A small furniture forest of 3,000 trees spreading over a 2.5 acre site.

A small furniture forest of 3,000 trees spreading over a 2.5 acre site.

The human race has been crafting furniture almost as long as we’ve been making the tools that allowed us to do it. I’ve talked before about the proposition that what we make, that we make, defines us as a species.

So, in a world where legacy technology is something you bought last year, where the smartphone in your pocket was out-of-date almost as soon as you walked out of the store, it’s reassuring to find someone taking time to build something.

… we had a generous offer of some land for growing the experimental prototypes. The first year went well but the trees needed more light. We moved to a bigger spot and spent a few weeks preparing the ground for thirty neatly planted trees for chairs and tables.

Two days after planting, cows from the farm next door escaped and trampled everything. — Gavin Munro

Munro is a furniture designer based in Derbyshire, England, who is taking a lot of time to craft his furniture: between 4 and 8 years. Instead of taking wood, cutting, and shaping it, he trains and prunes the tree branches as they grow over specially made forms. Grafting them together so that the object grows into a solid piece of furniture.

After the tree has been shaped, a process that could take a year or two, it is then a matter of time and patience. Waiting while the branches thicken, and the tree matures, before finally harvesting the piece and letting it season and dry. Finally, the piece is planed to show off the wood and the grain of the tree it came from.

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As a species we have been grafting and coppicing trees for thousands of years, and Gavin is not the first to this idea. Both the ancient Greeks and Egyptians grew stools, while the Chinese dug holes in the ground filling them with chair-shaped rocks and let trees grow through the gaps between them.

He’s not even the first in modern times, I’ve got a book on my shelves at home about growing living furniture for your garden by carefully planting and shaping willow. The book is old, neglected, and smells of dust and time. Like many of the older — and sometimes somewhat odd — books that clutter my bookshelves, I picked up this one secondhand in Powells. A sprawling book store that takes up an entire city block in Northwest Portland. The book was by a local author Richard Reames who coined the word “arborsculpture,” and built on the work of early pioneers, like Axel Erlandson, to grow living sculptures.

Production began in earnest in late 2011, under the auspices of Gavin’s company called Full Grown, and the first pieces are expected to be ready as early as next year. Although it’s unlikely that the larger pieces — the chairs and the tables — will be ready for harvest until the year after that.

[via BBC News]