GREEN FURNITURE COMES IN MANY COLORS: Local Options in Sustainable Furnishings
by Larry K. Fried
Whether it is something to sit on, sleep on, eat on, put things on or store things in, local options for choosing sustainable furnishings have increased significantly in just the last few years. I speak from personal experience.
An Organic Sleep
In late 2006, shortly after my wife and I relocated to Eugene from Humboldt County, we were determined to replace our 15-year-old sagging excuse of a mattress with something organic and natural, free of chemical fire retardants, formaldehyde, synthetic foams and other out-gassing toxins. After all, bed is where we spend a third of our lives, and it only seems natural to want to sleep in the healthiest and purest of environments possible.
While at the time there were a number of retail options scattered around the country, offering a variety of brands using some combination of natural latex, wool and organic cotton, no retail store offered such mattresses anywhere in the Willamette Valley. For our purchase we turned to a newly established store in rural Humboldt County, California. We ordered a complete set including a new mattress, organic wool pad, organic cotton sheets and a sustainably-made solid maple bed to hold it all up. Ironically, the maple bed was made right here in Eugene, but more on that later.Today there are a number of mattress and furniture stores in the Willamette Valley that carry a line of natural and organic mattresses, but only ECO Sleep Solutions in downtown Eugene is entirely focused on such offerings.
Co-owner Donna Byrd had been working for Savvy Rest, a Virginia-based manufacturer and retailer of organic mattresses, when her husband, Jim, got the idea that he and Donna should open a Savvy Rest retail store of their own. Careful research led them to make the move across the country “because Eugene had the right mind-set,” Donna explained, “a large organic-minded community. We felt we could be embraced and not have people scratch their heads and wonder why. They (Eugene residents) were very much into recycling and renewing, and we found out later that they had Pacific Rim Woodworking right here in town, whose furniture we also wanted to sell.”
Pacific Rim Woodworking is also where our maple bed was made, and they manufacture a whole line of finely crafted solid maple bedroom furniture, sourcing their wood from secondary harvests in Oregon and Washington managed forests. They use a finish of their own making that consists mostly of natural tung oil. Pacific Rim does not sell products directly to the consumer and they have no showroom. Thus, when we bought our bed we ordered through the California retailer, but picked up the bed at the Pacific Rim factory in Eugene. It has moved only a few miles from the factory to our bedroom, where the bed now resides.
ECO Sleep Solutions is currently the sole retailer of Pacific Rim furniture between Portland and Ashland, and also the only Oregon retailer with the Pacific Rim furniture on display.
Easy to Move
Pacific Rim Woodworking was founded back in 1982 to serve what was then a booming futon industry. That makes them one of the oldest sustainable furniture builders in the region. The early buyers of futons were largely young adults. Their desire for something to sleep on that was simply made, easy to move, natural (originally they were 100% cotton) and low cost were major drivers behind the growth of the futon market in the USA. I know those were all factors in my purchase of my first futon in 1980. I continued to sleep on a futon for at least a dozen years, until the need for something easier on my back took over.
A similar need for simple moves and eco-friendly styling for the college-set served as the inspiration for Janis Dodson, founder of another Eugene company, Ugo Furniture. Ugo is one of the newest entries in sustainable furniture manufacturing. Their furniture frames are constructed with FSC-certified pine, which they say is sturdy but light, and hemlock for the cushion support. All the pieces are designed to assemble without tools in a matter of minutes.
Ugo manufactures sofas, chairs and loveseats that can be custom-made to order with a selection of fabrics, fills and finishes. The standard fabric is polyester without fire retardant or teflon, or they can special order organic cotton fabric by request. The standard choice of fills for cushions is organic cotton or a fiber made from recycled plastic bottles. The furniture can be bought with laminate finish or the wood can be left unfinished. Because the Ugo finishes currently used are not particularly green, buying the unfinished wood product allows the green-minded purchaser to use a very low toxic product such as those made by Land Ark Northwest. Land Ark is a Corvallis-area manufacturer of natural wood finishes, which are available to purchase from their website or stores like the Green Store in downtown Eugene. The Green Store also carries several other product lines of very low toxic paints, stains and finishes.
Green Pet Diners
Land Ark’s products are the finish of choice for another new entry into the green furniture market. Shopdog Woodworks, a one-woman shop, makes eco-conscious artisan furniture for people and their companion animals. “The Land Ark finishes make a food safe surface for our raised pet-diners,” owner Angela Mancini explains of her standard pet furniture line. Mancini also uses the Land Ark finishes on her custom made furniture for people. All the furniture Shopdog Woodworks produces is crafted from salvaged wood, mostly from pallets and woods sourced from a green Springfield company, Urban Lumber. “I pick from what he’s got in stock, and even do a little dumpster diving for what he is trying to get rid of. I get a better price that way,” Mancini said of her purchasing at Urban Lumber. She can also select wood based on a custom order.
