A British company called Full Grown has come up with a radical – yet beautifully simple – way of creating wooden furniture. Trees are literally grown into the shape of an item of furniture such as a chair.
Young trees are pruned and trained as they grow over chair-shaped moulds. At certain stages the branches are grafted together so that the object grows into one solid piece of wood – with no joins.
Once it has been trained into the desired shape, it is allowed to thicken and mature, before it is harvested. The object is then planed and finished to show off the grain.
As they are made of one piece of solid wood, the designs should last longer than traditionally-made chairs as they don't have weak points around the joins.
The whole process of growing a chair from scratch takes four to eight years, depending on the wood used. This might seem like a very slow way to design furniture, but consider how much time and effort it takes to make a conventional piece of wooden furniture.
First, you've got to grow the trees, so allow about 50 years. Then you've got to chop them down, leaving a cleared area that can cause problems like erosion or desertification. Next you'll want to transport the logs to a sawmill, which means you'll need to build roads and use polluting trucks. You'll need to build a large facility to store the planks. The wood is then transported somewhere else and chopped up and stuck together, creating joints that will eventually come loose and fall apart.
Full Grown's founder, Gavin Munro, started experimenting with the idea of making furniture out of living trees in 2006. He says: "I'm interested in the way that this is like an organic 3D printing that uses air, soil and sunshine as its source materials."
Unfortunately, their first plantation of young trees was trampled by cows from the farm next door (and anything that was left was nibbled by rabbits).
Their first prototype chair was far from perfect, but they have learned and refined the process along the way.
In spring 2008, Full Grown planted 3,000 trees in Wirksworth, Derbyshire, turning a field into a living, breathing furniture factory. At the moment there are about 400 pieces of furniture being grown.
Gavin says: "What we're doing is neatly organising a small forest. I'm only making 50 or so pieces per year but for every 100 trees you grow there are 1,000 branches you need to care for, and 10,000 shoots you have to prune at the right time. It's an art form in itself keeping track of everything."
The company's first chairs are expected around mid-2017, while geometric pendant lamps and mirrors frames are expected for release in late spring 2016. The early batches are strictly limited and are aimed at people looking for a unique art piece; the chairs will cost £2,500 ($3,760), while lamps will be between £1,000 and £1,500. A limited number of pieces can be pre-ordered at fullgrown.co.uk