Article reprinted with permission from Modern Home Victoria.
At Autonomous Furniture, the most common question we get asked is if the wood in our furniture is reclaimed. A feel-good term, “reclaimed” has evolved into a catch-phrase for many furniture companies attempting to explain the ethical intentions of their wood’s origin. Recent trends showcase young hipsters riding their fixie bikes en route to their wood shop where they will pull nails, add iron pipe and call it “repurposed.” Insert craft beer in bike crate optional. But generally speaking, the answer for us is no, the majority of our furniture does not use reclaimed wood.What is Reclaimed Wood?
At Autonomous Furniture, the most common question we get asked is if the wood in our furniture is reclaimed. A feel-good term, “reclaimed” has evolved into a catch-phrase for many furniture companies attempting to explain the ethical intentions of their wood’s origin. Recent trends showcase young hipsters riding their fixie bikes en route to their wood shop where they will pull nails, add iron pipe and call it “repurposed.” Insert craft beer in bike crate optional. But generally speaking, the answer for us is no, the majority of our furniture does not use reclaimed wood.
I’ve always been an advocate of the value added wood sector in British Columbia, and more specifically, a proponent of Vancouver Island wood made better through design. With solid forest management and use of unconventional value propositions, there has been a thriving revitalization to a once tarnished industry. And it’s happening right now in this province and setting trends for the use of BC fibre in building envelopes, products and furniture across the globe.
Curating and collecting wood for over a decade now, most of my designs are rooted in wood from Vancouver Island. Often shrouded in mystery, revealing our sourcing practices at Autonomous Furniture might help explain the how and why of what we do.
Urban Salvage: A couple years ago, a church in Duncan approached me to remove five cottonwood trees from their property. The first step was to apply for a timber mark through the Ministry of Forests. This helps track the economic impact of logging and limit illegal harvest of trees in our province. Next we contracted the falling and lot clean up before trucking the logs to a local mill (who are also assigned a permit to cut the logs for tracking purposes). The logs were cut into slabs and trucked again to a nearby drying facility to be kiln-dried.The wood spent the next three years air drying. Typically a low volume cut, urban salvage can be very costly. Generally speaking, the trees have to be spectacular to justify the costs. For this reason, sadly we reject most requests for single tree salvage. What amazes me is the social and economic impact to all parties involved in the processing of those cottonwood trees. Let’s just say, these five trees put a significant amount of bread on the table for families within the region.Logging Site Salvage: I often tour logging sites to scout for amazing pieces that have been left behind (often for good reason). Typically, we need permission from the tenure holder and a salvage permit to assign the proper stumpage fee and use. Technically, even firewood removed should hold a purpose permit, which is free and simple to get. I would never just take wood and always assume there must be sound ecological reasons why it was left behind. If we are using the wood for profit, I believe that people need to get paid.
Private Wood Lot: Vancouver Island has an amazing history of both family owned woodlots and managed woodlots by multiple generations. These people are often guarded and concerned about how this land is logged, not only what is harvested, but also the impact of how the logs are removed. Things like watershed impact, forest aesthetics, and wildlife protection are all considerations.I’m not saying industry isn’t concerned, but it is the woodlot owners that are the most vigilant. We also have the opportunity to make a personal connection, often selecting trees with the owner/operator in an intimate experience developed over tea or beers. We also tend to become a high yield customer to these individuals. Everyone wins.
Driftwood: We don’t use driftwood at Autonomous, but I do come by my fascination honestly. I grew up watching Beachcombers, circa 1972-1990, after all. If you plan to use driftwood for commercial purpose, then the Ministry of Forests wants to know. There is both an economic traceability reason and an ecological reason regarding erosion and nature. In some cases, it’s flat out illegal. I liken it to an argument I once had with a guy shoveling granite scree into his truck in Jasper National Park. I understand people using driftwood for small crafts like jewelry, but furniture in my opinion crosses the line.
Reclaimed: Once in a while, we use reclaimed wood at Autonomous. Typically, “reclaimed” refers to wood previously used in torn down or decommissioned buildings. Think flooring, beams and cladding. I like the concept, the story and working with reclaimed wood. However, unfortunately, the term “reclaimed” has been hijacked and used as a general term for furniture imported from far off places. Can we trust the wood’s traceability or lack thereof? I’m interested to see the long-term play on reclaimed furniture. My guess is we’ll start to see more refined uses and less display of nail hole and patina, but I would like to see a better account of traceability if you are going to use the term “reclaimed.”
If you are interested in sourcing reclaimed wood, a couple of great resources are Western Reclaimed Timber in Vancouver who have a massive inventory and have done a lot of the heavy lifting (nail removal) for you. In Victoria, Forward Lumber is another secret find. Sourcing wood is a weekly occurrence for us at Autonomous Furniture. We take great pride in selecting the wood for our pieces and can often share the story through scars, bad backs, and photos.
Article by Kirk Van Ludwig. Table photo by Jody Beck. Article originally posted on Modern Home Victoria, reprinted here with permission.