What does this even mean?
Why is this important?
Sustainability is defined as the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance.
How does furniture play a role is sustainability? Furniture is either made from trees or from some type of processed material that comes from trees. MDF (medium-density fiberboard), particle board (low-density fiberboard) and OSB (oriented strand board) are all an engineered wood product. All of the products are made by compressing wood, wood fibers of various density with wax and resin binders to create panels similar to plywood. The differences in these engineered wood products tend to lie is the size of the wood pieces/fibers being compressed. This the short and sweet version, you can always research each product to understand their different strengths and weaknesses.
IKEA is probably best known for making furniture from MDF with plastic veneer coating. IKEA is just one of many furniture manufacturers that use MDF to make their furniture. Some argue these engineered wood products are “green” because they use waste wood, saw dust and smaller trees to create these products.
Problems with engineered wood:
- Does not hold up nearly as well as actual wood,
- They off gas formaldehyde,
- They retain water longer (causing increased swelling)
- They do not hold screws and nails well (making furniture weak)
- They are usually covered in a plastic veneer coating that is difficult to repaint and/or reuse
After reading this list, it should become obvious that if you want a piece of furniture that will last, you should avoid buying furniture made from engineered wood. It can be hard to tell if it is engineered wood versus solid wood as manufactures get sneaky. Manufacturers will put a wood veneer over MDF, particle board and OSB. You have to look at the end grain, usually under the feet or edge of the furniture to determine what was used in the construction of that piece of furniture. Particularly lower end furniture from larger manufacturers tend to use engineered wood because it is cheaper.
The goal of sustainability in home furnishings lies in finding a piece of furniture that will stand the test of time and possibly out live you. Once the natural resource has been harvested (the tree) and used to make a piece of furniture, the production of this piece of furniture has essentially caused a depletion of the natural resources. If that same piece of furniture ends up in a land fill in two years, you have depleted and wasted the natural resources. The number one rule to follow is to simply choose solid wood or metal. If you search, even IKEA has some solid wood or metal furniture.
In our business, we are furniture makers and refinishers. We believe that it is important to have affordable sustainable furniture. It isn’t a good business model to not make a profit but we do try to keep our prices as reasonable as possible. It is hard when you are first starting out, first married, just had kids, etc to afford the solid wood or metal furniture. Truly, if you shop around and learn the layout of your town/city you will find that you can afford this furniture. It may take some creativity or some research but it can be done.
One way to find quality, solid wood furniture is to shop thrift stores and Facebook Marketplace for used solid wood furniture. When you find a piece you like, make sure it is in good shape or that you have the skills to fix any issues. I have been doing this for a while, it seems there is always some issue that needs to be fixed on an older piece of furniture. If you don’t like the color, paint it! You will be amazed at what a coat of paint and some creativity can do to an outdated piece of furniture. DIY is always a good idea when you are on a budget.
The next option is find stores that stock refinished furniture. Most good furniture painters/refinishers will be able to pick out quality, solid wood furniture. The engineered wood furniture is usually too difficult or not worth refinishing. Typically you will not see engineered wood furniture will not show up in this type of store. Sometimes these stores may be called Antique Malls. Often these type of stores have vendor booths that they rent out to various furniture makers and refinishers, as well as booths that have strictly antiques for sale. These type of stores are in just about every city. The trick is finding the stores! Once you have located these stores, talk to the store owner and vendors. Let these people know your style and what items you need. These stores are also a great resource for finding a good furniture painter, furniture refinisher and furniture maker. If you find items you like but need them refinished or painted, you can pay a professional to do the refinishing. If you find a good furniture maker, you can give them a picture of what you want and let them make it for you. In most cases a refinished furniture item is the same price or often below the price you would pay for that similar item new at a big box store. Bonus, the refinished item is an older solid wood piece. No new trees were cut down to create this furniture item. So many options for sustainability, it just takes a little more time and effort.
Furniture makers create furniture from solid wood or reclaimed wood. This is a great sustainable option. Reclaimed wood is wood that has been salvaged from some other purpose and reused in a new way. Reclaimed wood is essential to sustainability. Taking wood from an old barn that is being torn down and using that wood to create a piece of furniture versus the wood ending up in a landfill is using our resources wisely. Creating furniture from solid wood is sustainable as well. This furniture will last for years, it can be refinished to accommodate current styles or the wood can be reused for a different purpose.
Sustainability when shopping for furniture is as simple as choosing solid wood or metal furniture. Finding refinished pieces, refinishing pieces yourself or building items from wood or reclaimed wood is a budget friendly way to create a gorgeous home that is sustainable.