The Natural Way

By Diane Schlindwein

October 3, 2008 5 min read

THE NATURAL WAY

Earth-friendly furnishing helps make any home brighter

Diane Schlindwein

Creators News Service

It's easier than ever to make your visitors green with envy when they visit your green furnished home. Many professional furniture designers have been finding ways to make your home a little more eco-friendly.

Over the last few years, people have begun to feel guilty about purchasing new furnishings, said Dana Pfeiffer, who co-owns the design company Pholishus based in Springfield, Ill. That's why she and her business partner, Tamara Holland, have recently begun designing green furniture.

"We have a great cocktail table made out of recycled newspaper and kirei (leftovers from corn fields) and a bar that is made out of bamboo and PaperStone," said Pfeiffer.

Made out of 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper, this new material has been going into everything from cutting boards to countertops. "The PaperStone, if scratched, can be sanded out with low grit sandpaper and the color is through and through," she said. "Green table tops are ideal because they create a natural barrier against bacteria settling into the surface."

When it comes to green furniture, it's sometimes about what has been left behind -- even by Mother Nature.

The Chicago Furniture Designers Association recently opened an exhibition of furniture called "Rising from the Ashes: Furniture from Lost Trees." The traveling exhibit featured pieces made from ash trees affected by the emerald ash borer, an insect that was accidentally imported from China, killing 25 million ash trees in the United States.

Chicago furniture designer Elizabeth Hayes made a table for the exhibit. Hayes, who co-owns Metal+Works with Ross Fiersten, usually works with metal on her pieces. "Instead of all that wood going to waste, it was made into beautiful furniture," Hayes said.

Although the definition of green is narrow, there are ways to expand the vision of it. "When people think green, they think wood. But metal is also sustainable furniture."

Another Chicago-based furniture designer, S. Lloyd Natof -- the great-grandson of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright -- said it had been years since he had worked in ash, yet he designed a piece for the show.

"It is a vague thing, green furniture," he said. "But it is very important to make furniture that's more likely to be kept around."

There are many new concepts in making furniture. In cities across the country, people are taking what has to be cut down and making it into something special.

"In the future, the best source of ash will be from reclaimed urban wood," said Natof. "A fair number of trees are cut down in urban areas and many cities have local entrepreneurs who [make furniture]. A lot of guys on the West Coast do it."

Jim Newsom, owner of Urban Hardwoods in Seattle, not only harvests local wood, but uses it to make one-of-a-kind pieces that he sells all over the United States.

Seattle-area residents and city officials call Newsom when a tree needs to be removed. The whole process, from felling a tree until it is formed into a unique piece of furniture, takes about eight years. Newsom said customers appreciate knowing just where their furniture "grew."

Newsom and his team don't allow any wood to go to waste. "Every scrap of wood we cut goes to toymakers or a sawmill yard or gets made into firewood," Newsom said. "Even the sawdust gets put into the mulch pile."

Of course, there's more to decorating a home -- and living green -- than just buying furniture. It's important to pay attention to other details. That's why well-known eco-stylist Danny Seo has devoted two-thirds of his young life (he's just 31) to saving the environment.

In his book, "Conscious Style Home" (St. Martin's Press), he writes about using recycled paint to brighten rooms, bamboo blinds to let the sunshine in and recycled glass tiles in bathrooms. He also promotes restoring and reusing existing furniture.

Seo has partnered with two companies to help more people go green. He has collaborated with Simmons to develop a Natural Care by Danny Seo line of mattress products.

Seo has also been working with JCPenney as their Green Living Partner, advising on their Simply Green products. He currently has a line of eco-friendly bedding, towels and home accessories that are available nationwide and on their website, jcpenney.com.

"Our environment was a gift given to us," said Pfeiffer, who admires anyone, like Seo, who helps preserve the environment. "It is a privilege to extend that gift and create unique materials using God's gift to us instead of man-made materials.

"How can you go wrong, when the materials are perfect to begin with? It makes creativity a win-win situation before you even start."

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