Sustainable Materials: Designing Greener With Confidence

American Walnut Media Unit

I don’t often do this as I try to write my own content for this blog but i just came across this article by Ola Moszumanska for Indesignlive and had to share it…

Sustainability is paramount in modern design. In fact, one could argue that if a design isn’t sustainable, it isn’t truly modern. With a clear understanding of the negative implications of climate change and access to sustainable resources, selecting sustainable materials isn’t a choice anymore. It’s an urgent obligation – and a long-term commitment.

The lack of information and certain preconceptions about the available resources and their impact on the environment can widen the gap between the designer’s intention to minimise the negative impact on the environment and the sustainability credentials of the realised design.

District Furniture hand made bespoke media unit from solid walnut

With concerns about the negative impact of deforestation on the environment, hardwood often finds itself at the very heart of this gap – even though there is ample evidence proving that American hardwood is one of the most sustainable building materials.

Criswell Davis, an internationally recognised hardwood expert, echoes that sentiment: “We’ve been taught to believe that cutting down trees is bad for the environment. The hardwood industry has been treated as the destroyer of the environment, whereas we have data that proves that American hardwood is one of the only true green building materials.” But American hardwood is different from many imported timbers – and that difference goes all the way to its dark history around the arrival of the early European settlers.

American Walnut bedside tables

American forests were devastated by the European settlers who – by 1900 – had gone as far as completely clearing the woods in some states. Luckily, by the 1970s, the USA saw the younger and lusher forests regenerate and flourish with an even more diverse range of species. Today, US forests are predominantly subdivided into smallholdings – owned by over 10 million private landowners – who ensure that the growth of the forests not only merely matches but exceeds the harvest.

In contrast to many other forests around the world, American hardwood forests are harvested selectively and take into consideration the tree’s lifecycle – and its role in the biosphere. A tree reaches the peak of its life at around 80 years old – that’s when, after playing their unique and critical role in the biosphere, they stop absorbing carbon. Only after reaching that point, the trees are cut down, creating space for the younger ones to grow. “For every hardwood tree that is felled in the US, 2.4 trees take its place through natural regeneration,” explains Davis.

American Walnut Media Unit

It’s this smart management of leafy resources that has doubled the amount of hardwood grown in the USA compared to half a decade ago.. “I urge people to take a virtual flight across the Eastern United States and see how the private forestland owners in the USA have done a spectacular job of maintaining this ‘legacy crop’ to pass onto their grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond,” he says.

But the USA’s commitment to ensuring their green resource is sustainable goes well beyond Google Earth visuals. They have invested in what is probably the most extensive Life Cycle Assessment study ever undertaken in the hardwood sector. John Chan, Director of Southeast Asia and Greater China for the American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) explains: “LCA is a scientific method to measure and evaluate the environmental burdens associated with a product or activity, by systematically describing and assessing the energy and materials used and released to the environment over the life cycle.” The assessment includes all relevant details, even the evaluation of the transportation of the resource to Southeast Asia, to ensure that American hardwood is not only entirely renewable but also carbon negative. This assessment is available to every designer as part of an individual American Hardwood Environmental Profile (AHEP) – providing peace of mind on the minimal impact of the selected material on the environment.

Hand Crafted Custom Furniture

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, finished in two coats of matt osmo

We were commissioned to create a custom piece of furniture, for our lovely client who is opening a local interior design studio space. The design comprised of a 5m piece of 65mm thick elm.

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, ready to be cut with Festool track saw

The first step in the custom process was to cut one edge clean so it would butt nicely up-too the showroom window wall. The 3m festool track definitely comes in handy for this kind of work. Now this is no ordinary window shelf, its custom design has a ‘waterfall’ edge, which is an edge 90 degrees to the face that drops down the side. As you can imagine with a piece of timber this rare and expensive this became quite a pressured mitre cut… But what can I say we have balls of steel, oh and a little bit of skill !

