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December 22nd, 2010

Furniture Family Trees and Green Genealogy

We have a soft spot in our hearts for pre-loved furniture, or so it seems based on the responses to my last post. And the environmental benefits abound. So what do I do when I want to buy new? It’s an honest question. What do I look for, consider and where do I go?

I want to buy Canadian, of course, and the closer to home, the better. But cutting down on transport costs (and by costs I mean money AND environmental costs, long and short term) is only one piece of the eco puzzle. How easy is it to find out where the raw materials come from, where and how they’re processed and what practices should I condone or avoid? I might find a great ottoman in a little independent shop with a sweet old man running the joint, but that doesn’t mean his furniture isn’t gassing off formaldehyde. That beautiful headboard might have been hand carved right here in Quebec, but where’s the wood from?

I did a little poking around on the glorious resource that is the world wide web and here’s what I found. The Sustainable Furnishings Council demands that companies adhere to a minimum of eight stringent sustainable practices in order to qualify for membership. Look for the SFC label to find furnishings that comes from a place where living wages are paid, legally-logged wood is used, and overall reduction in non-renewable raw materials is continuously pursued. Good for your home, good for the community, good for the planet.

As for sourcing other materials, it’s worth asking in store. I couldn’t find a national or provincial directory or database for raw materials, so I suspect it’s something I need to deal with on a case by case approach. Small and medium sized furniture manufacturers (which is most of them in Canada) should be able to tell you where they get their wood, fabric, fillers and fasteners. If you’re feeling particularly keen, some Canadian companies even make organic furniture.

So, the ideal furniture is handmade by the nice family next door, from organic, renewable materials they grow in their back yard, and carries a lifetime guarantee. Yeah, right...and tomorrow I’ll wake up and not crave coffee, chocolate or sleep.I say do the best we can. If it’s made locally, with minimal chemicals, perhaps you can live with the fact that the upholstery was imported. Or, if it’s organic and the materials are sustainable, maybe it’s less of a travesty that it came from Vancouver on a truck. What I’m trying to say is, I believe in doing the best I can reasonably afford, taking into consideration how long I’ll have the piece, how badly I need it, and how much I’ll use it. For me, it’s worth the investment, but I know that everyone has their own meter. What’s yours?

  • Posted by magda on December 22nd, 2010, 13:09
    Great article Sara ! Now I'll switch to french...(sorry but my written english is a little bit rusty...). Dans mon cas c'est certain que j'essais de mettre le facteur écologique dans le choix de mon mobilier. Malheureusement, je trouve que ce choix s'avère souvent un peu plus cher...Ce que je tente de faire beaucoup c'est de "recycler" mes vieux meubles en leur donnant un look plus actuel ou plus adapté à nos besoins. Je trouve qu'en réutilisant ce que nous avons déjà c'est une manière de recycler.
  • Posted by Sarah on December 22nd, 2010, 15:34
    We bought a Montreal made sofa from G ROMANO at Maison Corbeil-it has foam from soy, and the fabric was partly made of recycled cotton-I just noticed on their website it states they are members of the sustainable furnishings council-so I guess we made a good choice!
  • Posted by Sara Lomas on February 4th, 2011, 11:45
    Hey guys. Thanks for writing...

    @Magda: You're right! Not everyone has the budget for organic/eco-friendly new items. They are becoming more accesible, and eventually, I believe that almost all our choices will have switched over to a more planet friendly manufacturing process. Until then, upcycling what you already have is a great way to keep an older piece in circulation. And, like we've said before, you get to keep the stories that piece carries too.

    @Sarah: Great find! It's exciting to know that large, mainstream retailers are carrying items like that. You have made a great choice. I hope you enjoy your new sofa for many years to come.
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Janette  Ewen

Janette Ewen has been one of Canada’s leading décor and lifestyle experts for more than a decade, passing on her passion for design and fashion to avid fans through magazines, newspapers and television.

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