French designer Steven Leprizé began making things at age five, tinkering alongside his father, who ran a museum dedicated to old industrial tools in Brittany, a region in France. But he soon developed an affinity for working with wood. “Wood is more interesting, warm, noble, and natural,” Leprizé says. “It’s less violent than metal. Each piece of wood is unique, a bit like a fingerprint.”

By age 18, the designer had been trained and learned the craft of restoring antique wood furniture. Yet, his career plans changed when he attended a design course at the legendary École Boulle in Paris. Inspired by contemporary art and design, he began using 3D computer modelling to push the boundaries of what wood could do. A collaboration with a fellow student eventually led to the invention of AIRWOOD© inflatable wood—veneered panels attached to an elastic membrane and powered by a pneumatic device that allows the wood surface to inflate and deflate. “We’re illusionists in a way,” he says of the playful material.

French designer Steven Leprizé stands in front of a prototype of his WOOWOOD© technology, a wood skin that expands to hold objects in place. (ARCA Cabinet Making)

Since 2014, the 35-year-old designer has headed ARCA Cabinet Making outside of Paris, where he and a team of 12 have built on that spirit, constantly experimenting with techniques to create new wood-based materials, objects and designs for both private clients and luxury brands—ranging from product design, interiors, architecture, fashion and even the automobile industry.

ARCA built on the inflatable wood concept with WOOWOOD©, a wood skin that expands when objects are slid beneath its surface to keep them in place. Other wood concepts include: BOIS LARMÉ©, which mixes wood with metals to make it more resistant while adding customizable patterns and C°WOOD©,which makes bending and twisting strips of wood easier when designing decorative objects. Recently, ARCA collaborated with the French engineering school École des Mines to develop SCHOOPWOOD©, a technique that involves spraying metal droplets onto wood to create a hybrid material to make tableware and other applications.

It took ARCA a decade to develop AIRWOOD©, its signature inflatable wood technology. ARCA uses veneered panels composed of a rigid support with an elastic membrane that is chiseled in order to reveal a pattern once inflated using an automated or manual pneumatic device. (ARCA Cabinet Making)

Leprizé calls himself an “overgrown kid,” who strives to keep evolving and to never repeat himself. He shares this message with colleagues and passes it on to his apprentices. On the wall of ARCA’s workshop is one of his favorite quotes from American writer Mark Twain that has become a mission statement and a mantra: “They did not know it was impossible, so they did it.”

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ARCA is the winner of the EDIDA 2022 DS Savoir Faire award for exceptional craftsmanship at the intersection of savoir faire and innovation.

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