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, mitre cut and dominoed into position

Mitre cut complete, grain still flows, some sweating from the furniture maker but all in all extremely happy with the result. Its now time to ‘domino’ the joint. For those of you in the know ignore this next bit, maybe head of to the loo or make a brew… Domino’s are the miraculous invention by German tool manufacturer Festool, they are basically a jointing system that is quick and easy and extremely strong. The domino replaces the traditional mortice and tenon joint, which is not only time consuming but also needs to be done extremely accurately to give comparable strength.

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, block glued in order to assist with the bonding process

Once the slots for the domino’s had been cut we now need to consider the clamping process for the waterfall edge. We need to ensure suitable pressure was applied to the mitre joint in order to form a strong bond. I decided to glue some angled blocks to the faces of the custom built vanity shelf. Although this would mean an extra process in removing them carefully with a chisel we felt it would be worth it to achieve the quality of joint

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, clamped and glued waterfall edge

I should mention at this stage that although we cut the mitre joint with the track saw, in order to finesse the joint with the hand plane a full day was required to get the joint absolutely perfect so that the faces met perfectly all the way along the joint.

Anyway… this hand crafted, custom built piece of furniture was now really taking shape, a few deep breaths and we applied the glue and bonded the waterfall edge to the main shelf. Four Bessy clamps were added to the blocks to apply the necessary pressure to the joint, then we went for a cup of tea and a lie down!

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf with hand carved radius waterfall edge glued

The day after… hey presto the waterfall edge lives! I was extremely happy with the results, the grain flowed beautifully around the joint, and the joining of the custom built furniture had gone really well, but then…..

Our client requested a radius edge to be planed into the edge. We had foreseen this could be a possible situation so I had set the internal domino’s back, just in case. The only slight draw back to this is that we would loose some of the grain consistency around the edge of the shelf. But a 65mm radius was selected and we set to work with the hand plane.

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf with hand carved radius waterfall edge

I’m not sure… what do you think? I did like the really crisp edge, but the custom built shelf does now flow really nicely down its waterfall edge with the radius applied. Anyway its almost time to select the surface finish, just a little bit of chisel work required on the edge then it would be out with the matt Osmo.

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, finished in two coats of matt osmo

WOW!!! Look at that grain, its magic really, look what happens when solid timber is sanded and finished with Osmo. We love Osmo for our custom built hand crafted furniture, as it looks great, it brings out the natural beauty of the timber, if cared for it is extremely durable and the best of all there are no ‘nastie’s’ like you get in sprayed finishes.

Hand crafted custom build vanity shelf, finished in two coats of matt osmo, final design

And that my friends is that, a beautiful solid elm custom built piece of furniture. We will keep you posted when we actually deliver the piece to the new showroom and post some pictures of this beautiful piece in-situ.

White Nancy – Bollington

There’s nothing we like more at District Furniture than to get out into nature and blow the cobwebs off! That’s why we have decided to write a series of blogs about some of our favorite outdoor spaces in our local community of Bollington.

District Furniture local guide to Bollington

We are very lucky indeed to have our furniture making workshops situated so close to the natural beauty of the Peak District and surrounds. Indeed are workshops are positioned in an old mill on the banks of the Macclesfield canal system, in the heart of bollington. And just a short 30 minute walk from our workshops is the iconic ‘White Nancy’. (We can actually see her from our toilet window!)

Now what or who is white Nancy I hear you say, well….

District Furniture blog about local beauty spot, this week White Nancy, Bollington

White Nancy is a grade 2 listed landmark, on top of Kerridge Hill overlooking Bollington. Here’s an extract from the Happy Valley website; White Nancy was actually built as a summer house by the Gaskell family, who lived below the hill at Ingersley Hall, in about 1815. It is stone built with external rendering and regularly painted white in order to maintain its visibility. 