From Urban Tree to Urban Furniture
Urban Lumber does much more than the company name would suggest. In addition to recovering and milling salvaged urban trees into lumber for many uses, owner Seth San Filippo loves to make custom furniture. “Building furniture is the main reason I got into this whole business. It’s the main reason I own a lumber company now,” San Filippo said. The urban trees he recovers provide him a source of highly valued and varied wood for his furnishings without having to turn to lumber sourced from endangered forests. “One thing leads to another. I saw all these trees going to waste, “San Filippo elaborated. “I like to do things that make sense. It makes sense to use what you have. To recycle or reuse things.”
Seth has actually custom-crafted a number of beautiful pieces for my family home over the last several years. These have included a pair of small cabinets to hang above our bed, kitchen cabinet doors, a moveable kitchen island, a small linen cabinet for the bathroom and, most recently, sliding closet doors. All but the linen cabinet were made from maple, much of it from a tree that grew just about a mile and a half from our home. The linen cabinet is solid cherry, also from a local urban tree. Seth also built a walnut computer desk for my wife’s uniquely shaped UO office.
And a step away from furnishings, Urban Lumber is currently milling some incense cedar boards for a replacement deck and fence to be built at our home this summer. Seth’s work has enriched our home considerably and added much needed useable storage space. We delight in the fact that these pieces are made with wood sourced in such a responsible way. It feels like these trees, which have added splendor to our urban landscape, are continuing their lives repurposed, and are now adding splendor to our home.
Of course wood is not the only material that can be used in building sustainable furniture. One of the more common alternatives is bamboo, which is a grass. Bamboo can replenish itself easily and grows back quickly. Bamboo readily replaces wood in look and construction technique. A less obvious choice might be concrete, which is just what a Corvallis company is using in their custom crafted furniture.
Coda Furniture is made “with up to 82 percent recycled content,” says owner Erik Haluzak. How do they make concrete with recycled content? Haluzak says, “It’s mostly glass sand and glass rock. Concrete is a recipe with three necessary ingredients - cement, sand and an aggregate (rock).” The sand and rock used in his concrete recipe are made from recycled glass obtained from Aurora Glass, a division of St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County. The concrete is used for table tops, held up by wooden bases and legs. For those “we use as much salvaged wood as possible,” says Haluzak.
Coda Furniture is a direct outgrowth of Haluzak’s other business, E Flat Concrete Countertops, which has been in business since 1995. Haluzak said his furniture making got started because his clients wanted furniture to match their new countertops.
In addition to those mentioned, there are a number of custom cabinet and fine furniture makers in the Valley who are focused on doing things sustainably. Some, like Coho Custom Cabinetry, have been established locally for quite a number of years, while others, such as Numana Woodcraft, have only recently entered our local market. All of them contribute to the increasing variety of choices we have in green furnishings.
Tips in Choosing Sustainable Furnishings Choose: Materials that weren’t transported long distances. Use local manufacturers and custom-builders. Buy local wherever you can.
In furnishing your home you will naturally consider such things as comfort, quality, style and affordability. But what if you want it to be a green choice - healthy for your indoor environment, and with minimal negative impact on the planet? Here are some things to consider in going green.
The Soft Parts
Choose: Fabrics, padding and fills for upholstery and mattresses are best when they are made from natural and untreated materials using eco-friendly dyes. Excellent choices include organic cotton & wool, natural latex and bamboo fabrics. Other choices include recycled materials, such as fill made from recycled plastic bottles.
Avoid: Chemical flame-retardants, especially the PBDEs, which the EPA classifies as a possible human carcinogen; stain repellants such as Teflon or Scotchguard; merino wool (for animal cruelty) and conventionally grown cotton should all be avoided. The latter, because it is heavily laden with pesticides. According to the Sierra Club, “polyurethane foam may emit more flame retardants and other chemicals as it ages,” so recycled foam products are not a good choice.
The Hard Parts
Choose: Wood, metal, glass & plastic are all materials you might find in furniture construction. For wood, choose solid woods that are reclaimed, salvaged, or are certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). FSC-certified plywood is also available and does not contain formaldehyde-releasing adhesives. Metals, glass & plastic should all be recycled or reclaimed materials. Bamboo, depending on its source and construction, can also be a very green choice.
Avoid: Imported woods that are not from salvaged or certified sources, plastic veneers or laminates, also particleboard and MDF (medium density fiberboard) unless they are FSC-certified.
Choose: Paints, stains & finishes that are water based with very low or no VOCs or are made with natural oils such as tung and linseed.
Avoid: Lacquers, petrochemical-based paints, stains, and finishes; also tints that may contain heavy metals or other toxins. These products can all emit high levels of air pollutants into your indoor air for some time.
Keep It Local
Choose: Materials that weren’t transported long distances. Use local manufacturers and custom-builders. Buy local wherever you can.