Grow your furniture in a field

Tue Sep 8, 2015 6:47am EDT
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By Matthew Stock

A designer from Derbyshire in northern England has hit upon an innovative way to create fully-formed, one of a kind, items of furniture -- by growing them straight out of the ground.

The process starts by training and pruning tree branches as they grow into shape around a specially made mould, with branches grafted together at certain points to build a solid piece of furniture that can eventually be harvested when mature.

Gavin Munro, who first began experimenting with tree growing in 2006, said the technique he's cultivated over the years is actually a more efficient use of resources than current methods for making furniture.

"The process that we go through to make a chair nowadays, the way we've been doing, is almost ludicrous. We grow these trees for sixty years before they're worth cutting down, and then we make them into smaller and smaller bits, only to stick them back together again in ways that can only ever come loose over time. And all the energy and all the driving around of all these bits and all the things that you need to make... why do all of that?" Munro told Reuters from his 2.5 acre 'Furniture Field'.

The first pieces were grown from a type of willow - salix viminalis - because it shapes and grafts particularly well. Since 2013, Munro and his team have been growing furniture from a variety of other tree species, including ash, sycamore, hazel, crabapple and oak.

Successfully coaxing a tree into the correct shape was a task that took Munro years to perfect. His first chair prototypes were trained to grow the normal way up, but Munro soon realized that growing a chair more effectively meant turning it on its head.

"We grow the chairs upside down and we start with one branch that spreads out into the chair-back. So, you've gone from one to two, and then the seat, and then you've got the four legs; and it's much more of a tree shape," he said, adding that the growth process is similar to 3D printing where the furniture grows layer by layer. "Actually it works in a similar way to 3D printing... we're using photosynthesis for the printing. So as it grows, you've got a piece growing up."

It's been a labor of love for Munro who had to learn by trial and error what trees could be trained into the desired shape. Despite only planning an initial 50 or so pieces per year; for every 100 trees grown there are 1,000 branches that need to be cared for and 10,000 shoots to be pruned at the right time.   Continued...