08.04.2022People and Stories

A conversation with Criswell Davis about biophilic design and how wood makes us healthy

Criswell Davis is an internationally renowned American hardwood expert, speaker, and consultant on hardwood specifications, and founder of the Timber and Forestry Foundation in the United States, which is committed to driving global demand for American wood.

"When we're surrounded by nature, our vegetative nervous system simply relaxes. This relaxation is accompanied by improved health."

Criswell Davis, TED Talk in 2020
Founding Director, The Timber and Forestry Foundation (TFF),
Board Member, Mighty Oaks Consulting

As a mafi partner, though, Criswell Davis and mafi share far more than just a love of wood. We also care about the protection and responsible use of this valuable raw material. TFF is also committed to the sustainable management of American forests and to protecting this natural resource, including all living creatures—animals and plants—that depend on it.
"Wood in biophilic design improves every room by giving people a pleasant, healthy, and relaxed feeling, while at the same time providing beauty."
Criswell Davis on natural mafi parquet

Wood: the most humanly intimate material

What brought you into the wood business? 

It was completely by chance. A dear friend of 20 years was running a hardwood distribution yard in Cincinnati, Ohio and he reached out to me to see if I would be interested in working with him in sales. I had been managing country clubs and restaurants for 15 years and I decided it was time to try something new.
That was in 1988 and I fell in love with wood and remain passionate about it to this day.


How important do you feel your sales strategy of advocating education to architects affected your sales outcomes?

When I began educating architects, I was selling full truckloads of lumber to distributors and high-end manufacturers. I decided that educating architects and designers about the benefits of designing with wood would help to increase our distributors’ business. I found that after 2 years, our distributors saw their sales climb steadily because of increased wood specifications. In one case a distributor said that his hardwood sales climbed by a factor of 10. Increased specification impacted distributors across the country and demand remains high.  

Biophilic design and a sustainable wood industry on the rise

What is the most important attribute of wood the designers and architects can take from your educational seminars?

The biggest message they take is that wood in biophilic design improves any space in making people feel more comfortable, healthy, and relaxed while adding beauty.  

Can you describe what biophilia means to the lumber industry?

Why would a wood sawmill care about it? Biophilia and biophilic design are important to the industry because increased demand inspires more timber harvest and regrowth of the trees, which sequester carbon. It is healthy for the forests and for the planet.   

Based upon your experience, what do you find is the highest need of architects and designers when specifying interior products? Is it cost or reliability or beauty or any other need?

With a shared carbon-neutral goal for 2030, the entire design community is focused on sustainability and biophilic design with natural materials. I emphasize that they should focus the benefits of designing with sustainable, natural wood and not the price. There will always be less expensive materials to specify, but none that are carbon-negative, renewable, beautiful, durable, and non-toxic as natural wood. Wood in flooring, ceilings and walls are the biggest pieces of furniture in the project, so specify the best materials and build the project around that cost. Don’t sacrifice the wood in the value engineering part of the process.   

What is the one thing that wood producers can learn from Architects?

They can learn that architects in general are eager to learn more about natural materials like natural wood.  Many architects come up to me at the end of a presentation and say that they never knew about sustainable forestry and how wood enhances a project while helping the planet. Here is a pervasive impression in the design community that harvesting trees is bad, as though it were a finite resource. Sustainable forest management places value on the trees that grow on the land, rather than the land itself for grazing cattle or planting rapidly renewable crops like bamboo.   

Miracle wood has been proven to boost our health

What do you think the wood business can do to click all the boxes for profit, planet and human health?

The wood business can work hard to get their products certified and invest in design community educational outreach.

"Architects and designers want and need to know that non-toxic natural wood is the perfect material for the built environment."

Profits come from selling wood products sourced from trusted, ethical, well-managed wood businesses dedicated to the health and well-being of their employees and the planet. Keep pushing the benefits and they will see the true value of wood for their project. Don’t make excuses for your pricing if reasonable.
The moment you doubt your pricing structure you lose your credibility. Sell and deliver true quality.  If you can do that, profit will come naturally. 

Do you have any advice for young professionals who want to know what it means to use natural products?

Young professionals need to recognize that there are few natural products that carry the environmental and health credentials that wood does. Natural wood improves interior air quality, promotes good health and well-being while storing carbon. All built environments featuring wood are simply better for those who inhabit those spaces.  


You are Co-founder of the Forest and Timber Foundation, what does this organization hope to achieve?

Our organization, The Timber & Forestry Foundation, was established to further my decade of promoting the benefits of specifying wood for the built environment.
We create educational digital content sponsored by member companies. We are starting small but hope to grow our impact on the design community in the coming years.   

"Sadly, our dear friend and advocate Criswell Davis unexpectedly passed away on October 3rd 2022. He was a force for nature and a beloved speaker for mafi, a honest and true lover of trees, wood and natural products. His enthusiasm and spirit will live on through his hundreds of friends throughout the world, his Ted talk and through the hearts and minds of all those who met and enjoyed his love for life."

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