Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Sustainable Seating
Annie: repurposed shopping cart by Reestore Ltd., U.K.
 Originally published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 12, 2013

Words like “ecology” and “recycling” have become commonplace and a bit tired these days now that we’ve been separating out our paper and plastic for a good decade, and proudly carrying our reusable bags into even mainstream supermarkets. Popular new additions to the green vocabulary are “salvage” and “sustainability” which imply that new is not always better, even if it is recyclable, and that each of us has an individual responsibility to think beyond plastic and paper.

I wouldn’t argue that every old thing merits salvaging, or that “old” must mean vintage. Instead, we are being called to re-examine the ever-expanding contents of our closets, attics and garages and everywhere else we see unused stuff awaiting the landfill, and question whether these everyday objects have, in fact, reached the end of their useful lives.

Cork Chair: plywood, luan, gorilla glue, pins and 2,700 wine
bottle corks by Aaron Kramer of Urban Objects
We might need some inspiration and a new set of re-purposing goggles to envision the larger task before us. To that end, three recent books showcase reuse in a fascinating range of furniture, lighting, and household accessories, all of which will help make you see that broken lawnmower and rusted treadmill in your garage in a whole new way. To illustrate the point, I’ll narrow my focus to chairs—a piece of furniture we can hardly do without—and show how a chair of uncommonly good looks and clever construction can be made from the most unexpected of materials.

1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse – Remake, Restyle, Recycle, Renew
By Garth Johnson

Crutch Stool: crutches, bicycle wheels, foam
insulation and bicycle innertubes
by Ryan 'Zieak' McFarland
Max: repurposed vintage cast-iron bath
by Reestore Ltd., U.K.
“1000 Ideas for Creative Reuse” enchants us with a padded armchair fashioned from a shopping cart, a stool made from three crutches and a bicycle wheel, and a loveseat carved from a clawfoot bathtub. Over 30 different examples of ingenious seating have been developed from materials you might not recognize without consulting the image directory in the back of the book. A sleek folding chair is made from salvaged white-oak wine barrels. A “Jet Set Lounge Chair” is made from eight skateboard decks and a metal frame. An armchair and ottoman are made from corrugated cardboard and glue.

This enormous collection of household products made by international designers from repurposed materials was put together by Garth Johnson, who admits, “it was hard to limit myself to 1,000.” There are so many ideas in this book you’ll begin to recognize the inherent salvagability in just about everything. Not only have literally tons of cast-offs escaped the cruel fate of the landfill, they’ve been magically transformed into something truly extraordinary, and quite often, beautiful.
Jet Set Loung Chair: skateboard decks with cushions and
metal frame by Gil Delapointe and Pierre Ander Senizergues

Upcycle! More than 100 upcycling ideas for furniture, lighting, products and accessories!
Published by Gingko Press

“Upcycle!” confirms that the term “recycling” is pass√© by asking, “Why just recycle when you can upcycle?” and defines upcycling as “converting an object into something of greater value without degrading the material with which it is made.” It also features designers from around the world, who transform hundreds of discarded items as pedestrian as a tire, a metal pie pan, a radiator, or a damaged upright piano, into stylish and functional ottomans, stools, lounges or chairs.

UpCycle Cabbage Chair by Oki Sato
One of my favorites is the “T-Shirt Chair” by Maria Westerberg, which gives new life to forty old t-shirts. One by one, the shirts are woven through a single sheet of bent metal grid into a cushy, reclining chair.

Another original is the “Heater Chair” by Boris Dennier. His rudimentary bending technique involves placing a cast iron radiator on two blocks and jumping on it. He then welds on legs reclaimed from old pieces of furniture and applies red enamel paint.

For those drawn to fiber arts, “Tis Knot Ottoman” is made from colorful heavy-duty nylon crocheted around used tires, which are rescued from tire shops or road-side ditches. Each style in the collection is named after a car popular in Australia, where the designer Cindy-Lee Davies lives, such as “Datsun” and “Gemini.” Another designer, Camilla Hounsell Halvorsen, makes a similar floor pouffe from large rubber innertubes wrapped with strips of scrap upholstery fabric.

Pallet Outdoor Loveseat by author Chris Gleason
Wood Pallet Projects – Cool and Easy-to-Make Projects for the Home and Garden
By Chris Gleason

Author Chris Gleason says that pallets have a unique “patina of experience.” They are weathered, distressed and aged and “beautiful in a way that shiny new things can never be.” He believes that incorporating “defects” such as nail holes, stains and the rough board texture can be desirable and appealing.

Pallet Chair by author Chris Gleason:
All of the wood used in this chair
came from a single pallet.
“Wood Pallet Projects” takes salvaged wooden pallets and provides lots of project ideas and instructions, including how to make a “simple meets sophisticated” chair and a backyard loveseat. Pallets are ubiquitous once you start looking for them—languishing in lots, resting behind buildings, and stacked at yard sales. (You can also buy pallets for cheap at Walker Street Pallet in Watsonville or for $2 at Last Chance Mercantile in Marina.)

Although a few of Gleason’s projects use pallets as-is, for most you’ll need a basic set of tools such as hand or power saws, a miter box, and a power sander, plus a hammer or crowbar, to deconstruct and reconstruct a pallet into furniture.

Remake Recap

These three books might help us re-envision what kind of chairs we want in or homes or yards and how their inclusion might transform our environments. Any one of these chairs might become a conversation piece and an invitation to reconsider responsible consumerism. Or they might inspire spring cleaning with an upcycled mind-set, rather than committing more waste to the landfill. Or, they might actually provide a comfortable place to sit, rest our feet, relax and smile.

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