My neighborhood, the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, isn’t all that sizeable geographically but in terms of green, it’s huge. There’s an organic farm; an acclaimed restaurant, The Good Fork, that sources ingredients from said organic farm; not one but three bustling garden centers; a proposed biodiesel plant; Waste Nought, a store that sells recycled and reused cleaning products, garden supplies, and more; Saipua, a natural soap shop/florist; home/made, a purveyor of antique and artisan-crafted home goods; a metal fabrication factory with an innovative green roof; and IKEA, a recent environmentally responsible addition to the nabe. And then there’s the friendly neighborhood sustainable furniture designer, Jason Lamberth, whom I had the pleasure of chatting with at his Van Brunt Street studio/showroom this afternoon.
Lamberth is a fashion industry vet whose work took him frequently to Bali for textile sourcing. During his travels, he became enamored with Indonesian culture, customs, and most notably, the area's abundant and beautiful tropical hard wood. Lamberth began importing teak — a sturdy wood with a close grain that’s resistant to termites and has a high natural oil content — and other indigenous artifacts initially as a treasure hunting hobby but soon found himself emerged in the world of furniture design. He eventually left fashion to pursue his passion for custom-made teak furniture, interiors and sculpture. Lamberth calls his work “honest luxury.”
Lamberth’s studio/showroom in a historic Civil War-era warehouse on Red Hook’s waterfront is filled with jaw-dropping — in scale, quality, and craftsmanship — creations: tables, benches, sculpture, huge chunks of gorgeous milled teak. The ancient, sculptural teak roots that Lamberth has blow-torched black literally took my breath away (or maybe I was still recovering from the cold outside). Basically, Lamberth's Brooklyn studio — he does much of his work in Indonesia — is a wood lover’s paradise where you want to reach out and touch everything. I pretty much did this.
As a designer, Lamberth works with two kinds of teak. Since the beginning, he’s used sustainable plantation teak. He admits this has been a challenge in Indonesia, a country with lax but quickly developing standards for sustainable forestry practices. But Lamberth, an environmentalist who truly strives to “walk to the talk,” has been aggressive in dealing with honest, cautious plantations that are in cooperation with the FSC. This weekend, he’ll be traveling to Bali to meet with the Sumitomo Forestry Company, a Japanese firm at the forefront of eco-responsible forestry.
More recently, Lamberth has been working with exquisite buried teak (he’s the only importer of it in North America). Buried teak, although unfamiliar to most, has a long and interesting history in Indonesia. Dutch shipbuilders would bury (usually for 15 years) mature teak tree trunks in rich, volcanic Indonesian soil to enhance its natural strength and beauty. Fortunately for Lamberth, those Dutch shipbuilders neglected to unbury large amounts of centuries-old teak, giving him an exceptional material to work with. And since no trees are felled to create the pieces Lamberth creates from the rare wood, it’s inherently sustainable.
One of Lamberth’s current projects is working alongside Michael Gordon, founder of the Bumble & Bumble hair-care line, on an exceptionally green home in the Hamptons. Designed by Tommy Zung, architect and great-godson of Buckminster Fuller, Gordon’s home will feature Lamberth’s teak wood floors, paneling, a mammoth 20-foot long slab tabletop, and more. The project, due for completion later this year, is set to be the only private residence in the Tri-State area to receive LEED Gold rating.
Lamberth’s work truly has to be seen to be believe — dressed-up words can’t quite describe it. Because of the teaks impressive age, this is furniture with a history and an amazing story to tell. I hope the few photos I’ve included help tell its story. Fortunately, his studio, easily accessible by water taxi, can be visited by appointment. I highly recommend stopping by the workplace of this talented designer helping to paint Red Hook with bright shades of green.
499 Van Brunt St. Studio 8A
Brooklyn, NY 11231
Photos of Lamberth's work and the warehouse building on Van Brunt St. by Matt