While seaweed doesn’t dominate dinner plates in Denmark the same way that it does in East Asia, the constantly contented Scandinavian nation has long made good use of the marine algae growing in abundance on its more than 4,000-mile-long coastline: as biofuel, as animal feed, as highly insulating traditional building cladding and now as the chief material in a high-end line of home furnishings dubbed the Terroir Project.

To some, the very idea of furniture made from marine algae might at first seem both uncomfortable and preposterous — something you'd find in the (tastefully appointed) undersea lair of King Triton, not in a modern Danish home. But given you can buy lamps “grown” from 'shrooms, it only makes sense that there are also lamps — and chairs, too — crafted from what was once slippery, slimy, salty vegetation from the sea.

The Terroir Project was conceived by Danish Academy of Fine Arts grads Jonas Edvard and Nikolaj Steenfatt as an exploration of how locally ubiquitous materials — stuff you might encounter on a daily basis and perhaps dismiss as being pesky, overlooked, unexceptional — can be harvested and used in unexpected ways.

seaweed chair

seaweed drying on the line

“We wanted to use this abundant material in a way it hadn't been used before,” Edvard recently explained to Dezeen. “Our interest in seaweed came from everyday encounters. When walking along the beach or taking a swim in the summer, you quickly face the problem of seaweed. [But] when it dries up on the beach, it becomes super hard and strong.”

To Edvard and Steenfatt, those qualities — hard and strong — made seaweed the perfect candidate to use to develop a one-off collection of minimalist home furnishings using organic materials. The duo plucked the seaweed from the Danish beaches themselves before line-drying and grinding their coastal harvest into a fine powder. From there, Edvard and Steenfatt cooked the algal powder into a thick, gluey substance to bring out the adhesive properties of alginic acid, a naturally occurring polymer found in brown seaweed that’s frequently used as a thickening agent and emulsifier in foods.

seaweed is cooked the algal powder into a thick, gluey substance

Next, the duo mixed the seaweed glue-base with recycled paper and molded the resulting cork-like material into a chair with ash wood legs. They also created a series of dome-shaped pendant lamps with the paper-seaweed muck. The finished pieces possess an earthy, understated style that would most likely garner enthusiastic thumbs up from two famous native Danes: Seaweed fashionista Ariel the mermaid and Arne Jacobson, the late chair maestro and fellow alumnus of the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts. 

"As most people don't know the actual strength of the alginate, they often think we put some extra glue inside, but it is only seaweed and paper," says Edvard of the material’s natural durability.

Edvard also tells Dezeen that in addition to adhesive-related surprises, most folks who have interacted with the Terroir Project are shocked to find that the chair and lamps don’t at all reek like low tide:

“The first thing people do is to smell the object. They just stick their nose into the material, like having a breath of fresh air." He continues: “After realising it is made from seaweed people are very excited that something considered useless and smelly can be used to create sustainable furniture.”

What’s more, the chair and lamps are naturally flame-resistant thanks to the super-high salt content of seaweed. And when the pieces begin to outlive their welcome, they can be broken down and transformed into a nutrient-rich fertilizer.

Some additional background on the origins of the project:

Terroir is a description often used to determine the cultural and geological relation between products and where they are produced, emphasizing the heritage and knowledge linked to the use of the raw material. The aim of the project is to design objects with character derived from the cultural surface of the landscape. By using locally harvested materials the two designers hope to contribute to a local and sustainable economy. The materials are created from renewable resources and the production acts as a recycling of natural materials in a green loop of energy.
So exactly what type of seaweed did Edvard and Steenfatt use to create the Terroir Project? The duo harvested fucus, a fairly common genus of brown seaweed found on rocky coastlines around the world. As noted by the designers, the coloring of the chairs and tables is largely dependent on the exact species of fucus used. A common type of fucus found in both the Baltic Sea and the North Sea is fucus vesiculosus, or bladderwrack, a seaweed best known for it’s high iodine content (it’s been used to treat goiters) and highly pop-able air bladders — the bubble wrap of the sea, if you will.

Via [GOOD], [Dezeen] via [Co.Design]

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Danish designers transform seaweed into stylish home furnishings
Finally, a clever use for marine algae that appeals to both Danish mer-folk and lovers of Scandinavian design.