Discover interior ideas » Extras » Background Information » Designed by Nature: <br> Furniture…

Designed by Nature:
Furniture made of natural materials

Photo: Danielle Trofe

Nature is extravagant, it produces everything in excess. But it also thoroughly reuses all this excess production. Man too produces things on an abundant scale. However, much of that cannot be reused and is often also difficult to dispose of. This is just as true of the interior design industry as of any other, and yet there is a growing number of designers who are making use of the cycle of nature.

Photo: Šimon Kern

One of these is the Czech designer Šimon Kern. His Beleaf chair follows nature’s principle that there is no such thing as rubbish, only reusable material: the end of one existence represents the beginning of something new. The idea came to Kern in a park one autumn day. It struck him that tonnes of leaves fall to the ground there every year and all that material has to be disposed of somehow. Rather than burning it, however, the Prague designer mixed the yellowed leaves with a bio-resin and made a chair out of it. “My project concentrates on the practical use of leaf litter from cities in the furniture industry as a means of moving away from plastics towards a more sustainable solution,” explains Kern, who also solves the park maintenance department’s disposal problem at the same time.

Photo: Tamara Orjola

Taking a slightly different approach, the Latvian designer Tamara Orjola works with tree waste. Six hundred million pine trees are processed each year by the timber industry in Europe alone. With around 20 – 30% of the tree mass consisting of needles, the volume of waste is enormous. By means of a process that involves crushing, soaking, steaming, carding and pressing the needles, they are transformed into a soft fibre that can then be used as a basis for textiles. Working in collaboration with the German designer Katherina Jebsen, Orjola developed this material as part of the fascinating project “Forest Wool”.

Photo: Danielle Trofe

New York designer Danielle Trofe demonstrates that agricultural by-products can also be used to produce interior furnishings. She makes lampshades from seed husks and corn stalks – and is helped in this endeavour by mushrooms. The mushroom mycelium (the thread-like cells of a mushroom) binds with the agricultural by-products and grows for several days in lampshade moulds. After heating and drying, a layer of biodegradable milk paint is applied, giving the lampshade its attractive white appearance and making it water-resistant at the same time.

© Full Grown, Photo: Neil Hanna

British designer Gavin Munro grows complete pieces of furniture: mass production that is close to nature … and with no need for sawing or gluing. He has planted more than four hundred pieces of self-growing furniture on his field in Derbyshire. The branches are fixed in place using wire and cable ties, ensuring that the plant growth is channelled in a certain way. Waiting times for the furniture harvest are up to six years, depending on the desired size and level of stability. After that, the pieces still have to dry in the workshop for a year before the unique wood look is achieved using a special finish. So if you intend to use this method to grow your furniture, you’ll need plenty of time! A handy tip: willow is particularly suitable for this kind of furniture production because it grows very quickly.

Photo: Tessa Silva-Dawson

The manufacture and disposal of plastic is a particularly problematic issue. However, a whole range of alternatives to oil-based varieties are now available and these are often made using natural waste products from industries such as animal slaughter, agriculture and milk production. Casein plastics, for example, have been used since the end of the nineteenth century. They are produced using milk that has expired or that cannot be sold for other reasons and which would normally be destroyed. White lumps form on the surface of sour milk and these can be skimmed off. The casein can be easily pressed into certain shapes. Once dry, the natural polymer forms into a solid material and can – just like Duroplast – be processed further. One designer who has rediscovered this plastic is London-based Tessa Silva-Dawson, who uses it in her Protein series. Whether a plastic is biodegradable or not depends on its chemical structure. With bio-plastics, great importance is usually attached to safe and ecologically sound disposal – and, of course, they also help conserve resources.

Further information:

Further interesting articles:
Future materials for architecture and design – hidden in nature
Interview with Dr. Sascha Peters: “From recycling to upcycling”
Living with bottles and fishing nets
Upgrading: New design from old material