I absolutely love the climb to White Nancy, and once at the top of Kerridge Hill what a view! The structure itself is ‘a’ symmetrical in shape and has all the beautiful characteristics of a hand-made and crafted piece of sculpture. I love the fact that it is so imperfect that you can almost feel the creators hands molding the monolithic sculpture.

So how do you get to see Nancy close up, well there are a number of ways. You can access White Nancy via the Gritstone trail. Either walk from the Pott Shrigley end of Bollington, or park in Kerridge and access the footpath and bridleway which then leads to the steep steps up to Nancy from the Gritstone trail.

Whichever way you go enjoy the beautiful view, country air and of course White Nancy, and don’t forget to give the old girl a kiss from us!

Creative Happiness?

I heard something on the weekend that made me stop and think about everything I do not only personally but professionally. The question seems simple..”What is your definition of happiness?” The answer much more complicated.

I set about trying to answer the question for myself and struggled to find the right words. I didn’t want the answer to be just a list of material things but to go a little deeper and find out what exactly is it that make me happy?

And in this fast paced ‘technological’ world we are living in do we take time to recognise these moments no matter how small or fleeting they may be?

I’m still working on my answer but while you contemplate your definition, listen to the words from Mr Alfred Hitchcock. When asked in a live interview “Mr Hitchcock, what is your definition of happiness?” He replied with this masterpiece…

“A clear horizon.
Nothing to worry about (on your plate)
Only things that are creative,
And not destructive.
Within yourself, within me I can’t bear quarrelling
I can’t bear feelings between people.
I think hatred is wasted energy,
And it’s all none productive.
I’m very sensitive, a sharp word said by say a person who has a temper
Or if they are close to me,
hurts me for days.
I know we are only human,
We do go in for these various emotions,
Call them negative emotions
But when all these are removed
And you can look forward
And the road is clear ahead
And now you are going to create something.
I think that is as happy as I will ever want to be.”

Alfred Hitchcock

Design and Create a Custom Table

How do you start to design and create a custom made table. At District Furniture we think we have the perfect recipe for success… Firstly you need to listen! That’s right sit down and listen to what the client wants. Ask questions of your client… Are there any problems you can solve for them with the design? Do they have an unusual space in which to house their custom designed hand-crafted table? What are the dimensions? Are these fixed or will they change from time to time?

Communication is the key, extract as much information as you can. Next up; Materials, what reclaimed solid timber top do they prefer? What grain structure or depth of colour once a finish has been applied? At District Furniture we have a variety of standard timbers that we use but also have a fantastic supplier with an amazing array of timber to choose from.

Another key to creating the perfect custom table is the design. Modern, classic or traditional? We can do them all, we will work with you to create ideas and develop your own designs. Our team can provide sketch drawings, CAD model and detailed renders in order to ensure you will receive exactly what you require.

Then we bring your ideas to life in our canal-side workshop in Bollington. We hand select the timber that suits your requirements, then start to work to shape the material. Using all hands-on techniques we plane and thickness the timber to the correct dimensions. We then laminate boards together in order to produce the right size table top. Depending on the design for the leg frame we will either use timber or metal to produce the table.

District Furniture workshop in Clarence Mill Bollington

A quick ‘lick’ of natural, but durable finish and hey-presto the design you have been thinking about for years and years has finally come to life. We can deliver your table in our District Furniture van, ensuring that your project has gone from start to finish, completely tailored to your needs.

Different Continent; Same Problem.

My family and I recently returned to the UK after 11 years living in Australia. During this time the media and information surrounding our waste and what was happening to it was becoming more and more disturbing. The main concern and underlying narrative of all this new information was that our waste, especially plastic waste was increasing dramatically.

Yes you might say, “I know this to be true, but I also recycle responsibly and clean my plastic bottles and packaging and put them in the correct bin”. Here lies the problem; most people feel they are doing the ‘right thing’ (as do I). The trouble is that not all plastic is not ending up where it should.

