Sofas Don't Grow on Trees (and other perils of good wood)

Zohra Abdullah Furniture Parrot & Lily

At Parrot & Lily, we are proudly purist about our materials. We use solid teak wood for our furniture and even our drawers and shelves are made in pine wood. Over the years, whenever we have relented to either convenience or the requests of a client, we have always ended up saying, “never again.” We have even warned our clients that Parrot & Lily isn’t for everyone. Though it is easy to be allured by the charm of our designs, that is not enough reason to stay. Lest you be disappointed by the commitment to true wood furniture. 

Good wood doesn’t come without its perils. We always say that wood is a living material that reacts to its environment. This is fairly simple to understand, but what does that mean for the piece of furniture that you bring home?


Trees come in many shape and sizes, but sofa is not one of them. You could call this the one oversight of the natural world.

The business of wood
Wood reacts to the moisture level in its environment. When the environment is humid, wood absorbs some of that moisture and can expand in size. When the environment is dry, the wood loses some of its moisture and contracts.

Wood, of course, starts its life as tree. Once that is felled for timber, it has to be stored for seasoning. When wood is freshly cut, it contains a lot of moisture. This needs to be dried out for the wood to be usable. Seasoning allows the wood to dry while experiencing different seasons and reacting to them. After a couple of seasons of expanding and contracting in reaction to the weather, the wood becomes more stable to cut and carve later. This doesn’t mean that the wood would then remain forever as it is, it is still a living material. But the extent of distortion in the wood reduces the longer it is seasoned.

In order to air dry, the felled logs are cut into planks and blocks. They are then stacked in a well-ventilated arrangement and left to season. Woods for different purposes need to be brought to different moisture levels. Sometimes wood is dried in a kiln. Kiln drying is an unfortunate method that can rapidly dry wood and thus reduces the cost of time and storage but produces inferior wood. Improperly kiln-dried wood also poses problems like case hardening, which render the wood unusable for fine carving work. 


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Nothing comes from nothing, and nothing happens on its own
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Here you can see the preperatory joints that hold the various parts of this jardiniere/side table together

Sofas don’t grow on trees
After wood is seasoned, it can be used for different purposes. At this stage, the wood is in the form of straight planks of various thickness. 

When the time comes for us to make a piece of furniture, our artisans select the appropriate wood for it. The wood is then cut to shape and a preliminary form is joined. This is when even the most bombé rococo commode would appear quite boxy and clients react to the photos we share with absolute horror. While our office team is occupied in calming nerves and explaining our process, we let the joined piece remain to season further at its current state. It is a good idea to allow wood to season every time it is cut at a significant depth as this brings out the inner sections of the wood, getting closer to the heartwood, which may have different characteristics to the outer portions. This stage can often be the longest part of our production process. We allow the joined piece to season in our ideally-built, bright and well-ventilated atelier for up to two weeks, depending on weather conditions. 

After this, we take out the individual pieces of wood from the joined piece and the magic happens. Straight and boxy looking planks of wood are turned into vivacious and curvy, sometimes completely round parts of furniture. Finally, the different carved sections are put back together and your piece is joined once again. Now, it is ready for you to select your paint finish. 

So contrary to popular believe, we do not harvest sofa-shaped trees which are simply carved in one solid piece by our artisans. Any piece of furniture is created by skill-fully joining very straight and square planks of wood. 

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The magic

On to the perils
Due to sudden changes in temperature or humidity or sometimes just over time, the continuous expanding and contracting of wood can lead to warping. Though wood can warp from anywhere, well-seasoned wood is usually only at risk around the joints. This is because while a solid piece of wood will remain structurally intact, two pieces of wood which have been joined at an angle will have expanded or contracted slightly differently. As they shrink or expand in opposite directions, you may begin to notice a gap in the wood. Sometimes, this can happen overnight. Though the chipping of paint on the surface can make it look like a dangerous crack, it is actually quite safe to continue using a piece where the joints have only been exposed on the surface. 

Unlike engineered wood, which can not be repaired once damaged, solid wood can usually be repaired or touched up. When this happens, a simple procedure by a painter will fill the gap and bring it back to looking new in the span of a couple of hours. If it is something decorative, you may even appreciate the beauty of a time-worn piece. Whenever you get a Parrot & Lily piece, it is a commitment beyond one lifetime. We would always be happy to help you with any maintenance on our pieces. In fact, we would encourage you to consult us before conducting any touch-ups on your piece. 

