ethical furniture

What is Sustainable Furniture?

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We love ‘RE’ furniture! If it is reused, recycled, repurposed, reconditioned, recreated or reclaimed it immediately qualifies as ‘sustainable’.

Sustainable furniture is beautifully rustic and heart-warmingly ethical. It lessens the demand for felling more trees and just makes you feel good about yourself for extending the life of something, and making it beautiful again!

Whether you are a DIY enthusiast or upcycle for an income, there is something entirely satisfying about changing your shoddy old boot-sale purchase into something artistic and homely, that blends into your decor like it belongs. Because it does.

We promote sustainable, second-hand furniture in the same way we advocate taking home a family pet from the local rescue centre.

Protecting our Planet takes Each of Us

Planet-friendly dining room table

Isn’t this reclaimed dining table simply spectacular?

Sustainable furniture from Etsy
Search on Etsy for reconditioned and reclaimed furniture. This dining table by Vorge Designs.

Clicking the image will take you to Etsy’s website, please see our affiliate note.

Antique shops were prolific and popular

It is a sad fact that furniture is no longer produced to be sustainable. Nowadays, it is viewed as a disposable necessity, rather than as an investment, like our grandparents and their parents before them would consider furniture.

Every little village would have at least one antique shop, stuffed with gloriously detailed furniture with intricate designs, displaying craftsmanship and pride you seldom see anymore!!

My stepmom used to have an antique shop, named Teri’s Antiques, in the village of Kloof in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. The stock was majestic, and every piece spoke to you of generations that gave a sh1t about making beautiful things that last. They showed pride and skill, and the pieces had character.

In stark contrast to the little desk I am writing this from. The drawers are all rickety and a little flap of melamine catches every time I open the top one. I have to nudge it carefully or it falls off the flimsy little metal bracket it only just fits onto. Balanced precariously so as not to take up a single millimetre more than is absolutely necessary, the design is made to keep manufacturing costs as low as possible, with no thought to either longevity or functionality!

Furniture is no longer made to be sustainable

Frankly, stuff that is manufactured now is crap. Hollow and wobbly, made of cheap, light chipboard; melamine doing its best to look like wood. It’s downright heartbreaking. Yes, it may be cheaper to produce and buy, but at what long-term cost, to you and to the planet?

We used to buy a wardrobe for life. Now the best we can get is a bag for life, and even most of them have a hole in… but I digress!

The upside is a Forbes article I read on millennials spending, that claims “73 percent of the Millennial generation was willing to pay more for sustainable goods”. Now that’s a cheerer-upperer!

Sustainable furniture

What is sustainable furniture?

The Cambridge online Dictionary gives this meaning of sustainable:

An adjective:causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time

So there is a two-fold requirement there. It must last but it also must have a small footprint. Size 2’s please, not size 12’s!

So what is sustainable furniture made from? If you are shopping for eco-friendly furniture it is good to start off armed with information and questions to ask the supplier. Responsible manufacturers should be open about the materials they use, how they are sourced, where they orininate from, and whether they have been recycled.

Plastic

recycled plastic furniture

I found these on Etsy: “Vintage Retro Industrial School Stacking Cafe Bar Kitchen Stools“. Please see our affiliate note.

Plastic is bad for the planet, we all know that. But as it has done the damage and is on the planet already, why not use it before it hits our oceans?! Recycled Plastic is versatile, functional and long-lasting, which makes it a popular choice for furniture. It can be pretty stylish too.

Metal

Aluminium and recycled plastic table

I found this coffee table on Etsy too, made by Disrict9Ldn, it’s called a “Sample Raw Aluminium and Recycled ‘Smile’ Plastic Coffee Table”. Please see our affiliate note.

Steel is highly recyclable with no downgrading between “forms”. Where some materials break down, steel can be used again and again without losing quality for the duration of its lofty lifespan, making steel furniture exceptionally durable.

Aluminium furniture, you see it everywhere! This flexible material offers a chic aesthetic which makes it an obvious choice for sustainable furniture, and perfect for modern designs.

Wood

Chunky reclaimed shelf set

This gorgeous, chunky shelf set is made by Ben Simpson Furniture on Etsy, called: “Rustic Shelves Handcrafted | Solid Wood & Inverted Metal Shelf Brackets”. Please see our affiliate note.

Wood is timeless and authentic.

Eucalyptus is fast-growing, durable, low-maintenance and versatile. It is naturally resistant to termites and resistant to moisture.

Rattan is regularly seen woven into wicker furniture. (Rattan is the material, wicker is the style of weave). The name “rattan” applies to 600 different species of climbing palms. It has a long lifespan and is good for both indoor and outdoor furniture. Growing up in South Africa, my father had a cane furniture manufacturing business. The furniture looks exactly the same as rattan so, confused about the difference, I asked Google (as one does). I found this answer, which you can read yourself.

Teak is slow-growing but is hardy and versatile. Also called ‘the king of woods’, it is close-grained and naturally water resistant, making it ideal for ships and outdoor furniture! Sustainable plantations make teak environmentally friendly.

Bamboo is classified as grass with the sturdiness of lightweight steel. It is flexible, tough, high tensile, fast-growing and cheap. I saw it all over Hong Kong, used as scaffolding on buildings. It is growing in popularity and used in the most surprising ways. The Cheeky Panda makes it into bog roll, now that is an innovation worth a mention!

How to Buy Sustainable Furniture

Tip no 1 is to become more vigilant. Be aware of what you are buying. Look for certain criteria. What material is it made from? How was it manufactured? Has it been recycled (was it something else in a previous life)? Where was it made? How useful is it? That last one is all about ensuring its longevity.

How useful is the furniture?

Sustainable furniture must be useful. Obviously, or it will find itself outside on the verge! It must be functional, comfortable, practical, and easy on the eye. If it is all of those things (or at least some of those things) it won’t need replacing regularly.

Useful furniture has the best chance of hanging around! Multifunctional – like a sleeper couch – is always preferable. It takes up less space and is practical. It does have to be comfortable though. We’ve all visited a mate at some point, and got to crash on their sleeper couch. Not too many of my memories of those are of a good night’s sleep!

Solid, well-made furniture that lasts is good for the environment. It can get passed down through generations, is practical, durable, and always looks gorgeous. Think about that the next time you are looking for a specific piece of furniture for your home. In Afrikaans (South Africa) we have a saying “goed koop is duur koop”. Directly translated it means “cheap buy is expensive buy”.

What do I need to look for in sustainable furniture?

Good question!

  1. Has it been recycled? If it was ever anything else, then it is classified as sustainable. This point even makes plastic okay!
  2. Anything eco-friendly and renewable, like bamboo which grows super-fast, also makes the cut.
  3. Finishes shouldn’t be solvent-based. Eco furniture made with the minimum amount of chemicals as is practically possible means less harmful pollutants are released into your home. Paints, materials, furniture, carpets and building materials release VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that can cause allergies, migraines and asthma. Water-based is always the better option.
  4. What materials is the piece made from? Is it solid wood or particleboard, containing formaldehyde?
  5. Is it durable? Cheaply made furniture, in price and materials, does not last long and soon ends up in landfills.
  6. Find chunky, solid furniture, even if it needs some TLC. A good old sanding, a lick of paint, some new nobs or handles, and next thing you know, you have a practical work of art to be proud of, and a new hobby to boot!

Happy hunting and crafting, and may your home be a safe haven for old and beautiful furniture.

Antique shop photo by Jazmin Quaynor on Unsplash,

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