It is not every day that you see fitted furniture made of Straw. In reality, it is likely you have never heard of fitted furniture made of straw, let alone seen any. I never saw or heard of one until I designed Flexi Straw for my company, Custom Carpentry in the UK.
You might think that straw sounds like a ridiculous material to use to make fitted furniture. Well that might be because when you think of straw you think of wheat fields, straw bales, cows or pigs laying in it.
I just seem to love going against the grain and seeking out things that have not been given the time of day for various reasons. I am also “never” happy and forever looking for new things, solutions and ways to improve myself and the lives of others. I believe you can do anything, it is a matter of finding how, and the right use for something.
One of the first questions people ask when I mention Strawboard is, if it is any good, will it last. It is somehow thought that straw or other eco materials for that matter are inferior. Well in fact like a lot of natural alternative materials from nature, it is often the opposite, straw for example if more moisture resistant than equivalent wood panels, is stronger than chipboard and lighter. If you don’t mind the rougher outer texture which I think adds to the design, then you will be ok with Strawboard.
It can also be veneered or laminated if you want to use it that way too and this renders the face completely smooth.
We waste over 2 million tonnes of straw per year in the UK alone, so why not make good use of it, give the forests a break, add some variety and make some boards with straw.
Straw is not the magic solution that will save the world but it is just one of many!
That is very important, the word “many”! There is no single solution, nature dictates that we need variety for the world to survive.
Flexi Straw is the second pioneering project that I designed after Stram Straw. Flexi Straw is not just about straw. Again using the rules Nature teaches us, when designing fitted furniture I believe we need to look at it in a holistic way, we need to look at both the materials used and the design, where and how it is made and by who.
This video is to show you the ideas behind Flexi Straw and what makes it the ultimate eco fitted storage example:
Flexi Straw is made of Strawboard which is made using finely chopped up straw mixed with an MDI glue which is formaldehyde free. One day such a glue will be totally natural and biodegradable, but for now although it is still a petro chemical derived glue it is what is replacing formaldehyde glues.
Standard MDF which uses formaldehyde based glue, contains between 12-15% glue, but Straw board contains around 3-5% glue which means that less polluting resources are used which is a positive step.
There is a company that makes Soya based glue in the US to make bamboo plywood, but I dont know much about it, and I don’t know of any boards yet that use such a glue. But I know a company in the UK that is developing a natural glue to make Strawboard and it is just a matter of time before the boards come out for everyone to use.
It is not currently possible to buy UK grown and made Strawboard in the UK, but my aim is to promote it’s use and make sure that this will change soon.
Straw is also currently a waste material and a by product, which means that you are not taking away someones food to produce it such as potentially many bio fuels. I think it is tragic that many people wanting to burn virgin straw and wood for that matter to inefficiently produce electricity! We must be careful to do the right eco thing, and in the right order, and burning something in my mind is the last step int he sustainability cycle which I will talk about in another blog post or I will run out of space on here.
So as well as good old straw, Flexi Straw uses natural paints, varnishes and oils made from non petro chemical waterbased paints that use renewable plant based ingredients such as Organic linseed oil.
It is important to use as many natural, renewable materials and products as we possibly can in order to live in a sustainable world.
The ONLY way we will survive is if we start to live in a world where waste does not exist,
where we use less, use smarter, use better quality materials and products that prolong the life of everything we use and own and discourage machines and products that are either non repairable, reusable, recyclable or compostable.
Right, I keep getting side tracked, but in a way I am not, because there is so much involved in a piece of fitted furniture that we normally take for granted, it affects the world, people, our happiness and health alot more than most realise, and I can’t help but talk about these things that happen behind the scenes that make up our world, because I am interested in things beyond their physical obvious self. I love to understand how anything works, it fascinates me, and I realised the more I learn about something the more I appreciate it and want to take care for it.
It is a bit like the soldiers who kill, they kill because they don’t know who they are killing, they have no emotional involvement with the enemy, they have been trained to remove themselves from what makes the other person human, like their own brother.
And I want to share this fascination with you and encourage you to enjoy your belongings more and not take them for granted, by knowing what the story behind them is and therefore appreciating them more.
Just like a piece of art can be beautiful, it is even more beautiful if you know the artist and the story behind the painting, in fact it brings it to life countless times more than the physical obvious aesthetic beauty of the painting itself. Our minds are capable of creating beauty in a stronger and more powerful way than just what the eye sees. And really the eyes don’t actually see, it is the mind that sees.
By understanding how the straw was grown, organically or not, how many times it was sprayed with chemicals or not, if those chemicals drifted into peoples gardens, made their children ill. If those chemicals leached into the ground, polluted the earth, killed off a load of micro-organisms and small mammals, polluted the seas and in turn the fish we eat. Just that trail of thought is enough to make me appreciate that nothing happens in isolation and we must be accountable for all our actions. Appreciating and learning the origin of what we consume will make us happier to know that we are using and encouraging something that is natural, non-polluting ethical. That gives us immense satisfaction if we care to take the time to find out.
Imagine knowing that the clothes you wear, have not been made from cotton where the crops where sprayed dozens of times per year with deadly synthetic chemicals banned in the west made from petro chemicals and the wars they create, by children wearing no protection or face masks for all hours of the day and been paid little. That is a side you never see on the glamorous adverts for the clothes we wear. The story is the same for most of our belongings, we are not told the truth about any of this because
if we were told in it’s total graphic form, we simply would not take part in it.
