Ash to ashes

We knew Toronto’s Emerald Ash Borer infestation had grave consequences – nearly a million ash trees will be destroyed either by the beetle or proactively by the city over the next 10 years – but we didn’t expect designers to take this fact literally. 

And yet there it was, dominating IIDEXCanada’s IIDEX Woodshop display, a prototype coffin dubbed Fraxinus (Latin for “ash tree”). Its umber-washed rectangular body featured four protuberant corners whose perfect roundness echoed in the ends of the lightly shaded, incised lid. The same natural blonde wood was smoothed into two elongated bars and attached to sliding leather bands to form unobtrusive pallbearer handles on either side. 

Crafted by industrial designers Adam Shepperdley and David Green (whose middle names constitute the Toronto-based George Douglas collaborative), the casket fulfilled two directives. “Overwhelmingly, ashwood is either mulched or ends up in landfill,” Green said, “so we wanted a large project that used a lot of it. We also wanted to bring better design to an industry with no real design focus.” 

Whether the funeral business appreciates these efforts or not, Fraxinus certainly was the belle of the IIDEX ball. Raised upon its own bier, it consistently drew admirers who fondled the smooth-as-silk wooden container and toyed with its sliding handles. Green must have heard, “What is it? Oh, it’s a coffin!” a thousand times over the two-day event. 

Truth is, it’s such a handsome piece that it seems a pity to (eventually) cremate or bury it. As a one-off, it’s sure to be snapped up quickly by some forward-thinker with deep pockets. But then what do you do with it while awaiting your turn to shuffle off this mortal coil? Slap on a glass top and call it a coffin-table? Stand it in a corner and fit in a few temporary shelves filled with tomes from the Dead Poets Society? Place it on its side with a TV atop and tell everyone it’s your home inter-tainment centre? 

You might find yourself justifiably murdered for the cheesiness of such puns. In the end, though, all will be forgiven as soon as you make your ultra-stylish exit.  •