Grow Your Own Furniture

Production takes time, but this British furniture designer's factory is lovely.

| September-October 1999

A British furniture designer has set a high standard for energy conservation and sustainable production: He coaxes trees to grow furniture.

Chris Cattle produces simple wooden stools and low table frames by planting seedlings in small groups. Using plywood jigs to hold the trees together, he "trains" them to grow into curving S shapes that can be grafted together to make a rigid frame.

"The nature of growth allows an element of freedom for design during the growth period," says Cattle. He can adjust his design to achieve the desired size and proportion.

Cattle, who trained at London's Royal College of Art and lectures at Buckinghamshire University College in central England, has spent 20 years designing furniture for mass production. His longtime concerns about energy conservation, and the waste of materials that normally results from the furniture-making process, led him to experiment with grow-it-yourself furniture.

"My first thoughts were aimed at reducing the amount of work the factory would have to do to change the timber from its raw state into finished pieces," says Cattle. "Quite soon after, I realized that if you could only persuade the tree to grow into the required shape in the first place, the factory itself could be replaced by a sort of furniture orchard."

Cattle is now planting larger orchards and thinking about growing furniture as a commercial venture. Furniture orchards might become viable home businesses, especially in rural areas, and could be tailored to fit the amount of land available.

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