Sustainability, of course, is nothing new in the furniture industry. For years, resources have made tables, beds and chairs from reclaimed woods taken from old buildings, railroad ties, telephone poles and more. This is all used with the goal of limiting the number of actual trees harvested for furniture and cabinet production, not to mention other uses such as flooring and other building materials.
In the news of late is another sustainable resource that is capturing more attention from the mainstream furniture industry: urban timber. This is typically materials taken from trees cut down in city centers that pose a challenge in what once was a natural habitat for these trees. In some cases, the roots are compromising city sidewalks and streets, while in others, natural rot or storm damage makes them dangerous to local homes and residents.
Urban timber has been in the news of late in industries from the acoustic guitar world — with Taylor Guitar’s use of urban ash in its Grant Theater series of guitars — to the furniture industry, as in Room & Board’s Urban Wood Project, which also reuses trees from urban areas.
The harvesting and reuse of urban trees has been taking place for some time. Nearly 20 years ago, around 2002, Taylor Guitars used wood from a 600-year-old tulip tree — considered the last standing Liberty Tree — from the grounds of St John’s College in Annapolis, Md., for use in a limited series of guitars. A few years earlier, the tree — which was felled by a hurricane — might have simply gone to a landfill.
The same fate might once have befallen woods Urban Lumber Co. has used in its live edge, solid wood furniture line since 2006 and woods used for similar pieces made by Urban Hardwoods since around 2001. Not surprisingly, Urban Lumber recently acquired Urban Hardwoods as part of a strategy to further growth relating to the demand of such unique and sustainable pieces.
Yes, indeed, sustainability takes many forms. And as with other forms, the reuse of urban woods is creating opportunity at the same time it’s helping protect the planet
A 2015 study by the American Society for Consulting Arborists estimated that each year between 3 billion and 4 billion board feet of potential hardwood lumber from downed urban trees is “treated as waste, burned as fuel or ground up for mulch.” Not so ironically, many of the photos it published in the same study showed these types of woods being reused for furniture.
Reclaimed furniture — whether the wood comes from old barns or buildings, or from felled or storm damaged city trees — is not just a huge windfall for the environment; it’s also a great marketing pitch. It’s a story that we expect will continue to appeal to anyone who cares about our collective carbon footprint, now and in the future.
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