You may be thinking, “I don’t control the weather and I surely don’t live on a beach. What are these sudden changes of temperature that are taking place in my living room?” If you use any kind of heater in the winter or an air fan in summer, that would be it. If you sleep with the air conditioner on at night then throw the windows open in the morning, that would do it too. And if you live in any part of India during the monsoon, that would most certainly do it. Inevitably you will notice the wood in your pieces moving over the course of months. Sometimes, you may notice this happening in weeks. You can take it as confirmation that your piece is crafted in solid wood and no artificial and toxic resins and glues have been used to keep it together. 


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Sometimes flipping an item around can be very rewarding as well. Behind this beautiful relief carving are some very traditional joints that hold the two planks of wood together. We use a similar method to join planks for table tops. The small oval frame above has been cut from a single piece of wood and stained in ivory pigment to keep the grain of the wood visible. 

Tannin woes 
Apart from their fascinating/mind-numbing contribution to chemistry textbooks, tannins are a very conspicuous part of our everyday lives. If you know how to enjoy life, you would be quite familiar with tannin. They are found in wooden furniture, oak-barrel whiskies and wines, chocolate, nuts, tea and

On painted wood, tannins have a propensity to bleed through the paint and show up as streaks of yellow. Among XVIII century furniture, painted examples are found in Sweden, the Low Countries and Northern Italy. While English and French unpainted pieces bear an inimitable patina,  these painted antiques proudly bear the mark of their age and authenticity through the development of tannin through their paint. 

Any wood needs primer before paint, or the paint will simply peel off. But there are some excessively toxic primers like shellac which are propounded for sealing in tannins and preventing their bleed. You don’t need to know much about us to know that we would never subscribe to this method. We much prefer the red tinge of Mahogany or the brown of teak to the stink of shellac permeating our everyday lives. 


New vs. Old- Tannin doing its magic on a three-year-old armoire contrasted with the fresh ivory finish on a footstool

What to do and other existential questions 
If you have possible solutions on your mind, then you are wrongly viewing the above as problems. These are the very features that Parrot & Lily furniture is about, not just beautiful aesthetics and charming designs. With proper care and attention, teak wood lasts for centuries. If it can survive at the bottom of a river for a millennia, it can take the wear and tear of any messy home. 

One of the most important things you can do to protect your furniture is to avoid dragging it across the floor. As our schoolmasters conscientiously instilled in us when we were children, feet and furniture should never be dragged, always lifted. Dragging furniture puts a lot of pressure on the joints and though the result may not be visible immediately, the strength of the joints will gradually deteriorate until one fine day, the joints give up. 

Generally, it is a good idea to keep wooden items out of direct sunlight and keep some distance from any heat sources. They can simply be wiped with a lint-free cloth or feather duster. From time to time, you can use a lightly moistened cloth immediately followed by a dry one, though we would suggest omitting this entirely. Never ever use furniture cleaners of any kind. 

The occasional spill is inevitable and should not be feared, but be extra careful with alcoholic beverages. Always use a coaster for drinks and a trivet for hot dishes. If you’re very concerned about damage, you could also use a mat or plate under any vases that contain water. 


How would you feel if you ordered the latter tray but we showed you the former?
The definition of 'trust the processs' 

In conclusion 
All things considered, wood itself is a low maintenance material for furniture. It is just the mind that owns it that sometimes needs conditioning. After all, furniture is meant to be used everyday and not babied like a fountain pen or a delicate rose plant… but we digress.

We love and embrace the features of our materials, and while we love exploring new old techniques, we are always faithful to our own process. We would not hesitate to tell you that our pieces will not remain in the pristine shape that they leave us in for long. That is what you choose when you choose Parrot & Lily. We hope blogs like this give you a more complete idea of what our brand is about.

Did you learn something unexpected today? Let us know by leaving a comment

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  • Parrot & Lily on

    @Atuno Rio We couldn’t agree more. There is enough plastic and engineered wood in the world for anyone who finds solid wood a hassle, but it is important to know what you are choosing.

  • Atuno Rio on

    Absolutely loved reading this blog in particular! Anyone who owns or wants to own a true wood furniture needs to know the dynamics of how wood responds to and continues to exist in different environment even after its form has been changed.

  • Parrot & Lily on

    @Ritu Thank you for your kind words. It always helps to hear feedback on the blogs.

  • Ritu on
    Very informative. Enjoyed reading it :-)

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