot we can do with all that local material. Wood is much too precious just to turn it into firewood.'

'Humour is much more important than all the standards we have to comply with in the office world'. Jan Aerts

Design behind closed doors

The re-evaluation of the raw materials is accompanied by a much greater appetite for custom work; clients have evolved in that sense too. 'At Bulo we are doing a lot more custom work than in the past and we are very good at it too', says Bert. 'It's a development that takes many years of course, but it has become our added value. The clients and the architects are much more often aware of it. And they also seek it out more often'. Jan Aerts, product design and creative director at Bulo, agrees. Jan sits at home in the evening sketching, but in the office he mainly has meetings with designers, suppliers and other people in the trade.

Jan too has seen how the sector has changed in recent years. 'Designers used to think of a design behind closed doors, and then all at once there it was. Whereas now far more questions arise beforehand. What does the market want? How sustainable is the product? What value experience do we give it? How does it affect us emotionally? Do we respond better than others to the functional and ergonomic needs?'

'At Bulo we always try to add a sort of feelgood factor too. A sort of humour, an emotion which, as far as we are concerned, is much more important than all the standards we have to comply with in the office world. But we are already well trained in that sphere.’