Whether you love it, hate it, or have never given it much consideration, green thought is here to stay. Why? Because we’re becoming increasingly aware of just how drastically our consumption patterns are impacting all life on Earth.
Yep, it’s a big (and inconvenient) issue. Some academics have even called it a super wicked issue (seriously!). But that doesn’t mean we should just throw our hands up and say it's too hard, using that as an excuse to go on as we always have (though every one of us has done that at some point, including the hermits). Nor can we simply hope that the necessary changes are made by the powers that be. After all, every one of us is a part of life on Earth. Every one of us has an "environmental impact".
If you're looking for ways to help improve your relationship with (the rest of) nature beyond reusable grocery bags and KeepCups, the family home can be a great place to start. And contrary to what some might lead you to believe, it doesn't have to be expensive, difficult, pretentious, or, if it's a relevant concern for you, unmanly. All it takes is some thought and care.
Research your materials
When selecting base materials, keep in mind that plastics, steel, and aluminium are derived from non-renewable resources which require a lot of energy to refine into commercially usable products. Timber, meanwhile, is a natural resource which regenerates faster. Make sure you look for sustainable timber options, however, as deforestation is a major environmental issue (and also a contributor to the spread of zoonotic diseases like COVID-19).
When you’re looking at upholstery, consider your circumstances. Do you have young kids or pestiferous pets who will tear your furniture to shreds in no time? Or do you live in a calmer household that is more of a haven for fabric furniture? If you don’t need quite the durability that polyester offers, consider using fabrics or blends composed of natural fibres, such as cotton, linen, or jute, in your home. At the end of their life, they’ll biodegrade much faster (and more safely) than polyester. At the same time, there's no point opting for natural fibres over polyester if it just means you'll have to replace your furniture more frequently. Buying new sofas every two or three years versus every ten or twenty (or more) is not only much more wasteful, it's much more expensive.
Virgin or reclaimed timber?
There are many reasons why a person might choose to dismiss reclaimed timber—also known as recycled timber, salvaged wood, upcycled timber, and so on. But if you really think about it, most of the reasons are vanity-related: for example, “Virgin timber has a cleaner, fresher look”; or, “Reclaimed timber looks cheaper and I think it's less durable than the new stuff”; or even (though rarely with as much self-awareness), “I've never had reclaimed timber before so I don't want to try it”.
These reasons don't stand up to scrutiny at all!
Firstly, reclaimed timbers add character to your home. Now, I understand that to a lot of people the phrase “add character” is a signal to switch off, being, as it often is, empty marketing waffle. But the thing is, reclaimed timbers really do add character to your home, because they’ve lived lives as other products. Celeste and Ben, our company directors, reclaim high-quality timbers which have been used in shipping pallets, fence palings, roof trusses, wall frames, horse rails, and even the wooden bleachers from the old Cal Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, California. A piece of timber can’t get much more characterful than that!
Secondly, reclaimed timbers can be made to suit any style. A cursory look at our furniture styles will show you heaps of examples.
Thirdly, let's debunk the myth that reclaimed timbers are categorically less durable than virgin timbers. Sure, there's no denying that rotting planks salvaged from dumps in landfill aren't suitable for furnishing your home. But we're sensible enough to not pick those timbers. There’s no point having characterful furniture if it’s just going to explode (quite literally) in a couple of months, after all. That’s why we only reclaim timber which is strong and trustworthy enough to survive the vicissitudes of family life.
And finally, just because something is different doesn't mean it's not worth trying. Life's no fun if you spend it in a cocoon!
Make it yours and make it local
An ethos of my family has been to always buy the best of what you can afford, even in tough times. That way, things last.
How do we apply that to furniture? Enter our custom-made collections. Rather than buying pieces off the floor, consider the spaces in which you live and let your imagination run free—what reclaimed, Australian, hardwood furniture would be best for your dining room? What size? What shape? And how about the fabric furniture? Perhaps you’ve already got some sofas you love, but you’re considering a statement fabric chair to tie your living room together. Regardless of your circumstances, if you take the time to consider what would really be perfect for your home, as well as your favourite fabrics, colours, and furniture styles, there’s bound to be a solution in our custom-made collections. If you make wise furniture decisions now, they’re going to pay off for many, many years, including by reducing furniture waste going to landfill.
There’s another big benefit from going for custom-made furniture: you’re buying Australian-made products. This means two things. Firstly, you’re supporting local jobs, local businesses, and ultimately your local economy. And secondly, you’re reducing your greenhouse gas footprint by erasing overseas transport from the production process. Win-win!
Lagom: just enough
So, by now you might be imagining a more eco-friendly home, possibly with custom-made, Australian-made fabric furniture and reclaimed timber furniture. That's a good start!
But before you rush out to your nearest store to spend thousands in custom-made furniture for your entire house, stop and think: you're still consuming. You're still buying a whole lot of stuff, and probably dumping other usable stuff in the process.
The fact is, not buying anything is by far the best way to reduce your environmental impact, and it's the only way to reduce your impact, in terms of this purchasing decision, to zero. (And how many retailers are honest enough to tell you that?)
At the same time, though, it’s not very fun to sit, sleep, eat, etc., on the floor when you’ve just moved out, or to see your kids do the same when they move out. In other circumstances, things break down (or simply break) and suffer other problems which mean that every now and then—and often sooner than we'd like—we do need to buy a whole lot of stuff.
Regardless of where you find yourself, there are ways of going about furniture and home decoration to make it more sustainable. For example:
Try care, maintenance, or repair first.
This is for pieces you already have that are still functionally good, but just need Howard, Guardsman, Miller, or Warwick to do some work on them. If the job’s a bit bigger, you might want to speak to one of our friendly staff to see what options are on the table for you (as it were).
If you need to buy something, buy well and only get as much as you need.
Lagom, or “just enough”, is one of those trendy words much of the meaning of which is lost in translation. But it is a beautiful (and wallet-friendly) way of living. It should already be in your vocabulary if your home is inspired by mid-century modern or some other Scandinavian furniture style.
If you just can't stand a piece which still looks good and functions well, do what you can to prevent it from going to landfill.
For example, there's may be a relative out there who would be happy to adopt your piece. Maybe one of your kids will be moving out soon, and you might use a spare room or hire a storage unit for your old furniture so they're in a better position when they've left. Or, if you don’t have neighbours, friends, or family that could use it, there are always charities out there that are willing to take your stuff for you (as long as it's in reasonable condition). For example, a few years ago we donated over $15,000 worth of furniture from our Penrith store’s stock-to-go room to Women’s Community Shelters, furnishing crisis shelters for women and children suffering homelessness and family violence.
Where to go from here?
I know this is a long read, but I’ve got a couple of closing thoughts to share with you before you go.
The main idea of this blog, and a lot of 'green thought', is that us humans have got a bit of a relationship problem with pretty much everything else that lives on this planet. We pretend humans and nature are two separate things, but really we're as much a part of the environment as bees, coffee trees, and all other living things. It's no good thinking about humans and the environment; instead, try thinking about humans in the environment. Change just one word, and you’ll see the world in a completely different way!
Finally, don’t just take the ideas in this blog as food for thought. Digest them, absorb them, and use them to inform your way of thinking whenever you're about to buy something (not just furniture or homewares). Consider questions like “What is it made of?”, “Was it made locally?”, “Could I go for a reclaimed/recycled/upcycled/etc. version?”, and most importantly, “Do I really need this in my life?”. With these questions to guide your decisions, you might find that not only will your consumption patterns change, but you'll find yourself in a growing movement of people who are striving towards a more sustainable lifestyle.