#081 / 2007

Past pushes the present

Must eco-standards be compromised to produce well-designed contemporary furniture? In today's "seen to be green" over-hyped marketplace, some designers are opting too readily for shortcuts. Their products typically boast one cherry-picked green attribute while staying silent about more serious shortcomings. A common example takes the format of exaggerating the eco-benefits of using waste material when more important eco-criteria - minimizing quantity/weight of materials used, eliminating toxic chemicals, lowering energy required for manufacture, considering green-house gases generated by transportation - are discounted or ignored.

Cristina Covello and Andrew Reesor are not gratuitously green in the production of their modern furniture that echoes a more eco-friendly past. Recently graduated from Sheridan College, they established CovelloReesor Furniture Design in August 2006, while using the shared facilities of Toronto's Dupont Woodworking Cooperative. They plan to establish their own workshop soon.


Common Chair                                 RePly Chair

Less than a year into their new venture, the duo has created two unique eco-friendly chair designs and marketing concepts. They launched their newest design, modestly named the Common Chair, at this year's "Come Up to My Room" event at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto. Two other recent exhibits, Swell in Vancouver and HauteGREEN in New York, featured the Common Chair.

The Windsor-style Common Chair (above left) possesses unimpeachable eco-friendly credentials and heritage (literally). Mennonite craftspeople produce and assemble the chairs, mainly using a frugal amount of the off-cuts of a kiln-drying facility. Reesor's Mennonite ancestry and both his and Covello's interest in Canadian furniture design history connect their present furniture production to the past. "We are interested in history and research, so we started from 'where we are from,' which led us to investigate the designs of settler and Mennonite furniture," Covello explained.


Mennonite furniture workshop near Waterloo, Ontario.

The mixed-species off-cuts, chosen at random for the seat and spindles of the Common Chairs, contribute to its unique visual appeal. Its production is also unique - and eco-appealing. Three Mennonite brothers and one of the sons produce the chairs in two workshops located in Wallenstein and St. Clements, townships north of Waterloo, Ontario. As was common practice in close-knit Mennonite communities (until recent years), each brother contributes a specialized set of skills to the production task at hand [1]. One brother glues up the seat blanks, one machines and drills the seats and one turns the spindles and assembles the final product. In a mix of the old and new that is a characteristic of Mennonites of this region, the brothers' workshops are equipped with electrically powered saws, routers and lathes, but they travel around the community in horse-drawn buggies.

Equally eco-friendly, the CovelloReesor RePly Chair (above right) entirely eliminates transportation-generated green-house gas emissions. The "customer" logs on to the RePly website and downloads free plans for the lounge chair that can be made with simple tools and recycled plywood. Customers are then invited to submit images of their chairs for all to share on the online gallery.

Covello and Reesor also offer other designs through the Made website, and their future plans include the development of a stool, bench and table in cooperation with the Mennonite family. The new products will be introduced at next year's Interior Design Show in Toronto.

More than "seen to be green," CovelloReesor deliver on eco - without compromising - by incorporating the past to design and produce contemporary furniture for today and the future.

The Windsor chair consists of a solid (or laminated) seat, with drilled sockets into which turned spindles, a back and legs are inserted. Developed centuries ago, it probably derived from the three-legged milking stool. Around 1700 in England, pole-lathe turners, (later called bodgers), in villages surrounding High Wycombe made the first Windsor chair parts and shipped them to London for final assembly. Often painted green to hide the different species and/or crude crafting, the chair was initially mass-produced for outdoor use.

In the 1730s, Windsors were introduced to Philadelphia in the American colonies, where they became very popular and highly refined in craft and design. Later, Canadian Windsor producers copied these American styles rather than those from Britain.

[1] Mennonite Furniture by Lynda Musson Nykor and Patricia D. Musson, page 13.

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