Furniture is, in both a physical and philosophical sense, the interface between people and the built environment. It’s where we sleep, eat, work, and play, and that means it gets a lot more wear than the building it sits in. So how do we make our furniture more sustainable? What is sustainable furniture anyways?
In order to determine what sustainable furniture is, we need to understand the problems furniture has today. Three things that come immediately to mind are that:
- Furniture isn’t often very durable, requiring replacement rather than repair (or cleaning).
- Furniture is built with glues and materials that off-gas volatile organic compounds (VOCs).
- Furniture isn’t flexible enough to adapt to aesthetic changes, making it socially obsolete.
So now let’s solve these problems. Durability and repairability concerns can be addressed by improving the quality and craftsmanship, and also by making it deconstructible, which makes it a snap to repair or replace pieces. Deconstructability also reduces the need for glues, which reduces the potential for off-gassing. And while deconstructability and materials don’t necessarily have bearing on fashion, the more workable something is the more customizable it is, making it adaptable to the latest trends.
Following these changes, I tried to design a couple of pieces of furniture that I thought would be pleasing and sustainable. They often involve parts from a regular hardware store and plywood or lumber which can have a variety of levels of quality and provenance.
One of my biggest concerns is the sustainability of built-in furniture. Since it’s literally part of the building, it’s much less flexible and repairable than if it were standalone. On the other hand, it’s tailored to fit its surroundings, use less space and materials and it can have functions unique to the situation. So far I like the idea of a few designs I’ve played with, such as the classic bay window nook or an entry room seating area, but I’m still not wholly convinced.
Nevertheless, the most important part of this is that more sustainable furniture be used in homes, and that we value and take care of the furniture that we love so that it lasts forever. The most sustainable option is to reuse, reduce and recycle, in that order!