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Washington-Based Companies Revive Wood Building and Furniture Design

Posted by Elizabeth Burton on

Washington-Based Companies Revive Wood Building and Furniture Design

The role of forests in combating climate change -- and the need worldwide to advocate for their preservation -- cannot be understated. UN researcher Duncan Brack explains in his brief “Background Analytical Study on Forests and Climate Change” that “forests are a stabilising force for the climate.” Forests help “regulate ecosystems, protect biodiversity, play an integral part in the carbon cycle, support livelihoods, and supply goods and services that can drive sustainable growth.” Strong and durable with little off-gassing, wood is one of the safest and healthiest materials for home construction, furniture and decor. While wood is a renewable resource, trees do grow slowly, making their replacement difficult to address in a timely way. As such, eco-conscious designers and manufacturers have turned towards fast-growing grasses like bamboo and hemp. Despite the fact that trees grow slowly and replacing deforested regions takes significant time, wood remains one of the healthiest and most sustainable building materials. Today’s architects and furniture designers -- particularly those in the Pacific Northwest -- have embraced the ancient material by applying it to their projects in innovative ways. From cross-laminated timber to repurposed beams, designers are choosing more environmentally friendly approaches to using wood. In honor of International Day of Forests and World Wood Day -- both of which occur on 21 March -- we have chosen to delve into the work of Living Deep vendor Meyer Wells which sources and uses wood responsibly in their products. 

Embracing Alternative Sources of Wood in the Pacific Northwest

Cross-Laminated Timber Revives Timber Industry in Washington State

Forest conservation and sustainable wood sourcing are both important to the Living Deep family -- particularly because we are based in Washington State where half the interior is forested. In a recent article for Vox entitled “The hottest new thing in sustainable building is, uh, wood,” David Roberts outlines how states like Washington -- with abundant natural forests and retired sawmills -- are embracing sustainable wood manufacturing. Roberts explains that the Pacific Northwest is particularly “excited about a possible shift to wooden building materials” because of its capacity to safely engineer and produce these products while returning the PNW’s timber industry to its former glory. 

cross laminated timber

According to Roberts, “timber harvest in [the Pacific Northwest] has declined significantly as a result of the weak domestic demand during the housing crisis, which has been devastating to the forest products industry.’” In Washington State alone, “the volume of lumber produced declined 17% between 2014 and 2016 and, compared to 10 years ago, lumber mills (the largest sector by timber consumption) produced one third fewer boards.” Today, Washington State is leading the charge nationally in a turn towards CLT -- an alternative way to sustainably use timber. Roberts describes Washington suppliers Vaagen Brothers and Katerra -- both of whom have turned towards CLT production, converting their sawmills and manufacturing plants to handle the alternative process. CLT -- abbreviated from “cross-laminated timber” -- is a sustainable, low-emissions way to use wood in building materials. 

What is CLT? 

Edward Souza defines CLT in his article “Cross Laminated Timber (CLT): What It Is and How To Use It” for Arch Daily as a wood material consisting “of planks (or lamellas) of sawn, glued, and layered wood, where each layer is oriented perpendicular to the previous.” CLT offers superior tensile and compressive strength due to the joint layers of wood placed at perpendicular angles. According to Souza, CLT is “a sustainable material because it's composed of wood, a renewable resource (usually from reforestation), and doesn't require the burning of fossil fuels during its production.” In his article “Feature: Just how sustainable is cross-laminated timber?” for Architects Journal, Jon Astbury notes other eco-friendly elements of the material. Astbury writes that CLT’s “overwhelming advantage lies in carbon sequestration, the timber acting as a carbon store and beginning life as a carbon-negative material.” 

cross laminated timber

Across its lifecycle, CLT remains sustainable, Astbury explains. In fact, “taking into account material, transport, site work and end-of-life, a steel-framed CLT building generates nearly half the CO2 emissions per square metre as a reinforced concrete one.” While applying traditional finishing methods and features to CLT buildings can cancel out its carbon neutrality -- e.g. mechanical ventilation and others -- these issues can be solved by thinking outside the box when working with the material. While somewhat expensive and certainly not perfect, CLT is “self-finishing with a long lifespan.”

