Everyone knows that planting a tree is good for the environment, but what about planting a chair?
Inspired by a chair-like Bonsai tree he saw as a boy, designer Gavin Munro specializes in training trees to grow into perfect pieces of furniture without any joins.
On his farm just north of Derby in England, Munro grows oak, willow, ash and sycamore trees, using plastic molds to train young trees to grow into specific shapes to create chairs, lighting, mirror frames and tables. By pruning and grafting branches together as the young trees grow, he creates strong pieces of unique and functional furniture without all the waste normally associated with their traditionally made counterparts. He calls his company Full Grown.
“When you look at it from a manufacturing point of view and from a design point of view, it actually makes total sense,” Munro told The Guardian. “Why would you grow trees, chop them down with all the faff? Why don’t you just grow the shape you want and it is eminently scalable? You can make thousands of these in the same way as you can make 10, but each one is unique.”
The Full Grown website points out that, with the current system for furniture production, trees are grown for more than 50 years, and then cut down into smaller and smaller pieces creating a lot of waste along the way. Then, those pieces are reassembled to create furniture. And unlike Munro’s farm which does every step of the process on site, these trees have to be transported from the sawmill to the timber yard to a factory and then, finally to a store, using up a whole lot of resources.
The sun shines on Full Grown's field of trees growing around molds. Not that soon, furniture will be created. (Photo: Full Grown)
As one might imagine, growing a chair isn’t an overnight endeavor. Each piece takes between 4 and 8 years to reach its final form. Full Grown is expecting its very first harvest this October. Once each tree is expertly cut down and dried out, the first pieces of furniture will be exhibited in 2016 and then delivered to their final destinations sometime in 2017.
While the process sounds cutting edge, Full Grown notes on its website that this is an art form that has been practiced for millennia, citing the ancient Greeks and Egyptians who grew stools, and the Chinese who grew chairs.
The process is time-intensive and comes with emotional challenges, admits Munro. Each tree has 10 branches to care for, so if the farm is growing 100 trees, 1,000 branches need to be tended to. Then, of course, there is the fact that no one can rush Mother Nature, and this means having to display a whole lot of patience.
“While there is the regular joy of seeing birds and beasties living our production rows, most of the tasks I do on an average day won’t come to fruition until several years later,” explains Munro. “That’s quite hard to live with — especially as it’s taken 9 years already and we’re still a year or two away from the first substantial harvest. Thankfully prototypes and early pieces are starting to come online but still, it’s a hefty act of faith. It’s certainly not instant gratification!”
As for its environmental implications, Munro said, “We think this method is kinder and less wasteful than planting a (frequently monocultural with all those implications for biodiversity) plantation of trees, growing for a specified lifetime, then chopping down, leaving an uncared-for, cleared area, with all the additional problems like desertification.”
Related on MNN:
- 12 treescapes dramatically shaped by wind
- 7 examples of living furniture
- Doomed trees turned into cherished furniture