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eco furniture

Sustainable furniture design

History In 19th-century Britain, rural craftspeople began making simple, economical chairs from local wood species. These "sustainability pioneers" included British chairmakers Ernest Gimson and Philip Clissett, who crafted their ladderback and Windsor chairs in ash, beech and elm from surrounding natural woodlands.

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Clissett in his workshop in about 1910 (1)

A drive rope attached to a bent sampling powered the lathe and candles provided light — no electricity required. No by-product waste accumulated as the furniture makers sold the shavings (for kindling) and larger scraps (for firewood) to the local community. As early eco-warriors, they inspired the UK's Arts and Craft Movement (led by William Morris) that decried the rampant pollution, waste and indulgence of the Industrial Revolution.

Today In this century the North American office furniture sector (see BIFMA) and the European Union (EU) domestic furniture ecolabeling initiatives spearhead attempts to design and produce furniture responsibly. Examples include Italy's Green Home label scheme in 2003 that furniturelink documented and more recently the current EU wooden furniture Ecolabel project outlined in its fact sheet and application form (both pdfs).

Green Furniture Award

Finland

Sponsored by Malmö-based Swedish furniture manufacturer Green Furniture Sweden AB. Entries can't be in production and sponsors may offer contract opportunities to winners.

One Good Chair Award

United States

Sponsored by Edenton, NC–based Sustainable Furnishings Council. Held in 2008, 2009 and 2010, award briefs varied.

Alternate solutions The costs and levels of bureaucracy of large-scale, multi-national and corporate global sustainability programs often discourage the SME sector. Fortunately, many designers and designer/makers still implement in-house eco furniture initiatives. For example Stanardsville, Virginia–based furniture designer Peter Danko defines his approach to sustainable furniture design as "Eco Modernism." Pennsylvania-based furniture designer Peter Danko encourages us to honour "our balance with nature and our position as stewards of this amazing planet." However, he warns that "the shift to a sustainable culture is not going to happen by tweaking the status quo. It is not going to happen until our values are expressed by choosing design that is visually sustainable."

Below, furniturelink shows examples of contemporary sustainable furniture and welcomes your suggestions for additions.

Toffel chair
Upholstered chair with FSC-certified plywood frame (no added formaldehyde) designed by Evan Bare, 608|Design, Toronto, Canada. The Toffel chair's outer frame uses reclaimed hardwoods from urban forests and upholstery of natural jute webbing and latex or soy-based foam.
C10 Springback Chair
Sustainably harvested fast-grown ash chairs designed by David Colwell, Trannon Studio, Wales. The C10 Springback Chair (left) and the new Achair incorporate steambent components that provide flexibility, increased strength and weight savings and add significantly to comfort.
Ultralight chair
Hazel woodland thinnings used for the Suent "superlight" chair designed by Sebastian Cox, London, UK. The design harnesses the mechanical properties of green and steamed wood components to produce a strong chair weighing only 1.8 kgs.
American ash rocking chair
FSC-certified American ash Atmos chair designed by Peter Danko for Peter Danko Design Inc., Stanardsville, VA. Recycled automotive seat belts comprise the rocking chair's seat webbing.
Monique dresser
FSC-certified maple Monique dresser designed by Louis-Philippe Pratte for À Hauteur d'homme, Montréal. For every 100 board feet (the yield of an average maple tree) used the company plants 10 trees in cooperation with Arbre Évolution.

(1) Image courtesy of Terry Rowell who publishes an excellent website about the British chairmaker Philip Clissett.

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