Recycled and Sustainably Sourced Wood Represents an Entire Industry in Washington State

Suppliers, manufacturers, designers and even local governments across Washington State are currently making a push for recycled wood products -- across home construction, furnishings and finishings. In an area that prizes indoor-outdoor living as well as respect for and engagement with nature, it makes sense that so many companies and industries in Washington State would come to embrace recycled wood. For instance, Pacific Northwest Timbers -- operating out of Port Townsend -- creates stunning reclaimed wooden floors for homes throughout the Puget Sound region. From a governmental standpoint, Seattle’s Public Utilities department actively encourages builders to choose salvaged materials like “large timbers, wood flooring, wood trim, cabinets...dimensional lumber, and solid (non-hollow core) doors.” 

In her article “Unique options for eco-friendly building materials” for The Seattle Times, Emma Zimmerman extolls the many ways in which Washingtonians can use and are using recycled wood. She writes that “Shou Sugi Ban wood siding and paneling” have become popular in the state. Shou Sugi Ban “is an ancient Japanese method of charring the surface of wood to preserve it, make it fire retardant and resistant to rot, insects and decay.” She recommends local company GreenHome Solutions, which offers FSC certified products “harvested and milled in the Pacific Northwest.” Members of the Living Deep family -- particularly Meyer Wells -- have similarly embraced FSC certified and recycled wood products in Washington State. 

Meyer Wells’ Approach to Sustainably-Made Wooden Furniture

meyer wells

In its bio on the Living Deep site, Seattle-based furniture design company Meyer Wells describes itself as “passionate about responsibly-sourced wood and the amazing works of art we can create with one of nature’s oldest living things.” Their company statement immediately states that “the tree is [their] muse” and “each piece [they] craft is carefully composed from the best quality, high character materials that [they] can responsibly source.” Each furniture product they create is designed to “bring the warmth, beauty and authenticity of nature into your living and work environments.” Their furniture collections “represent [their] appreciation for nature and [their] desire to connect the natural world with our working and living spaces.” Beautifully designed, every table created by Inspired by Meyer Wells is  “crafted by Northwest artisans.”

An Idealistic Approach to Honoring Nature’s Cast-Offs

Lawrence W. Cheek describes Meyer Wells’ approach to sourcing and using wood products native to Washington State in his article “Finding New Life (and Profit) in Doomed Trees” for The New York Times. Cheek explains that Meyer Wells co-founders Seth Meyer and John Wells “started a green business that makes custom furniture from trees” that have fallen and would otherwise be discarded and left to rot. Meyer and Wells honor the Washington landscape by “harvest[ing] local urban trees doomed by development, disease or storm damage, and turn them into custom furniture, each piece a distinct botanical narrative.” 

Meyer Wells Clerestory Round Table

Pictured above: Meyer Wells Clerestory Round Table

The pair’s idealistic approach to designing wooden furniture has found its footing in the state as more consumers search for ways to make their buildings -- offices and homes -- greener. As Cheek writes, “the Northwest has become one of the strongest markets for nurturing innovative, sustainable businesses,” making it a natural space for Meyer Wells to flourish. Experts expect Meyer Wells to continue to bring in new clients across the country, as “green businesses that do well nationally are those that have an authentic story to sell,” which the Seattle furniture company definitely does.

Protecting the Health of Consumers and Our Planet

Meyer Wells Finnegan Table

Pictured Above: Meyer Wells Finnegan Table

From the finishings they apply to furniture to the ways in which they support the community, Meyer Wells approaches running a business in an honorable, sustainable and healthful way. According to the company’s website, Meyer Wells “sources all [their] wood from local, renewable sources and only offer eco-friendly finishes, “all of which are low-VOC and HAPs free.” Their dedication to honoring nature extends past creating beautiful pieces from felled and damaged trees. In 2019, the company launched their Tree For Table program. Working with One Tree Planted -- an international reforestation effort -- Meyer Wells has committed themselves to “planting one tree for every table [they] sell.”

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