We think that when we do our recycling like good citizens, the recycled waste ends up at the treatment plant or recycling depot to be processed and then go back into the material chain as a form of recycled plastic. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE. A lot of our plastic waste is ending up on someone elses’ doorstep! Namely economically poorer countries, such as Malaysia and India and left for them to deal with, and in most cases go to landfill.

Plastic recycling waste from western countries ending up in landfill in Malaysia

It turns out it is much cheaper to put our plastic waste on a ship and send it to other parts of the world rather than deal with it in our own country. And this seems to be the trend in the Western world as it was reported in Australia and now returning to the UK, I can see the same thing happening here.

What is the answer… Well you can blame governments, you can blame the companies involved in the processing of plastics, the makers of plastics…. the list goes on. But in the end the buck really has to stop with us. We are all only ever really responsible for our own mind and our own actions, by reducing the amount of plastic we consume and in turn ‘recycle’ we can affect this trend in a positive way.

The only way to move forward is to look at our own actions rather than thinking other people are to blame or that they will ‘mop’ up our mess.

Gary Pennington – Owner District Furniture

I personally will we be trying to reduce the amount of plastics I consume and eventually eradicate it all together. I know my weakness is coffee, so I need to be armed with a ‘keep cup’ at all times. And my forgetfulness leads to always needing to buy a plastic bag at the checkout. I’m going to start with these two small actions and then expand into larger ways to eradicate plastics from my life. We can all do it and for the sake of everyone and our planet we all need to do it.

Written by Gary Pennington

MY CONSTANT BATTLE WITH GREEN WASH

So I have a constant battle which rages inside my ‘designer/maker’ brain… “Is what I’m doing beneficial or detrimental to the environment?”

Now I love design and I love making things, and this is where the conflict lies, in our current materialistic world do we need more stuff!! We surely have enough chairs, tables, lamps and any other product you care to mention, but our thirst for the new, and fashionable drives the industry forward. So the question is if this trend continues what can I do as a product designer to make sure the things I design and release into the world have minimum impact before during and after the lifespan of the object?

And that my friends is my overarching objective! I thought, I would set up business and start producing 100% ‘green, environmental, sustainable’ products and the world would be a better place. I placed little value or focus (in my original business plan) that the world is economy driven with green issues being pushed far far behind monetary. Sounds obvious, I hear you say! Maybe in hindsight yes but when you have a vision you believe in, you think that ‘surely it must work’.  After one year in business, I was broke and in debt, I needed to find balance.

Balance… this is where an even greater quandary enters my mind! As it now appears that the thing I am doing to create financial balance is actually more ‘eco, environmental, green, and sustainable’ than my work with producing new designs… I started to restore old furniture, this not only generates short term income to develop my own products but gives me great satisfaction in seeing these fantastic old pieces given a new lease of life, AND keeps them from land fill for another 20-30 years.

District Furniture hand made custom designed tables from reclaimed sustainable materials

I wrestle with these thoughts on a daily basis and sometimes it can stifle creativity, as you can start thinking negatively about everything you try to create. Recently I am of the mindset that my vision is true, my ethics are good, I now need to generate money through products and restoration that can be driven back into research and development to product truly 100% ‘environmental’ products, that at every stage from design, development, production, throughout the objects life and after they are not harming our environment and in fact will eventually enhance it.

District Furniture hand made custom designed tables from reclaimed sustainable materials

This I now know is not going to be easy and I will need to sacrifice some of my beliefs in order to achieve this long term goal. I know that it is going to be impossible for everything immediately to be completely environmental. But I truly believe that a green economy can be created, in which money and environment concerns naturally drive each other and sit equally at the top of companies considerations.

