Yes, that’s right! They grow their own furniture!

Taking a radical stance on the way we produce our objects, Gavin Munro and Full Grown are at the cutting edge of an emerging art form, an art form that highlights an interesting way to be closer to art and nature and to create symbiotic abundance for both.

Challenging the way we create products as well as how we see the items with which we surround ourselves, the Grown Furniture has an immediate tactile, visceral and organic appeal.

“As a species, humans have been grafting and coppicing (not to mention topiary, pollarding and espalier) trees for thousands of years, and this developing craft is taking advantage of some of that ancient knowledge, as well as the renewable fuels of the sun, water, soil and air. When we finally cut down the furniture pieces from the trees, they will sprout new shoots (coppicing) and continue to have a life, possibly to grow something else later. We nourish and nurture the trees, employing as many natural, permaculture and organic methods as we can, as optimum nutrition means optimum growth.

We think this method is kinder and less wasteful than planting a (frequently monocultural with all those implications for biodiversity) plantation of trees, growing for a specified lifetime, then chopping down, leaving an uncared-for, cleared area, with all the additional problems like desertification.

The (recycled) plastic moulds (same amount of corrugated light plastic used in about two ‘For Sale’ signs for a chair mould) were a prototype design. We’ve been reusing them as far as possible, and now we’re moving on to different former, moulds and ways of constructing the grown chairs and furniture. Please be assured we aren’t pouring oil down the drain to produce this furniture!

We’re constantly looking for ways to reduce our energy use, and we currently estimate we use about the same energy as 8 x 60w lights, burning for 8 hours a day for a year (in an office, for example) to run the whole Furniture Field for a year. We recycle everything we can and constantly reuse even the tiniest bits of wire, string and plastic. The tea bags go on our compost heap – (more nourishment for the trees), we’ve got a composting loo, and have just got solar power (no electricity before that!). It’s estimated, from early calculations, that we use about 25% of the energy needed to produce a wooden chair with conventional means”.

How are these Grown Furniture pieces made?

In essence its an incredibly simple art. You start by training and pruning young tree branches as they grow over specially made formers. At certain points we then graft them together so that the object grows into one solid piece – I’m interested in the way that this is like an organic 3D printing that uses air, soil and sunshine as its source materials. After it’s grown into the shape we want, we continue to care for and nurture the tree, while it thickens and matures, before harvesting it in the Winter and then letting it season, and dry. It’s then a matter of planning and finishing to show off the wood and grain inside.

The whole process takes place over seasons and years – between 4 and 8 years to grow a chair – but when you look at how long and how much effort it takes us now to go from having no tree to the final wooden object, then you realise that the craft we’re a part of developing is not just more cooperative with the natural world; it has an elegant efficiency all of its own.

Has this been done before?

Yes, It’s been going on for millennia. Apparently, the ancient Greeks & Egyptians grew stools and the Chinese dug holes and filled them with chair-shaped rocks and grew tree roots through the gaps.

More recently in 1904, John ‘Dammit’ Krubsack planted the ‘Chair That Grew’. It took him 11 years and I can completely see why he was nicknamed ‘Dammit’! He inspired Axel Earlanderson who made the tree circus in the 1950s in California – sadly he died without telling anyone how he did it. He, in turn, inspired, even more, people, some of whom we’ve had the pleasure of meeting; The wonderful Dr. Chris Cattle (http://www.grown-furniture.co.uk) whose grown stools directly inspired me to take the plunge and have a go, and the creative and knowledgeable Peter Cook and Becky North, (http://pooktre.com) who have a great book to help folk start their own grown projects.

What are the biggest challenges in making them?

The biggest challenges are twofold.

The first challenge is the practical fact that what we’re doing is neatly organising a small forest. I’m only making 50 or so pieces per year but for every 100 tree’s you grow there are 1,000 branches you need to care for and 10,000 shoot’s you have to prune at the right time. It’s an art-form in itself keeping track of everything.
The second challenge is the emotional fact that, while there is the regular joy of seeing birds and beasties living our production rows, most of the tasks I do on an average day won’t come to fruition until several years later. That’s quite hard to live with – especially as it’s taken 9 years already and we’re still a year or two away from the first substantial harvest. Thankfully prototypes and early pieces are starting to come online but still, it’s a hefty act of faith. It’s certainly not instant gratification!

Are the pieces fully functional and ergonomic?

They’re still growing now, but when harvested and finished we expect them to be not just fully functional and ergonomic but grown, grafted and fastened into one solid piece, ie. no joints that only ever loosen over time. These could last for centuries. We hope and trust that this will eventually become an improvement on current methods.

Finally, let’s clear up some common misunderstandings…

Isn’t this cruel to the trees? We learnt early on that an unhappy tree won’t do what you want, just because you want it to. It will send off a shoot in the direction it wants to grow (usually towards the light) or sprout a shoot just below the carefully-positioned graft. As a species, humans have been grafting and coppicing (not to mention topiary, pollarding and espalier) trees for thousands of years, and this developing craft is taking advantage of some of that ancient knowledge, as well as the renewable fuels of the sun, water, soil and air. When we finally cut down the furniture pieces from the trees, they will sprout new shoots (coppicing) and continue to have a life, possibly to grow something else later. We nourish and nurture the trees, employing as many natural, permaculture and organic methods as we can, as optimum nutrition means optimum growth.

We think this method is kinder and less wasteful than planting a (frequently monocultural with all those implications for biodiversity) plantation of trees, growing for a specified lifetime, then chopping down, leaving an uncared-for, cleared area, with all the additional problems like desertification.

If this is so ‘Green’, why have you got plastic moulds? Isn’t that a waste of valuable oil?

The (recycled) plastic moulds (same amount of corrugated light plastic used in about two ‘For Sale’ signs for a chair mould) were a prototype design. We’ve been reusing them as far as possible, and now we’re moving on to different formers, moulds and ways of constructing the grown chairs and furniture. Please be assured we aren’t pouring oil down the drain to produce this furniture!

We’re constantly looking for ways to reduce our energy use, and we currently estimate we use about the same energy as 8 x 60w lights, burning for 8 hours a day for a year (in an office, for example) to run the whole Furniture Field for a year. We recycle everything we can and constantly reuse even the tiniest bits of wire, string and plastic. The tea bags go on our compost heap – (more nourishment for the trees), we’ve got a composting loo, and have just got solar power (no electricity before that!).

It’s estimated, from early calculations, that we use about 25% of the energy needed to produce a wooden chair with conventional means. As the items take some time to grow, we are currently looking at designs & methods we have developed further, and things are constantly changing in this fledgeling production method.

When and where will they be for sale?

We are talking with a number of galleries at the moment and we’ll announce details closer to the time.

The first chairs are expected mid-2018. For the other pieces we’ll find out whats ready at the end of this growing season – the geometric pendant lamps and mirrors frames are currently expected for release late Spring 2016.

We have a very limited number of pieces left for pre-order and can be reached at fullgrown.co.uk

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