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.

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.


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.

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

PearsonLloyd gives flat-pack furniture an upgrade with Cross chair

Its not very often you find well considered, highly designed but clean simple sophisticated chair that is flat-pack: Which also has environmental and ‘after-life’ considerations, which is made from high quality materials. But that’s just what London studio PearsonLloyd have done with their Cross chair.

The design marries the convenience and economy of flat-pack furniture with quality materials in a chair designed for new Copenhagen brand Takt.

Named after the cross structure that forms its four legs, the Cross chair has a plywood seat and backrest, with the structure itself made from solid oak to give it the feel of a non-flatpack, high-quality chair.

The “strong but light” wooden chair was designed with the “goal of accessible pricing without compromising on quality or adversely affecting the environment”, according to PearsonLloyd.

The chair comes delivered in a recyclable flatpack box as four disassembled pieces of timber, with six screws.

Made from FSC-certified wood, it requires minimal instructions and a single Allen key to assemble at home.

The simple cross structure ensures that assembly of the seat is intuitive, without the frustration people often find assembling flatpack furniture.

“We wanted to find a design that communicated the principle of the assembly in a direct, understandable way,” explained co-founder and director of PearsonLloyd, Tom Lloyd, who set up the company with Luke Pearson in 1997.

“The way the two cross members overlap was inspired by the inserts in a wine box. It is immediately apparent that they go together in some way, meaning that almost no instructions are necessary.”

By the same token, the chair can be easily disassembled for recycling at the end of its life – a feature that was important to the Danish brand.

“We believe that modern design must consider both the form of a product and its full life-cycle – including responsible manufacturing, shipping, the user experience and how the product can be repaired, reused and recycled,” said founder and CEO of Takt, Henrik Taudorf Lorensen.

Ease of assembly and disassembly is one of a number of features by which Takt aims to reduce the chair’s environmental impact.

The brand sells directly to customers online to cut shipping costs and reduce supply chain complexity, which in turn reduces the emission of CO2 in transportation.

Six flat-packed Cross chairs fit into the same volume as a standard chair.

“Takt is aimed at people who want to reduce their impact on the world’s environment,” said Lloyd.

“Our flatpack design of Cross chair reduces the packaging size of a chair considerably while also engaging the customer in a self-evident assembly process that we hope will be joyful.”

The design is available in natural wood or with a black lacquer finish. It can be supplied with a seat pad upholstered in a variety of organic aniline leathers – meaning they are dyed with soluble dyes – or natural wool fabrics from Kvadrat.

PearsonLloyd is well-known for its designs for transport, including a number of projects for airlines including Lufthansa and a redesign of economy class seating to make better use of space.

Forword by Gary Pennington

Main copy by Augusta Pownall | 15 May 2019 for the Dezeen Blog