I know that we all know that kids make a lot of our clothes, somewhere in the world, but we think it’s probably sorted by now and that was only a couple of companies and it’s in the past and sorted now and yes you need chemicals too to grow crops and what is wrong with this anyway. Well actually we know nothing of the truth!
We don’t TRULY appreciate the actual truth and extent of the full picture.
Here is mild article about child labour and spraying.
Anyway, sorry to depress you too much, but I believe in being ethical and not hiding the truth and that is why I have decided to follow my hear and dreams and bring out an eco friendly option, but the positive side is the more we take interest in who makes our furniture and goods where and how, then we will start to change this world of lies and injustice.
Using local materials will help in this because you will be supporting companies that work in countries where there is more accountability, where wood and materials are grown in a responsible and sustainable way, where trees and crops are replanted and care not to pollute the environment is taken seriously. If you are getting something from the other side of the world, it is a lot harder to find out exactly how it is manufactured than if it comes from your own country.
So by choosing products manufactured in the UK we will not only be more sustainable but also the money will be more likely to stay locally and benefit the local population, go towards youth projects, schools and local infrastructure for the benefit of all who live around.
Flexi Straw uses small minimal handles that are stainless steel and minimal in size. As well as being beautiful, these handles use about 15 times less metal than a similar 18cm long handle which saves a considerable amount of metal without compromising the aesthetic of the furniture. I want to stress that the sustainability of the world also depends on people being happy, and designing fitted furniture that is just eco and sustainable for the sake of it, that would not be nice to look at and difficult to use would defeat the point, make us unhappy and stressed, so there is a balance that needs to be struck, whatever we do.
Metal is very polluting to take out of the ground and process, but we can’t use wood for everything, and there is loads of metal around out of the ground, so instead of dumping it and using it to build roofs and silly inappropriate things we need to see it as the very precious resource that it is. And stainless steel I believe is a great material for certain things because it is corrosion resistant, so will last forever, it is totally recyclable, so when something has come to the end of it’s life it can be turned into something else, while recycling still uses alot of energy, this is something we can’t get away from, but energy is good if it comes from the sun for example. It is all horses for courses, we need to look at what we are using each material for really and judge it as much as possible on the suitability and sustainability of each material.
The stainless steel handles I used for Flexi Straw are very tough as stainless steel is so will last forever without the thread breaking inside which might happen it it was mild steel or even softer aluminum. So these handles could be used and reused for hundreds of years to come or more.
The amazing American Indians, before making a decision used to see how that decision would affect the next 7 generations.
We need to look around us for the answers we need to our modern problems. You can imagine how different our world would look if we and politicians thought about the impact of decisions would affect the next 7 generations. What a humbling thought.
So as well as the straw material, the name “Flexi straw” came from the design, the fact that it is flexible. The nature of fitted furniture makes it suited to one place, it is built to fit an area in a house perfectly, so in effect this is less sustainable than a quality piece of freestanding furniture that can be moved easily from place to place and generation to generation.
So therefore extra thought needs to go into it to make sure that it will not be pulled out and thrown away by the same or next home owner. With that in mind, I designed Flexi Straw to be as flexible as possible. Firstly it was designed to integrate an existing fish tank.
When the owner does not want the fish tank anymore it can then be turned into a Media center by simple putting a TV in the place of the fish tank.
And if that isn’t required then the unit can be turned into a home office. There is a pull out keyboard or laptop drawer already there waiting to be used, and the electrical sockets are where they need to be, the pull out keyboard shelf can be pushed in at the end of the day and the doors closed making it a clutter free and healthy space. The shelves are all adjustable so that it can be made to fit large files or anything else, the hanging section has pre drilled holes in anticipation for the day when hanging rails might no longer needed and you want to add shelves in there.
At the end of the useful life of the fitted furniture it can easily be taken apart because we have used no glue to put it together, just nails for the backs and screws for the rest that are not covered over with filler. So the cupboards can be either rebuilt elsewhere, or adapted to another space or part used or the pieces can be re cut and made into something completely different. And if all those options have been used up then one day, when the Strawboards are made from a totally natural glue, you would just be able to cut it up and heat your home with it, and dare I say never use it to make electricity though! Although that would be the only time, right at the end of the cycle that I would forgive the want for a resource to be burned to generate electricity.
Another major part of Flexi Straw is the aesthetic design, it does not follow any fashion but instead universal aesthetic beauty, no fancy bits and trimmings to look like it was made with the opulence a king would like, but rather clean and simple lines, unfussy and easy on the eye, designed to blend into your home with little fuss and to stand the test of time, because the key to sustainability is longevity of materials and belongings. The faster you have to change or throw something away the less sustainable it is. This is relative of course, different things have different lengths of life cycles.
So I hope that you will go home and take a second look at your wardrobe or living room unit and maybe think about the blood, sweat, pollution and tears that have been shed to bring you your fitted furniture.
Find out more about Strawboard on my Custom Carpentry blog post about Straw board
See my first pioneering project using straw called “Stram Straw” that uses a strawboard that uses no glue to bind it together.
If you go this far down, you must be interested in this subject and I would like to thank you, if there is anything I can do to help you, just ask, I am here to help, I love to help.
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