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!

Rip It Up, And Start Again

How do you start again?…. With what? With everything!

That’s the question my family and I are currently asking ourselves, after living in Australia for the past 11 years we have recently moved back to England. With my wife and two young boys, we boarded a plane and drew a line under everything we had worked for over a significant period of time.

Why? in a word; family. Since the arrival of our second son we had felt a real disconnect to all our family being on the other side of the planet. So although we owned our own home, my wife had a good job, I had built up my furniture business over seven years to be a self-sufficient little enterprise: It was time to go!

Over a short period of time we systematically sold furniture, surf boards our house and regrettably by beloved 1974 campervan ‘Billy’. We had last days at childcare, kindergarten, work and in the workshop. We had our last Melbourne coffee (for a while) and boarded the plane back home.

So here we are… on a personal side trying to rebuild our family life, by searching for a home to live in. And on a professional side starting again with a new furniture business. Even though it has been a long time away I feel in a very strong position regarding the new business. I have learn’t a lot after seven years building a business and figuring out what works and what doesn’t. My Australian business which I ran form a studio/workshop in Melbourne was extremely diverse, which kept the work very interesting but also made the brand ‘Tane’ a bit confusing.

This really feels like I have been given a second chance to construct a business that fits what I want to achieve. And even better coming from a more educated position. District Furniture will be extremely focused, starting out as a service custom design and hand-making dining tables. The tables will be produced from locally sourced reclaimed timbers, they will use natural finishes with no nasty chemicals.

Some might say its a risk, but I say its a real positive step to stop, re-calibrate and go again.

“If you take no risks, you will suffer no defeats. But if you take no risks, you win no victories.”

Richard M. Nixon