“AND I THINK TO MYSELF, WHAT A WASTEFUL WORLD”

Ok; so the title of this blog is clearly a terrible rip off, of a classic Louis Armstrong song, but I will try and explain myself…

It was a usual Tuesday afternoon, I had nipped out from work and was minding my own business in the queue at the local post office. With two parcels tucked under my arm I aimlessly looked around at the two rows of mainly ‘useless’ items for sale in the racks flanking the queue. Children’s’ books, Keith Urban greatest hits Cd, Chocolate almonds (tempting but I better not) and various electronics. This particular day the queue was moving pretty quickly so I didn’t even have chance to thumb through the pages of 100 great barbecue recipes when I found myself at the front.

Now this is where this story really picks up pace. They guy in front of me who at this stage was being served by a particularly patient postal worker, was looking to purchase a cartridge for his printer. I say the post worker was patient as the guy did not have a code for his printer but instead chose to demonstrate the size of the cartridge using his hands. In a strange sort of ‘the fish I caught was this big’ moment the size of the cartridge apparently was an expandable version!

“Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.” 

Yvon Chouinard – Director Patagonia

Anyway I digress, the cartridge clearly was not in stock as what the guy was describing would require one of the post office windows to be removed in order to get it in and out of the shop. Dis-believing of the lack of availability the guy turned for the exit but nearly tripped over a pile of printers cleverly arranged on the floor in a pyramid to entice punters and hurt the elderly! The man did not fall but nearly wept with joy, as he saw a newer version of his printer in the clearance section. (Now this is the moment I have been building too, before you read on, go and get yourself a cup of tea, no wait make it a cold drink just in case having read what is coming next you spit out the hot tea all over yourself!)

The man turned to the patient postal worker and exclaimed “this printer, its on sale?”

The patient postal worker replied “yes, that’s why its in the clearance section!”

The man replied “it’s $9.99?” the patient postal worker responded “correct”.

I nearly died from dis-belief, $9.99 for a desk top printer with cartridge. Now I know how this works, they sell you a cheap printer and then the cartridges are where they make the money, but $9.99!!!! My dis-belief turned to rage, how wasteful I thought. How does this encourage the average man in the street to be responsible, look after the things they surround themselves with to promote longevity in the products we buy… It doesn’t, it encourages wastefulness, it encourages the man to go home and throw away a perfectly good printer, which may or may not be disposed of responsibly in a way in which the parts can be recycled. We live in such a throw away society, especially when it comes to technology, three – six months the latest phone is no longer the latest phone, the next piece of ‘fashionable’ technology has arrived, and this time span is getting smaller.

E-Waste, computer waste is a major environmental concern

I come from a background and period of time were things were still treasured (including technology), handed down even and then looked after by a new generation. I know this mentality still exists in a small portion of our society as I have seen it through my furniture restoration work. When someone has a sentimental attachment to something they will invest in its up keep, even if a short term alternative is available for less price. They have the fore-sight to see that actually investing more money to repair or restore a better quality product makes more sense than buying a cheaper replacement that will last a fraction of the time.

And that my friends is why on that particular Tuesday afternoon, I left the local post office shop singing “and I think to myself, what a wasteful world.”

Sustainability Goes Mainstream, as The Ego Catches Up!

We are a furniture business formed through the desire to be ‘sustainable’, this word is pretty ambiguous in today’s vernacular. Our interpretation of this is; to make the best product, without causing any harm. To use locally sourced materials and produce furniture with longevity, which can be repaired and at the end of its life recycled.

We formed in Melbourne Australia, under the brand name ‘Tane’ in 2012, with exactly the same ‘sustainable’ mantra. We exhibited a range of furniture made from cardboard at the Milan exhibition in 2013, to which we received no column inches in any publication.

Cardboard furniture designed by District Furniture custom design hand-made furniture

On reading recent reviews of the 2019 edition of this world renowned and quite frankly ‘MASSIVE’ furniture event, it appears we were o the right track all along but simply ahead of the game!

Even the ‘celebrity’ designers within the industry seem to be endorsing well considered furniture, that goes deeper than the superficial and actually has environmental impacts at the forefront of the design process. It appears the ego has been replaced by concerns bigger than the individual.

British designer Ross Lovegrove appears to be a high profile name with the design industry who has endorsed the sustainable movement within the furniture game. Lovegrove spoke at the recent Milan design week, following the launch of his Ergo range for Natuzzi that is made using renewable and recyclable materials.

Photo from the Dezeen blog May 2019

“I don’t design furniture very often and I’m not interested in just doing another L-shaped sofa,” he explained. “I wanted to come in and try to facilitate a change in mindset. Natuzzi is a big company with young blood and they are open to doing things differently.”

“I’m involved with industry and industry is good and bad,” he admitted. “Unless we start reducing the sheer scale of stuff we’re producing I think we’re going to have some real problems.” said Ross Lovegrove.

We hope this trend becomes mainstream thinking and eventually the main consideration before anyone begins the design process. I personally feel a great responsibility for anything that is created and put out into the world. It must be needed, enhance someones life, be well made, well considered, have a long life and be able to be recycled.

Written By Gary Pennington

District Furniture : Hand-made custom furniture

Solid Walnut Custom Design and Hand-Made Media Unit

We were commissioned to design and make some custom furniture for a client. The first piece required was a media unit, to be made from solid walnut. The design brief was for a modern looking unit, with adequate storage for DVD’s and game boxes. To house a large flat screen TV on-top, with a vast open cavity to place video and audio equipment.

We set to work, sketching up ideas for the furniture in order to present to our client. Once sketches were approved so we moved to the computer to produce a variety of options for the finer details of the custom built media unit. These were presented to the client as computer renders…

Once the final design was approved, we then set about drawing up ‘shop drawings’ for the media unit. These would ensure the client was getting exactly what they wanted before we started work on the custom built furniture. The drawings were presented and the client was excited to get started with the build.

Now the fun could really begin… we hand selected the ‘rough-sawn’ walnut timber from our local yard and began the process of planing and ‘thicknessing’ down to a finished thickness of 25mm. The planks were over 2.4m in length and 34mm in thickness so really took a bit of wrangling into shape!

Once the solid timber was down to finished thickness we could then start to shape the planks. Although the design looked relatively simple there were a lot of tricky little details to negotiate on this custom build. The first was a 45 degree chamfer which ran all the way around the inside front edge of the finished furniture. We used a track and router to machine this on….

We were slightly concerned with the final design requested by the client of a large open cavity across the entire span of 1800mm, we felt with our experience that the solid timber would eventually ‘sag’ over time if un-supported across this distance. The client urged us not to put any visible supports in this area, so we devised a fabricated metal frame produced from 16mm box section that would run under the entire span of the top, then down both sides, This would be hidden in a machined channel and provide the support required to stop the sag.

The parts for the unit were now taking shape and time for a ‘dry’ fit of the components before being glued and clamped into place. Masking tape was applied to all edges that would come into contact with the glue, to allow for easier clean up and sanding especially in place hard to reach on the custom built furniture.

Once glued and clamped we could then start to work on the drawers and fronts. For the front of the custom built drawers we chose one continuous piece of walnut to add a beautiful and unique feature to this stunning piece of bespoke furniture.

Once the drawer fronts were cut to shape we could start to produce the drawers themselves, from 12mm premium quality birch ply. We used the top of the range Blum runners which are push to open and soft close, they took a bit of fine tuning but once perfected worked beautifully to give a smooth ride!

Just the frame to go then…. custom designed leg-frame shaped on the band-saw, sanded down to 240 grit. We used the trusty domino to produce accurate mortice and tenon joints for the frame to provide a great degree of strength required to hold what was turning into a particularly weighty piece of hand-made furniture.

The final piece was now ready for the finish, we chose a beautiful matt natural oil finish. Hand applied with very fine steel wool then wiped off, this process was repeated several times until the right level of sheen and protection was added to the timber.

The piece was then delivered to our extremely satisfied and happy customer, who was over the moon with his hand-made custom furniture designed and built by District Furniture